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.
Note: the above draws on the author’s published work in Sociology.
David Bartram is Associate Professor in the Department of Sociology at the University of Leicester.
My husband is currently going through the procedures for the British Citizenship. The test has barely any relevance to life in the UK. It’s ridiculous and as a Brit myself I can honestly say that I don’t know any Brit who would be able to answer the majority of the questions let alone non Brits… The detail and precision of the questions is shocking and I really do not see the relevance. My husband was asked how much you can claim in the small claims court in Northern Ireland… The percentage of grandparents in the UK from another Country… What St Augustine became in 1800 and who knows what, when Christianity came to Britain 1100, 1200, 1300 or 1400… and various other completely irrelevant questions. How is this supposed to be representative of Life in the UK and why should anyone know these ludicrous pop quiz questions?!
It’s a shockingly abusive way of making money.
What is the justification behind this? Give this tests to some UK Nationals and lets see who would be allowed to keep their citizenship… Scandalous!!
Most questions got nothing to do with current life for full integration in the UK.
Don’t get me wrong as a multiple choice questions, answers are not easy to pick because no matter how hard you try to prepare for the test, questions are computer generated so you may easily fail.
I personally believe that integration is a day by day process through cultural acquisition.
Life in the UK & Culture could be combined. Both are inherent.
Candidates should be free to talk for around 5minutes and questions should be followed to assess candidate both in Speaking as well as their Cultural Acquisition.
Candidates can’t simply fake it.
This test is an outrage, the questions are badly written and most questions are irrelevant, however the test is biased to people who can learn by rote a list of facts, how do people with learning disabilities cope?
Being dyslectic myself I cannot imagine trying to pass this in a second language let alone a my first language, this is a very discriminatory process.
Maybe somebody stole the questions from the quiz shows
The biggest problem of this test is most of test’s questions are about unuseful and unhelpful facts which can’t be used properly in a day to day life. I am a historian and it was interesting but mostly pointless reading. I spent about 2 weeks for reading and re-reading until I could remember the most. But I skipped questions about celebrities, sportmen etc. I do not understand how could really help me in my life in the UK if I can say who exactly got 2 gold medals on the Olympic games or what Henry VIII did to his 3rd wife.
I successfully passed my LitUK test from the first attempt in November 2019 and I do not remember many answers because what I studied for this test is about how to pass this test and just a little bit about a current life in the UK.
Also I had to pass an English language test. And I do understand how really important and vital is to know the language of the country where you live. If one day they reform the LitUK test in line with an English language test (I mean quality and value of this test), the LitUK test may become a really useful and helpful instrument. But for the moment this is just a formal requirement which you should pass for your bigger aim and nothing more unfortunately.
I sat this test on July 5th That test took me 3 minutes. I walked out and the receptionist asked if there was a problem with the computer. It’s very basic stuff people. Who is the patron Saint of Scotland? When is Christmas day? Where is Big Ben?
Do you really need a test? You need something. Test is booked for 45 minutes….. I think a 40 minute interview would do more. As it is today its only a hoop you have to jump through to get what you want. Just like the finance hoop if you can’t pay that you can’t proceed. So sitting the test will not make any difference how you interact with society…. Its there to do what it does…. Another money gathering hoop for the government.
The test is very easy dates times are general knowledge.
I am a British pensioner and find it very basic.
Writing from distant memory (2009) from distant Australia where I migrated to as a British citizen, I found the test to be quite simple. I rather enjoyed the untested historical aspect more than I did the tested part. I do not think I became more or less integrated by the test as I consider myself quite politically engaged, albeit a non-voter. I compare the UK process to my naturalisation in Australia 2weeks ago after becoming eligible and applying 33months ago. The Oz test was simpler. I or any ‘engaged’ mmigrant could pass the test without watching the approximately 1hour video of the test material. But the long wait, endless bureaucracy and sudden policy changes that impact the Oz naturalisation can be very alienating. While I was excited to get my British citizenship, I has no such emotion with the Australian as it felt like one had to pull it out of “their” hands rather than be graciously granted it. While a test may or may not alienate, an onerous process can surely do the unintended, if really it were unintended.
I teach the book and the questions to many students. The language is academic and Eurocentric in nature and the content is rather detailed. Questions can be worded using double negatives and degrees of frequency- this can cause further confusion.
I found the test to be relatively straightforward, I’ve taken the test twice and passed it first try on both attempts. I do agree that some of the questions are just down right silly, but there are a few good facts in there that actually applied to everyday situations (for me at least).
e.g In my test I was asked “where can you obtain your National Insurance number?” That for me was very helpful because I came from a country where we don’t even have a national insurance number. All in all, I did learn a few good points from studying for and taking the test, I do think there should be more questions on modern life in the UK, but that’s just me.
Yes, if the test was made up of questions about actual life and getting by in the UK this would be a useful test. But facts about the monarchy? I had a good, public school education. I did history to O level (that dates me) but there are huge gaps in my historical knowledge. Has this hindered me? Only occasionally in a pub quiz or Alexa’s question of the day. I know many things by friends don’t, They know many things I don’t.
The test needs reforming so it’s useful and relevant to life now. Knowing a saints day is not IMPORTANT.
Knowing where to get an NI number is.
Let every civil servant and MP take the test. before they take up a post. 🙂
“Have you taken the ‘Life in the UK’ test?” I tried it out for fun while applying for German citizenship, for which I had to take the German test. For fun I also tried the online version of the US test, though that is not a 100% comparison, as the online version of that is multiple choice while real applicants have to answer in person. On this unscientific basis, it is MUCH harder to pass the UK test than the others. I think it is too hard. It’s hard to understand why the UK test is so hard except as a way of proving commitment to those who have to take it. But surely there are better ways?
Having said that, I wonder at someone writing for the LSE describing the date of the Battle of Bosworth Field (when Richard III died) as obscure. I suppose he doesn’t know whether a Marquis outranks an Earl either, all vital information for somebody wanting to fit in in Brixton. O tempora, o mores … 🙂
Yes very true.
It is reasonable to have some sort of test for citizenship, but the test currently used is ridiculous and it shouldn’t surprise that it serves little purpose other than acting as a gateway to more rights and benefits. A test may reassure natives, but as most will have no idea what the test involves a simpler and more relevant test would serve just as well. There may of course be another interpretation – that having secured citizenship, migrants interest in politics converges with that of the relevant native population, which I suppose might be integration of a sort.