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Saturday, September 29, 2012

British prime minister fails UK citizenship test questions on TV talk show

Time to scrap the test

(The Times of India) - UK Prime Minister David Cameron leads the Conservatives. They - and he - have taken a harsh stand on immigration. One of the issues here has been a computerized test - called the Life in the United Kingdom test - which those seeking indefinite leave to remain in the UK or to become naturalized citizens must take. The test focusses, among other things, on British history. But when Cameron, appearing on a popular American TV show - The Late Show with David Letterman - failed to answer questions on history of the kind that might appear on the test, that should tell us something.
Ever since it was instituted, the test has come in for strong criticism. Quite apart from the fact that it has been discovered to have factual inaccuracies, the reality is that such artificial examinations of an individual's worth as a potential resident - rooted as they are in a particular socio-cultural and ethnic outlook - have no place in a democratic and multicultural nation. And Cameron's abysmal showing was not an aberration. It has been demonstrated that most British citizens would be unable to pass the test. When over 11,000 of them took a sample test, they had a pass rate of just 14% - far below the pass rate for actual candidates from other countries. For instance, between 2005 and 2009, Indian candidates had a pass rate of 79.2%.

So does this mean those Indian candidates are more qualified to be British citizens than native-born people? Of course not. It simply underscores how pointless the test is. It's time the UK government reconsidered the entire process. Such tests are harmful, as they can be misused by overzealous officials to keep out those with valid reasons - such as family - to migrate to or stay in the UK.


In Rome do as the Romans do

Pyaralal Raghavan

Citizenship tests are a useful and time-tested method tried out in many countries. Prime Minister David Cameron failing the test in David Letterman's late night show means nothing, because the host is known for his penchant to embarrass important guests in order to garner high ratings for his show. The requirement of some basic knowledge for all citizenship aspirants is hardly extra-ordinary. The popular adage 'when in Rome do as the Romans do' highlights the importance of knowing local traditions. Without a minimum knowledge of a country's history, heritage, customs and sentiments the new citizens will only alienate themselves from the local communities and finally end up in ghettos. This leads to social unrest, lack of integration and law and order problems.

Historically citizenship rights are conferred on the basis of either the place of birth or nationality of parents. Those born in a particular country or whose parents are of a particular nationality can usually claim citizenship rights without facing too many hurdles. However, with immigration becoming a major political issue in developed economies many countries have screened out aspirants by using supplementary criteria like educational or professio-nal qualifications, investment potential or citizenship tests.

A great advantage of the citizenship tests is they quietly ensure greater flexibility in policy without much ado. The US, which has mandated citizenship tests in emigration policy right from the middle of the last century, has successfully matched inflows of new citizens in line with requirements by tweaking the citizenship tests and setting easier standards during periods of least resistance and tightening them during more hostile times. Citizenship ought to mean something. But it is rendered meaningless if those upon whom it's conferred remain ignorant about the host country and its ethos. 

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