He passed his Canadian citizenship test — then came a call saying there was a problem

Hopefully, just teething pains of the online testing system. But why officials wouldn’t be more transparent on the extent of the problem is hard to understand and citing “program integrity reasons” is not an adequate explanation:

Yaseen Alshehadat said he carefully followed each step to proceed with his citizenship exam, scanning a photo ID and taking a selfie with his computer camera, before writing the online test in late February.

The Mississauga man was relieved when he got an email from the immigration department right away congratulating him for passing the test. Maybe now he could finally get some sleep after moving one step closer to fulfilling his dream to become a Canadian citizen.

But the next day, Alshehadat received a call from an immigration official informing him that his exam result was invalidated because the image of his OHIP card, the piece of photo ID he used for the test, did not register in the system.

“I worked 14 hours a day, and for weeks, I came home and stayed up to study the citizenship guide. It was very stressful and I had very little sleep,” said Alshehadat, whose family fled Syria in 2011 and resettled in Canada in 2016 via Jordan under a government refugee sponsorship.

“I had two dreams. My first dream was to open my own business in Canada. I did that last year. My second dream was to become a Canadian. I’m so disappointed at the news,” added the father of six, who opened Yaseen’s Shawarma in October.

Alshehadat and his wife, Ikhlas Alnaseer, applied for Canadian citizenship in November 2019 and were thrilled when they were finally invited in February to take the online test after citizenship processing had stalled due to the pandemic. The immigration department began hosting virtual citizenship ceremonies last spring but only resumed remote citizenship tests in late November.

Alshehadat took his test at 4 a.m. on Feb. 25; his wife had hers the following day. They said that’s the only time they could quietly sit for the exam in front of their daughter’s laptop. Alshehadat answered 18 of the 20 multiple-choice questions correctly and Alnaseer scored 16 — both above the passing mark of 15.

Then came the call from the immigration department that their test scores were invalidated “due to lack of ID,” even though officials had a record of the individuals in front of the screen sitting the exam. They would not accept the couple’s missing ID documents afterward but insisted Alshehadat and Alnaseer retake the test.

“Whether through applicant error, technical glitch or other reason, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) did not receive photo identification from either applicant as required prior to taking the exam,” department spokesperson Derek Abma told the Star in an email.

“Verifying applicants’ identities is essential to ensuring the security and integrity of our immigration system. This is true across all of IRCC’s processes, but especially when it comes to obtaining Canadian citizenship.”

Abma said an applicant’s identity must be confirmed at the time each requirement is being met. An official verifies the identity of the candidate by comparing faces on the identity document provided at the time of the test, the citizenship photo provided with the application and the applicant’s proctored webcam photos. A candidate can provide a permanent resident card, a driver’s licence or health card prior to starting the test. This must be provided before starting the test, said Abma, and cannot be added after.

There are instances when verification of identity through photo identification is unable to take place during the citizenship test, he said, but they are rare.

Source: He passed his Canadian citizenship test — then came a call saying there was a problem

Biden DHS Scraps Trump Administration’s Longer, More Difficult Citizenship Test

Expected:

The Department of Homeland Security is discarding a new citizenship test that just went into effect in December, reverting back to an older version after the Trump Administration’s test was blasted for allegedly containing conservative biases.

A new citizenship test, which took effect on December 1, upped the question pool for naturalization candidates from 100 to 128 questions and required 12 out of 20 questions randomly assigned to be answered correctly, up from 6 out of 10.

The test was also blasted for its content, with five questions in the pool referring to the Federalist Papers—a favorite topic among conservatives—with only two questions about the civil rights movement and three about women’s suffrage, for example.

Those who file for naturalization after March 1 will be given the 2008 test the Biden Administration is reverting to, while those who filed between December 1 and March 1 will be given the option of taking either the 2020 or 2008 version.

BIG NUMBER

Around 2,500. That’s how many comments from the public U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services received about the 2020 changes.

CRUCIAL QUOTE

“Multiple commenters noted that there was little advance notice before implementation of the 2020 civics test, which raised concerns about limited time for study and preparation of training materials and resources,” the Department of Homeland Security said in its policy change announcement Monday.

