Readers may recall past commentaries on the UK citizenship test. All persons who want to secure Indefinite Leave to Remain (permitting permanent residency) or British citizenship must sit and pass the UK citizenship test.
Of course, the "citizenship test" (as it is commonly known) is a misnomer. Passing the test doesn't make anyone a citizen. Instead, the test's name is, in fact, the "Life in the UK" test.
The test used to emphasize the need for future citizens to become knowledgeable about their rights and how to secure employment without any questions about British history, geography or law. This made the test very different from the US citizenship test where there are questions about the Founding Fathers, America's largest rivers (the Mississippi and Missouri, of course) and basic points of law that citizens are expected to know. The British version emphasized the goal of future citizens being able to function in society; the American version perhaps has greater emphasis on historical and cultural knowledge instead.
My past commentary and criticisms can be listened to here (from 23 mins) on BBC Radio 4 or read here in The Political Quarterly.
One major problem I identified was that the then current test was woefully out of date. It was published in March 2007 and, thus, questions about British politics and policies could only be answered correctly by accurately noting what was true in March 2007. Since that time government departments have merged or been rebranded, programmes cut, etc. Plus, the test asked questions about census figures from 2001.
A second major problem I identified was the need for some inclusion of British history and culture - as well as some basic points of law. The former test omitted questions in these areas to its detriment. The right to remain silent and other rights are among those things we should expect citizens to know.
The government has now published a new textbook - the 3rd edition - from which questions on the citienship test will come from March 2013. The textbook has some welcome changes, such as bringing British history and culture back in although we await to see what exactly will be tested. One real concern is that the historical legacy will be politicised (or "Toryfied"), but this remains to be seen.
One potential concern is that things may have begun to swing too far the other way -- with far too much emphasis on a particular version of historical and cultural importance and far too little on daily British life. If so, this would be a move too far in the wrong direction.
Initial reports suggest that the test may have become much easier. Questions used to focus on various benefits programmes and the functioning of schools. But now questions - at least those released thus far - are more simple and less technical, such as the location of Stonehenge and the London Paralympics. If true, then one perhaps surprising result may well be that the test may be much easier to pass. So a Tory-led government focussed on reducing immigration may make it much easier for new immigrants to pass an important hurdle on the path to permanent residency and citizenship.
Expect to see much more soon on the new test.