Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The UK citizenship test: the next steps

For those who may have missed it, I have included discussion and links here of my interview yesterday with BBC Radio 4. The discussion centred on the UK's citizenship test (go to 23 min 20 sec). I sat this test in 2009 in order to qualify for an Indefinite Leave to Remain visa (translation: permanent work visa). After earning an ILR visa, you must wait a period of no less than 12 months before applying for UK citizenship. The citizenship application normally takes about six months to process. I became a UK citizen last month.

There are several concerns I raise about the UK citizenship test: questions about demographics use out of date statistics (often from previous census 10 years ago), there are questions about government departments and offices that have been either rebranded or scrapped, and there are questions about programmes that no longer run. The current test was published in April 2007 -- and too many of the questions assume the world hasn't changed much since.

While I raise several concerns, I also make several clear recommendations. The first recommendation -- and something I've argued since 2009 -- is the need for the test to focus more on British history and culture. Curiously, there are questions on UK history on the UK citizenship test. This is a major difference between this test and others, such as the US test. In the US, candidates are asked about the Civil War, Declaration of Independence, and the first US President (e.g., George Washington). When I speak to people about the UK test, everyone seems unanimous on the need for greater inclusion of British history. A second recommendation is the addition of questions concerning basic law, such as your rights under arrest as well as search and seizure. There are no questions about this on the UK citizenship test either.

To my delight, the Prime Minister announced there will be major changes to the UK citizenship test about an hour after my interview was broadcast (which I'm sure was only a coincidence). One specific change will be the inclusion of questions about British history and culture. I'm genuinely excited about this news and looking forward to seeing what further changes might be enacted to not only bring the test up to date, but also much closer to the standards of public expectation on what the test should cover.

With any luck, the Home Office will also have a strong interest in speaking with academics in politics who have sat test and become naturalised British citizens if only to gather constructive feedback . . . .


Little Red-Haired Girl said...

Hello Thom.

I was initially going to post here only to point out what I think is a typo...

"Curiously, there are questions on UK history on the UK citizenship test." -- I believe you meant ‘NO questions’?

...However, the more I thought about it all, I couldn’t stop myself rambling about the topic. As I do tend to go on, I posted it over here on my own oft-neglected blog so as to not increase the size of your page tenfold. :-)

The Brooks Blog said...

Many thanks for these comments on my post. We seem to agree on much and disagree on not much at all. Let me address the disagreement:
1. I've never said that most fail the test because there are so many incorrect or out of date questions. While there are enough such question to fail, this is not the cause.
2. The PM said yesterday that it is surprising there are no questions about "British history and culture": while there is some mention of culture on the test, the textbook is very clear that chapter 1 (on British history) will not be covered on the citizenship test. When I referred to the absence of British history (and basic law), I was referring to the fact that no questions are drawn from the chapter on British history (nor are any drawn from the chapter on law). This seems a major shortcoming that should be remedied and I've been very encouraged to see this appears very likely.
3. While I might agree that there may be no need for tests to be updated annually, the costs are largely passed onto those sitting the test. The price is an issue (and I was lucky to apply when the test, my visa, and citizenship application cost a bit less), but not unmanageable.
4. I disagree on the test being required for new arrivals. The discount will mean taxpayers would subsidize the test and I think this would be too politically unpopular. All EU citizens have a right to travel to the UK and so would be exempt from the test. So the test could only be a factor for non-EU and/or those seeking citizenship. Unless the idea is to raise barriers specifically on non-EU migrants, then I think limiting the test to non-EU permanent settlement and citizenship the better choice.

Again, we agree on more than we disagree. One source of agreement is that the questions - in addition to being perhaps more regularly updated - should address better subject-matters. You note Christmas, etc., but what would want the test to address? I'd be interested to know.