KEY BACKGROUND

The Trump Administration was known for its tough stance against immigration into the U.S., whether the immigration was legal or not. One of Trump’s signature campaign promises was the construction of a wall along the southern border with Mexico, which was never completed, and his administration became notorious for unwavering enforcement of family separation policies aimed at combating illegal immigration. The Trump Administration also curbed legal access for noncitizens to work in the U.S., tightening the rules around H-1B visas. The Administration made numerous policy changes committed to enforcing what it touted as traditional American values, but what critics denounced as pushing conservative views. One of Trump’s final acts was creating the 1776 Commission to promote “patriotic education” in schools, which was almost immediately zapped by President Joe Biden.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR

Democrats have proposed an immigration bill that could give around 11 million undocumented immigrants U.S. citizenship through an eight-year process, but the bill faces a difficult path of passing through the 50-50 Senate.

Source: Biden DHS Scraps Trump Administration’s Longer, More Difficult Citizenship Test

Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

After a slow start, some encouraging news:

Ottawa’s groundbreaking virtual citizenship exam pilot program has exceeded its target intake, and more online tests will be scheduled.

Since the exam was launched virtually at the end of November, more than 6,700 applicants have taken the test, surpassing the initial target of 5,000, according to Asim Zaidan of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada.

“Prior to the pandemic, IRCC had embarked on a citizenship modernization program to improve client service delivery. Online tests are a part of this program, and have been prioritized due to COVID-19,” Zaidan told the Star in an email.

“Moving citizenship events — ceremonies, tests and interviews — to an online format is a part of the department’s goal of bringing efficiencies to the citizenship program and simplifying the application process.”

The pandemic has slowed much of the department’s operations due to reduced processing capacity as staff moved — and continued — to work from home. The delay led to a ballooning backlog of more than 85,000 people awaiting a test and thousands of others in the queue to be officiated as new Canadians.

While citizenship exams were resumed only virtually two months ago, online citizenship ceremonies returned earlier in June. To date, almost 50,000 new Canadians have taken their oath at 8,000 virtual ceremonies.

“This has been successful thus far. At this point, the new testing platform is still being assessed,” said Zaidan.

“A further number of applicants continue to be invited to take the online test, and we continue to monitor system performance closely and make improvements if necessary.”

Source: Ottawa will continue online citizenship tests after success of pilot program

New U.S. Citizenship Test Is Longer and More Difficult

One of the better analyses of the test and expected impact that I have seen:

The Trump administration is rolling out sweeping changes to the test immigrants must take to become United States citizens, injecting hints of conservative philosophy and making the test harder for many learners of the English language.

The new citizenship test that went into effect on Tuesday is longer than before, with applicants now required to answer 12 out of 20 questions correctly instead of six out of 10. It is also more complex, eliminating simple geography and adding dozens of possible questions, some nuanced and involving complex phrasing, that could trip up applicants who do not consider them carefully.

Of the 18 questions removed from the previous test, 11 were questions that had simple, sometimes one-word answers.

The new test adds one more hurdle for immigrants who hope to become voting citizens, coming in the waning days of an administration that has imposed substantial new barriers to immigration and limits on the ability of those already in the country to aspire to legal residence and, eventually, naturalization.

One test question that has drawn particular scrutiny provides a new answer to the question, “Who does a U.S. Senator represent?” Previously, the answer was “all people of the state”; on the new test, it is “citizens” in the state.

Singled out for a new question is the 10th Amendment, which reserves to the states all powers not specifically granted to the federal government, a part of the Bill of Rights that is a favorite among conservatives questioning federal authority.

Another new question, “Why did the United States enter the Vietnam War?” has one answer that is considered correct: “to stop the spread of Communism.” The test does not take on the issue of the vehement protests or the huge death toll stemming from the war.

Immigration organizations, including some that have helped thousands of people complete their naturalization applications over the past decade, warn that the new test could make it harder for poor immigrants from non-English-speaking countries to become citizens and ultimately suppress the number of immigrants who vote.

Critics also said the new test could create even more backlogs in a system already plagued with delays.

“It’s a last-ditch effort on their way out the door for the administration to keep people from realizing their dreams of becoming citizens,” said Eric Cohen, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco, a nonprofit group that helps permanent residents apply for citizenship.

“There is no legal reason, no regulatory reason to do this,” said Mr. Cohen, noting that the citizenship test had remained unchanged since 2008. “They decided on their own that they have to change it for political reasons.”

