Last year, I happened to be in a registry office in London, and overheard people who had just taken the British citizenship test talking about the difference between public holidays and bank holidays (do you know the difference?). Recently I saw this book, and thought I’d give it a quick read.
In 2005, the British government decided that everyone who is naturalised or given indefinite leave to remain in the UK, should be expected to pass a test about “Life in the UK” as a prerequisite. I was interested to know what kind of knowledge was regarded as so necessary to being a British citizen.
I expected it to be completely idiotic, so in some ways, I was pleasantly surprised. Lots of the information you’re expected to read and learn for the test is about peoples rights, and services and charities that can help you. Some of it is information that you really should be told about the way the UK works for your own benefit. This is good stuff, and I’m in favour of making sure that people who live here know these things.
Which of these two statements is correct?
- You can contact your MP by letter or phone at their constituency office or at the House of Commons.
- If you want to contact your MP you must go to the House of Commons.
Which of these two statements is correct?
- The general public are not allowed inside Parliament.
- The general public can visit Parliament by getting tickets from their MP or by queuing at the public entrance.
Citizens of EU member states have the right to travel to or work in other EU countries.
Which of these statements is correct?
- The Citizens Advice Bureau will advise you on housing problems
- You must consult the local authority about housing problems
And so on, making sure that you know Shelter is a housing charity, how to look for work, that you can’t believe everything you read in newspapers, that you know that you can vote, that you know you can’t be chucked out of your house by the landlord, how to use the NHS, that you know your kids have to go to school, and that you know what documentation you’ll need to get a bank account or register with a doctor. All information really that anyone moving to the UK should be given.
There are questions in between, things about customs, what most Britons eat for Christmas dinner, how most folk bring up their kids, general history about the ethnic roots of the people who live in the UK and the common religions, stuff that isn’t tremendously important, but might be useful for people to know. Then there are the other sorts of questions. General knowledge facts that most Britons would be entirely unaware of, that help you not a bit and that somehow are thought to be so important for foreigners moving to the UK to know that they’re included in the test.
How many members of the Scottish Parliament are there?
When was the present voting age set?
When was the Council of Europe created?
In what year did the Gunpowder Plot take place?
How many seats are there in the European Parliament for representatives from the UK
And there are a few further requirements. There are the numerous forms that must be filled in for a start. You have to pay 655 pounds, swear a bizzare oath of allegiance to the Queen (something many born Britons would never do), and attend a Welcoming ceremony where you will have to sit through speeches by “local dignitaries”. If you do not attend the welcoming ceremony within 90 days, not only do you not become a citizen, but you have to make a new application, pay the fee again (since the cost of the welcoming ceremony is included in the fee) and attend another. I’m not a big fan of ceremonies personally, I didn’t attend my graduation, however I’m not totally against the idea of a welcoming ceremony. The whole point of the welcoming ceremony is to try to make an occasion of it. However for it to be truly welcoming, perhaps it should be paid for by the UK, be noncompulsory, and interesting enough to make people actually want to attend. Maybe a concert from British bands keen to welcome the new citizens. Perhaps a couple of comedians, and yes, maybe then a speech from a “local dignitary”, but I think citizenship welcoming ceremonies should move with the times. It should be something that people are jealous you are going to and it should include real British people who aren’t doing it just because they’re paid to welcoming you.
Since before you can apply for naturalisation, and take the test, you must already have been living in the UK for at least 5 years, it does make some of the questions e.g. about what you need to open a bank account possibly a little out of date for you.
I’m not sure that I have the sheer determination, spare cash, patience, drive, form filling ability, and moral deviousness (swearing an oath I don’t agree with), to be British.