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Can citizenship be tested?

Book co-edited by City University London academic explores the politics behind citizenship tests.
by Ruth Shepherd

High-profile guests, academics, members of the public and HE Mr John Dauth, Australian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom visited City University London on 28 June 2011 for the launch of a new book focusing on the historical, political and international perspectives on citizenship tests. 

From Migrant to Citizen: Testing Culture, Testing Language is published by Palgrave Macmillan and edited by Professor Christina Slade, Dean of the Conjoint Schools of Arts and Social Sciences at City University London and Professor Martina Mollering, Head of the Department of International Studies at Macquarie University, Australia.

Citizenship tests are designed to check an immigrant's knowledge of local language, culture and traditions before granting the right to stay permanently in a country. Citizenship tests were introduced in the UK for naturalisation in 1995 and settlement in 2007.

Professor Slade argues that while the tests are often introduced as a means of ensuring migrants are ready to become citizens, they don't accurately account for the diversity of modern cultures.

"These tests are positioned as providing some sort of insurance that new citizens are adaptable to the country's culture and understand the language. However, our research suggests that ultimately the knowledge tested represents a very narrow view of local communities, cultures and societies."

The book is the first of its kind to focus on academic, political, philosophical and legal perspectives on citizenship tests both in Australia and around the world. Professor Slade says she hopes it will provide a new viewpoint on citizenship tests.

"As citizenship tests become increasingly popular it is important to interrogate their real effectiveness and meaning."

Professor Martina Mollering, Head of the Department of International Studies at Macquerie University Australia and co-editor of the book, commented:

"There is increasing convergence. Last century Australia saw itself as a country of immigration while Germany insisted on the importance of German heritage among its citizens. Now both are imposing tests for new citizens which focus on language and culture.

"What we see is a process of convergence of national citizenship testing regimes and a strong focus on language skills in this context. More and more countries specify language conditions for citizenship and it could be argued that this emphasis on language competency can be seen as a move from policies supporting cultural pluralism to those that are aimed at fostering 'integration' into the majority culture."

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