Dan Hetlage, a spokesman for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the agency that oversees the naturalization process, said in a statement that the test was revised “to ensure that it remains an instrument that comprehensively assesses applicants’ knowledge of American history, government and values and supports assimilation.”

President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. has the option of reversing the changes, though that likely could not occur, if at all, until several months into the new year.

The new test will be required of all applicants who apply for citizenship after Dec. 1, though there is often a lag of several months between when candidates apply and when they are scheduled for an interview with a U.S.C.I.S. officer, meaning that some candidates may still be taking the old test.

The current pass rate for the citizenship test, according to U.S.C.I.S., is 91 percent. An analysis of the new test by the Catholic Legal Immigration Network suggested that 40 questions out of the original 100 remained unchanged from the previous version; the rest were reworded or newly introduced.

Already, some immigrants were expressing nervousness about changes to the test.

Nefi Reyes, an electrician from El Salvador who took the earlier test this year, passed with a perfect score. It had been 30 years since he had crossed the border into the United States to escape the civil war in El Salvador, and he voted in the United States for the first time in November.

“I feel lucky that I got it done,” Mr. Reyes said of the changes to the test. He had had difficulty memorizing the names of the colonies, he said, and the new test requires applicants to name not three of the original 13 states, as he had managed to do, but five.

Luz Gallegos, executive director of Todec, a nonprofit group that assists immigrants in Southern California, said her organization had seen a rush in immigrants applying to take the citizenship test, not only so they could vote in the November election, but because many hoped to avoid the new test. “As it is, it’s difficult for them to memorize all the answers to the civics test,” she said.

Immigrants are not alone in finding the citizenship test, even in its previous form, challenging. About one in three Americans could pass a multiple-choice test consisting of items taken from that version, according to a 2018 national survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation. Most of the respondents did not know how many justices serve on the Supreme Court or which countries the United States fought in World War II.

Citizenship tests have gone through various incarnations since being introduced around a century ago, replacing an earlier system, broadly criticized at the time, in which naturalization judges evaluated immigrants’ knowledge of civics and the English language as they saw fit.

“There was absolutely inconsistency and unfairness in the way that prospective citizens were examined by naturalization judges,” said Jack Schneider, an assistant professor of education at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell, noting that such hearings resulted in the rejection of large numbers of applicants.

The test has changed considerably over time. Decades ago, the test asked how tall the Bunker Hill Monument is, missing, critics said, the more important issue of what it stands for. Another question, “How many stars are there on a quarter?” was deleted after it was noted that the right answer depended on the quarter.

The new citizenship test is one of a number of moves made under the Trump administration to not only halt unauthorized immigration but restrict legal immigration as well. The administration has made it harder for people to obtain asylum, increased the costs of applying for citizenship and, under the cloak of the coronavirus pandemic, suspended the issuance of green cards to immigrants seeking temporary work in the country.

Taken together, these moves amount to a break from what historically had been bipartisan support for naturalization for immigrants who lived and worked in the United States and embraced the opportunity to become citizens.

Applicants must already fill out a 20-page application, pass background checks, submit a bevy of documents and pass civics and English tests during an interview. The government moved this year to raise fees for naturalization from $725 to $1,170, or $1,160 if the application was filed online, but a federal judge in California blocked the increase in September.

Organizations that offer citizenship classes to help immigrants study for the test are scrambling to revamp their lesson plans to respond to the new questions.

Lynne Weintraub, who trains citizenship instructors and was involved in the design of the 2008 test, said the revisions were adopted without outside professional input that might have helped ensure that the test was a fair and valid measure of applicants’ knowledge of civics.

“You can’t even imagine the turmoil that this has created,” Ms. Weintraub said. The new test, she said, presents additional problems for many English language learners by clustering abstract concepts into one phrase in some questions, “making them impossible for immigrants with low English proficiency and less education to follow.”

128 Tricky Questions That Could Stand Between You and U.S. Citizenship

One of the better commentaries on the new test, designed to exclude, not include:

Take it from me, a noncitizen, there is much to learn from the naturalization test, one of the final hurdles an immigrant must clear to become a citizen.

It’s pretty tough actually, particularly the new and expanded version of the civics test that is to go into effect on Dec. 1. To those of us living under The Stephen Miller School of Exclusion, this is one more barrier to an immigrant’s quest to live here. The questions and answers are online now. I’ve been practicing in a variety of American accents.

The latest test has 128 civics questions about American government and history. Just getting to take the test usually means you’ve made it through an obstacle course involving reams of paperwork, thousands of dollars in lawyer and government fees, years of legal residency, a biometrics appointment and an English proficiency test. The questions come in the form of an oral test where an officer from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, U.S.C.I.S., asks the would-be citizen to answer 20 of the 128 civics questions; if she gets 12 right, she passes. After that, all she needs to do is pick up her paperwork. Then she can pledge allegiance to the flag and decide which season of “Real Housewives” to watch to truly understand this complex nation.

The latest test is a jump from the current one, which requires you to study only 100 questions, and answer 10 of them, with 6 correct answers, to pass. The Trump administration has left almost no part of the immigration system untouched. It made changes large and small, from thundering bans of entire nationalities to insidious but potent administrative changes like this one. However innocuous some changes may seem, they illuminate the end goal: curbing legal immigration.

As with many Trumpian ideas, the seeds were there all along. The Naturalization Act of 1906 first decreed that citizens-to-be must speak English, and while English is not the official language of the United States, most immigrants today still have to pass an English proficiency test. The civics test is carried out only in English.

I’m a native English speaker, but I still find some questions difficult to understand. And unlike the study guide online, the questions are not multiple choice. That means that one day, if I get to take the test, I will have to try to keep a straight face as I look into another human being’s eyes and try to answer the question, “Why is the Electoral College important?”

Some people have an easier ride. If you are 65 or older and have 20 years of permanent residency under your belt, you are required to answer fewer questions. This makes me feel better about the substantial errors made by the 66-year-old senator-elect from Alabama, Tommy Tuberville. In an interview this month in The Alabama Daily News, Mr. Tuberville got the three branches of the federal government wrong and misidentified the reason the United States fought in World War II. To be fair, Mr. Tuberville played football for a long time. It is my understanding that this extremely American game involves repeated bashes to the head, one of which is bound to knock out some civics knowledge.

Speaking of senators, one of the more sinister changes to the civics test is the answer to the question, “Who does a U.S. Senator represent?” The only acceptable answer has been changed from all people of their state to citizens of their state. I’m just a person, not a citizen. Am I not worthy of representation? There was a whole kerfuffle about taxation without representation back in the day, I believe.

Simone Hanlon Shook is worried about these changes. “It’s just really punitive to people that don’t have advanced degrees and it’s not in their first language,” she told me. She said she was not worried about passing her own test when she took it on Oct. 7. It was the shorter and simpler one. Plus, she is a high school history teacher. Originally from Ireland, Ms. Hanlon Shook lives in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and in past years used the U.S.C.I.S. questions to quiz her high school students as she waited her turn to take the real thing. “The idea was: if you weren’t a citizen, would you pass this test? And a lot of them wouldn’t.”

Her turn finally came during a pandemic, so the U.S.C.I.S. officer brought her into a room with an iPad, and then he went to the room right next to hers and conducted the interview virtually. She got 100 percent of the questions right and on Oct. 23 she was presented with her citizenship papers and a small American flag during a drive-through ceremony in a parking lot beside the Albany airport. The next day, she told me, she voted in the presidential election.

One day I hope to do the same, so I’m taking practice questions when I can. This one caught me out. “What is Alexander Hamilton famous for?” He’s famous for his cool ponytail and for being a breakout star on Broadway, right? Wrong. Apparently he’s famous for being “one of the writers of the Federalist papers.” Not sure what those are, but they sound serious.

Another one is “Name one example of an American innovation.” Voodoo-flavored Zapp’s chips spring to mind, as does unearned confidence. However, neither is included in the list of acceptable answers. Instead: light bulbs, skyscrapers and landing on the moon.

Hernan Prieto is the citizenship program coordinator at Irish Community Services, a nonprofit in Chicago that provides immigration and social services to immigrants of any nationality in the Midwest. Part of his job is preparing immigrants for the civics test. Unlike Senator-elect Tuberville, his students usually get the question about the branches of government right. They are also familiar with some of the names on the test, he told me. They know who Martin Luther King Jr. is and why he is important. Dates trip them up, though.

A green card holder from Argentina, Mr. Prieto hopes to apply for naturalization next year, and he told me he appreciates what he learns alongside other immigrants. Most crucially, studying civics informs would-be Americans of what they stand to gain and what they need to give if they hope to live up to this nation’s earliest motto. They learn that motto too; it’s “E Pluribus Unum” or “Out of many, one.” They learn that equality is promised by the Constitution, that nobody is above the law and that it is a civic duty to vote.

Mr. Prieto treasures that knowledge, but is not convinced that the test itself is helpful. “I don’t know that we need to have a formal test, with 128 questions that you need to learn, and get 12 of them right,” he said. “Do we really need that? What is important for a new citizen is to know their rights and their responsibilities. That is what levels them with other citizens.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/11/30/opinion/us-citizenship-test.html

Advocates calling on Canada to resolve citizenship application backlog

No surprise. The requests are largely reasonable (greater transparency on status of applications, resumption of tests but not waiving them). Given the government’s campaign commitment to abolish the fees, understandable that they request a reimbursement of the fees (to date, no sign of IRCC acting on that commitment):

Citizenship-applicants and their supporters are calling on the federal government to address the backlog that is preventing thousands from becoming Canadian citizens.

A group called Advocates for Resumption of Canadian Citizenship Tests held demonstrations in Toronto and Montreal on November 7. The group was formed in response to the backlog in citizenship applicants waiting to get approved for a test, or for a citizenship ceremony. Their next demonstration will be in Ottawa on November 28.

Canada’s immigration department, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada(IRCC), cancelled all citizenship tests, interviews, and ceremonies on March 14 in response to the pandemic. IRCC began offering online citizenship ceremonies in April, at a rate of about 2,500 to 3,000 per week, significantly down from the 4,700 they were processing per week in 2019.

Citizenship applicants must demonstrate basic knowledge of Canada, as per the Citizenship Act. Applicants now must meet this requirement by doing the citizenship test, which is currently not available online. Though some in-person retesting has resumed, this means for many that they are unable to get Canadian citizenship. As of September, there were about 85,000 people waiting to take the citizenship test.

As a result, they are unable to vote, work in certain government jobs, or get a Canadian passport.

“It worries us, when we receive several messages in our group from people describing how this is affecting their mental health, relationships, their ability to travel home, their government job prospects, the need to unnecessarily extend their PR status etc.,” wrote a spokesperson from the citizenship tests advocates in a media release.

Nael Asad is one of the co-founder of the advocacy group, and one of thousands waiting for an invitation to take the citizenship test. He has had his permanent residency since 2008, and applied for citizenship in April 2019. Before the pandemic, IRCC’s average processing time for citizenship applications was about one year, so Asad was expecting an invitation for around the time when the pandemic hit in March.

“It’s very disrespectful to leave 85,000 people or more out there in limbo without any kind of update,” Asad told CIC News. “Tell us, ‘OK we’re not going to open up until this pandemic are over,’ but for eight or nine months now they’re saying the same thing ‘We’re monitoring the situation, check our website for updates.’ So people are going every single day on the website to check for updates.”

He also described how being a citizen comes with a sense of security, especially for people who fled war zones to come to Canada.

“When you are a citizen, you are a citizen,” he said. “Nothing is gonna happen to you this is your home country, but technically it is not our home country until we become citizens.”

The advocacy group’s online petition now has over 9,000 signatures. They are making three calls to action for IRCC: transparency on what the immigration department has been doing with the applications since March; the resumption, or wavier, of citizenship tests; and the reimbursement of the citizenship application fee, which runs about $630 for adults.

CIC News reached out to IRCC on updated numbers of citizenship files processed, but did not receive a response in time for publication.

Source: Advocates calling on Canada to resolve citizenship application backlog

Australian values are the focus of new citizenship test questions

Back to values-based testing.

Will see with the final version is, and the degree to which it has any nuance or not (the question below, given its absence of any discussion of reasonable accommodation, suggests unlikely):

If there’s a clash between a religious so-called law and a parliamentary law, which trumps the other?

That’s just one example of the new types of questions which will appear in the slightly updated citizenship test from November this year as aspiring Austrlaians face a tougher vaules test amid challenges to address social cohesion and foreign interference.

Acting Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs Minister Alan Tudge said on Friday that the questions are being inserted to address “our liberal democratic values as opposed to kids facts”.

A new booklet guide will be released to inform people of the changes to the multiple choice test.

Understanding that language acquisition is important for social cohesion and belonging, Mr Tudge announced last week that permanent residents and citizens with poor English skills would be given unlimited language classes but he said there are no plans to introduce an English language test as part of the citizenship process.

Mr Tudge said the questions will be easily understood by anyone who has been in the country for a period of time and who shares Australian values.

Source: Australian values are the focus of new citizenship test questions

Latest Danish citizenship test has one-in-two pass rate

In contrast, when the Conservative government changed the knowledge test by increasing the required pass mark from 60 to 75 percent, rotated questions to reduce cheating along with a new citizenship guide (Discover Canada), all pre-C-24, the rate dropped to close to 80 percent from 96 percent.

Adjustments and changes were made subsequently that resulted in a pass rate of about 90 percent last time I checked.

Canadian citizenship tests are largely designed to facilitate citizenship, Danish ones to make it harder:

At a 52.77 percent pass rate, the success ratio for those hoping to become Danish nationals was slightly lower than the previous test in November 2018, which saw 53.48 percent pass.

A total of 3,502 people took the June 6th test at 52 language centres across Denmark, according to figures released by the Ministry of Immigration and Integration.

Since 2015, the Danish citizenship test (indfødsretsprøven), held twice annually, has consisted of 40 multiple choice questions on Danish culture, history and society. The pass mark is 32.

The pass rate for the test, for which the registration fee is currently 783 kroner, generally hovers around the 50 percent mark.

Passing the test is a prerequisite for all applicants for Danish citizenship. The content and difficulty level of the exam is monitored by the immigration ministry’s International Recruitment and Integration Board (Styrelsen for International Rekruttering og Integration, SIRI).

“It makes me very happy to see that foreigners who live here in Denmark want to become Danish citizens. Congratulations to those who passed the test – they are now one step closer to becoming citizens,” Minister for Immigration and Integration Mattias Tesfaye said in a ministry press release.

“They have shown the will and motivation to learn about our culture, history and democratic system. Citizenship brings with it many new rights, but also an obligation to protect Denmark and help to build our lovely little country,” Tesfaye added.

The next citizenship test will take place on November 27th.

Source: Latest Danish citizenship test has one-in-two pass rate

Whatever happened to the ‘Australian values’ citizenship bill?

Spoiler – Identity politics and the election:

Nothing seemed as urgent as the protection of Australian values when journalists were called to the Prime Minister’s courtyard two years ago to hear of new laws that would make it harder for migrants to gain citizenship.

Malcolm Turnbull and Peter Dutton stood side by side in Parliament House to announce a bill that would require newcomers to pass stricter English tests and sign a “values statement” before they could become Australians.

This sounded absolutely imperative. The law would be put to Parliament “as soon as possible” to not only apply the new tests but also require permanent residents to wait at least four years, rather than just one, before they could apply for citizenship.

There would even be a change to the preamble in the citizenship law so that new citizens would accept the obligation to “pledge their allegiance” to Australia and its people.

But an election victory changes everything. The new law is no longer as urgent as it seemed in April 2017. The Australian Citizenship Legislation Amendment (Strengthening the Requirements for Australian Citizenship and Other Measures) Bill 2017 has been dropped into a filing cabinet and may never be seen again.

The quiet demise of this proposal is a curious shift from years of government warnings about the need for citizens to speak better English and respect Australian laws.

“We want them to demonstrate that they’re adhering to Australian values and that is why it’s incredibly important on all of those levels to get this change through the Parliament,” Dutton told Ray Hadley on 2GB in the middle of 2017.

The proposal was the product of its time. Turnbull stood alongside Dutton at a point when Tony Abbott was mounting a conservative offensive from the backbench. One year into his tenure as Prime Minister, Turnbull was at risk of looking too “progressive” for his own side.

And the political objective of the bill was never in doubt.

“We’re standing up for Australian values and the Parliament should do so too,” said Turnbull in the courtyard.

“So if Labor doesn’t sign up they don’t respect Australian values?” asked a journalist. Turnbull did not have to answer the question directly for the implication to be obvious.

Bill Shorten and his shadow ministers, including citizenship spokesman Tony Burke, resisted the pressure to wave the bill through. Burke said the language test was “ridiculous” because it required university-level standards.

The uproar ran for months. The current citizenship test, put in place by the Howard government, is described as a de facto English test because it asks 20 questions about Australian history and culture. The new test would have required “competent” English to Level 6 of the general training stream of the International English Language Testing System.

Of course new citizens should be encouraged to speak English, but this was not the principle at stake in the government plan. At issue were the scale of the change and the difficulty of the test. The Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia called the proposed standard “punitive” and unnecessary.

The result, a political stand-off, raised the usual question when politicians thunder about values. What did they want more: an outcome or a fight? It was easy to see the bill as an example of conservative virtue signalling.

Eager to hear the roar of the “values” debate, the government revved the engine so hard the parts glowed red and the radiator ran dry. Was it worth it? Turnbull certainly did not prosper from his appeal to the right. The bill was hardly front-and-centre in the election campaign. It is a footnote on the long list of reasons for Shorten’s defeat.

The Immigration Minister, David Coleman, now has carriage of the citizenship bill and some of the pressing issues around the settlement of new migrants, not least the way Australia looks after new refugees. One item on his agenda is a review of settlement services.

Coleman has no history of starting culture wars. He knows multicultural Australia better than many politicians, given his seat of Banks in southern Sydney is considered one of the country’s most diverse. His focus appears to be on the practical.

The final status of the plan is uncertain. The bill will not come back to Parliament but none of the proposals has been formally rejected – not the English standard, the four-year wait, the values statement, the “pledge of allegiance” or anything else.

Some sections of the bill gave the immigration minister more discretion to reject citizenship applications, a feature that troubled experts but did not gain as much attention as the language test. There may be a natural tendency in any government to bring these sorts of changes back to Parliament.

Yet the fact remains that the government chooses to let the bill fall by the wayside even when the new Parliament seems to give it a stronger chance of getting its way. The Coalition would only need the support of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation, the Australian Conservatives’ Cory Bernardi and Tasmanian independent Jacqui Lambie to pass the bill.

A spokeswoman for Coleman says the government “continues to monitor” the citizenship requirements and the broader citizenship program.

Morrison has extraordinary authority from his election victory. How he uses his power remains to be seen. Perhaps his approach to the citizenship bill is a sign that he feels no obligation to pander to the right.

On population and migration, Morrison set out his goals in March in a 44-page statement that made no mention of citizenship tests and spoke about urban congestion far more than values.

In any case, the government would prefer to fight on the refugee medical transfer bill. All its firepower in this portfolio will be focused on the medevac debate when the new Parliament meets.

This means the citizenship bill has served its purpose. The government was able to flex its muscle, pick a fight with Labor and appeal to a group of conservative voters it feared losing during the Turnbull years.

The argument was entirely shaped by the weaknesses of the government, riven as it was by the divisions between left and right, and the result was years of hot air. No law was changed. No wonder Australians are so cynical about the empty posturing in Canberra.

Like an old car with a burnt-out engine, the “Australian values” bill may now be left to rust in a field.

Source: Whatever happened to the ‘Australian values’ citizenship bill?

Why the ‘Life in the UK’ test alienates new citizens

The perils of citizenship tests based on “values” with some counterintuitive results.

I think overall the Canadian questions are reasonable with fewer marginal questions (and telling that the Liberal government, despite having worked on a revision to Discover Canada, and presumably associated questions, has yet to release it and, IMO, is unlikely to do so 6 months before the election):

The UK’s citizenship process subjects immigrants to requirements intended to enhance their identification with ‘British values’. Does the current process do that, or does it exacerbate immigrants’ marginalisation? David Bartram finds evidence in support of the latter: citizenship policy does more to alienate new citizens than it does to facilitate their political integration.

Have you taken the ‘Life in the UK’ test? If you’re already a UK citizen, then of course you don’t need to – but if you did it out of curiosity you’d likely find it very difficult to pass. Some of the questions involve obscure historical dates (in what year did Richard III die?). Even for more meaningful events it is not clear why one should know the year (e.g. re when women gained the vote – an important issue, but why is knowing the date a basis for citizenship?).

Immigrants wishing to gain citizenship (or even permanent residence) have to pass it. The only way to succeed is to study. Now, some of the questions pertain to more useful matters, so perhaps there’s some benefit from the learning one does. And, once you’ve passed, perhaps you’ll feel (on the basis of the knowledge gained) that you’ve earned an entitlement to participate more fully in British public life and core institutions. Academics tend to be critical of the test requirement, but the idea that some good could come of it – possibly even a set of outcomes that looks something like enhanced integration – is not completely implausible.

Propositions of this sort can be tested, with the right data. With colleagues at the University of Leicester(and funding from the ESRC), I have investigated whether becoming a UK citizen (thus, passing the test and participating in a citizenship ceremony) helps foster integration specifically in terms of political engagement. My answer: the core citizenship requirements do more to impair integration in the political sphere than to enhance it. Immigrants who become UK citizens end up less interested in politics, relative to those immigrants who remain non-citizens. That’s a very counterintuitive result; only slightly less shocking is that new citizens do not participate more in civic/public organizations than those who remain non-citizens.

That finding comes from analysis of data from ‘Understanding Society’ (the UK household panel survey). The longitudinal nature of the data helps minimize the prospect of reverse causation (the possibility that it’s a matter of naturalization by already less-engaged people). The analytical sample comprised almost 1000 people who in Wave 1 (2009/10) were not UK citizens. By the time of Wave 6 (2014/15), roughly half of these respondents had gained citizenship – and the core of the analysis involved comparing them to those who remained non-citizens while taking into account their initial conditions including their extent of political engagement.

Now, perhaps it’s somehow misguided to connect the empirical pattern to the specific requirements for UK naturalization. Maybe naturalization led to decreased political engagement even before the introduction of the test and ceremonies. Not a terribly plausible idea, surely. We can’t test it directly: the ‘Understanding Society’ project began several years after the policy was implemented in 2005 (and the predecessor dataset, the British Household Panel Survey, doesn’t enable tracking changes in citizenship status). We do however have earlier research on the question more generally in Europe including the UK – and in analysis of data from 2002-2003 they find that naturalization is generally associated with increased political engagement (in other words, the outcome one would expect). So, perhaps something did in fact change in the UK after the requirements were put in place.

We can then ask: why would the UK citizenship process lead to lower political engagement? The process involves jumping through some meaningless hoops, so it might be a simple matter of annoyance, possibly to the point of fostering alienation. We can however go a bit further, via further consideration of the types of questions the test poses about political matters.

Many of these questions strike me as having something significant in common. There is a clear tendency to ask about the ‘rules of the game’. For example: what is the role of the Whips in Parliament? Or, what is the current minimum voting age? Or, what time of year are local government elections held? Questions like this imply acquiescence to ‘the way things are’: we tell you what the rules are, and you can then play by those rules. There’s nothing about fundamental rights of citizenship – say, the right to demonstrate and to participate in other forms of collective action. The subtext here is a politics of obedience, perhaps even docility. If this is what we tell immigrants about the nature of our politics, who can blame them if they then say: who needs it?  Why bother? Democratic politics is supposed to engage big questions, about justice, fairness, freedom, equality – but through the ‘Life in the UK’ test Britain teaches new immigrants that it’s all just a matter of fitting in and doing what is expected of you.

There is another significant angle to consider. Anne-Marie Fortier argues (very persuasively) that the real motivation behind the requirements of the UK citizenship policy is not to achieve integration for immigrants but rather to alleviate the anxieties of ‘natives’. The policy sends a signal to people worried about immigration: we hear you, and we’re doing something about it. Whether it has any impact on the immigrants themselves is decidedly secondary. One might be sanguine about that idea as long as the impact is merely nil (rather than positive). But if instead the tests and ceremonies have a genuinely negative impact on immigrants in the UK it becomes less feasible to justify an attempt to mollify voters this way.

The original goal of the requirements (as articulated by the then-Home Secretary, David Blunkett) was to foster participation, in hopes of reinforcing ‘social cohesion’. The requirements are plainly not helping to achieve that goal and might be actively undermining it – even for those who succeed in demonstrating knowledge about ‘Life in the UK’ that most ‘natives’ don’t have.

Source: Why the ‘Life in the UK’ test alienates new citizens