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Wednesday, 13 February, 2002, 13:34 GMT
Are citizenship classes needed?
British citizenship tests are among changes to the asylum and immigration system being unveiled by Home Secretary David Blunkett.
Plans to require immigrants to have a working grasp of English and an understanding of British institutions are set to feature in the long-awaited White Paper published on Thursday.
Immigrants may also be asked to take part in citizenship ceremonies and to swear a new loyalty oath if they want to become British citizens.
Could these tests harm Britain's multiculturalism? Is it fair to insist citizens learn English? What do you think?
This Talking Point has now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
Citizenship tests should be enforced for all who wish to vote in this country irrespective of race or origin.
Craig Harry, Liverpool, England
What is that point of making people take a citizenship test when we aren't even citizens ourselves? By the law of the land we are all subjects of the Queen! Now if we get rid of her and become a republic then we can all take citizenship tests.
This has come far too late but of course itīs right. I am a Brit living in Austria. During my first years here I could not speak German well and experience resentment from Austrian people. After I had mastered the language properly I now feel fully integrated and of course, itīs their country, they set the rules. I have to fit in with their ways. The same applies in GB.
The only citizenship tests should be about encouraging people to take a greater interest in the communities where they live.
I have just become a naturalised British citizen. I speak perfect English, go out with an English girlfriend and acquired my higher education in Britain.
Despite all this, I still see bigotry, social exclusion and discrimination in society against minorities.
The English have to realise it takes two to tango. The rioters in the summer were born here and spoke perfect English.
Immigrants bring needed colour to Britain. Can you imagine how dull Britain would be without immigrant culture?
I'm an Anglo-Bengali. I'm all for efforts to get immigrants to integrate with the community. My only reservation is that the proposed exams are a pre-requiste to citizenship. My fears are that there will be a lot of bias and unfair. Who will police these exams and what criteria will be used to define what a pass and fail is?
What amuses me is what Blunkett would have said if this policy had been proposed by the Tories. Would he have supported such a policy then or would he have tried to trump it with the race card as he and Labour have done so often before?
Reading the comments posted here it's obvious the vast majority of people, including most immigrants themselves, are all for this idea. So why do I have the feeling that the excessively liberal minded, politically correct minority will end up getting this reversed. This country pays far too much attention to the whining minority groups, why do we have to feel our own culture is worth less than others? Are we ashamed of our past? Immigrants who choose to live here should want to become British; questions should be asked about the intentions of those who don't. We, the taxpayers, can do without any more burdens on a system that is starting to buckle under the strain. Listening to the minorities will only lead to trouble, as do-gooders always do bad - they never think long term. The British have rights too, but it seems no one is here to protect them, so well done Mr Blunkett!
I am definitely in favour of new immigrants having a working knowledge of English and an understanding of British institutions. These are necessities if you are to gain the full benefits of UK society. As for the ceremonies and loyalty oath I do not see any real practical benefit, this is window dressing.
Srinivas, Chillara, India
Excellent idea. If someone wants to live in the UK because they want to share its political stability, economic prosperity and cultural heritage they are welcome to in my eyes. But in return, having to prove a basic understanding of how those ideals were achieved and maintained and learning how to communicate in the mother tongue is both a small price to pay and an excellent integration tool. I am now just waiting for some leftie to accuse the government of racial discrimination and propose instead that the UK should have 297 official languages!
Not only should immigrants be made to learn English, they should also be made to watch old Norman Wisdom and Carry On films!
The political wing of the IRA have been allowed to move into Parliament offices without swearing an oath to the queen and for someone who is ready to walk through a tunnel to get to Britain what does the oath prove?
What if a Welsh-speaking Spanish Patagonian wants to emigrate to Wales? Will they have to pass the English test?
Bill Hartree , UK
BS McIntosh, Sweden (ex-UK)
I am an Indian national working in the UK, hoping to apply for British nationality one day. I fully support David Blunkett's proposals on immigration, and feel they are long overdue. There are various elements that make up 'being British' and a sound knowledge of English is one of them. It is essential that the basic Britishness of this society is preserved, and we immigrants must respect the culture and traditions of this land. This can only strengthen British multiculturalism. Its high time we all stood up against the political correctness lobby.
I have a right to go and live in any country in Europe and am not required to learn the language, likewise I could join a hundred and one ex-pat communities around the world and again not learn their language, or indeed partake in their culture. It seems ridiculous to therefore insist that people have to learn English if they want to come to my country. But this is the luxury of Britain's colonial legacy, and in reality is something that only a handful are party to. Being forced to learn English may seem austere, but in the long run the immigrants themselves will benefit.
I think WGS has missed the point. The people who are looking to immigrate to the UK are clearly wanting to become British. I can go and work anywhere in Europe, but I still want to remain British. If I wanted to become a citizen of another European country, I would expect to have to understand the language and customs of that country.
The people who immigrate to the UK are not here to work and then to go back to their country of origin when the job finishes or they retire - they expect to be here, supported by the state for medical and other services, for the rest of their lives.
To take advantage of our benefit and welfare system, surely a citizenship test and an English test is a small price to pay?
I used to be a secondary school teacher in the eighties. One of the main subjects I taught was citizenship. In my experience, ALL children benefit from learning about how this country works -most of them have no idea, and far too many of their (20 to 30-something) parents have little or no such knowledge to pass on to their children by themselves. The teaching of this subject was stopped by national curriculum initiatives and cost-cutting measures brought in by the Thatcher administration. Many teachers knew that dropping this subject was short sighted stupidity then, but the Tory demagogues would not listen. It has taken the current debate to finally bring the subject to the fore once again. Imparting an understanding to children of the country in which they live is too important to leave to chance, it needs to be actively taught. Citizenship - the awareness and understanding of how our country works as a system, and of how our individual responsibilities fit within that framework - should be taught to all children. Any controversy over whether we should be teaching it to new immigrants would then disappear.
I am in favour of the new proposal. If you have chosen to live in another country is it your responsility to integrate with it. That does not mean give up your own culture it simply means integration. Unfortunately the monitoring and application of this proposal is going to be costly and yet another burden on our limited public spending. I think the root of the problem is that benefits are too easily accquired and in abundance - hence the desire to be in Britain rather than other countries. I agree with "Martin, UK" Britain has to be more stringent about access (& benefits) in the first place that is where money would be better spent for the long term.
Welsh or the Scottish form of Gaelic should be allowed. I hope they keep the standard high.
Apart from the obvious benefits of speaking a country's language, i.e. being able to buy goods and to ask for directions, it also broadens the mind in that one is then able to understand what people are saying and, more importantly, WHY they are saying something. Understanding people's views produces greater tolerance and automatically leads to a happier society. I believe that if you choose to leave your own country for pastures new, you should make the effort to learn the language, history, and customs of your new home. Just understanding the broad history of a country makes one understand why the natives are as they are! For example, in my second home, Hungary, glasses are never knocked together when saying "cheers" - the reason being that during the First World War any time an Hungarian was killed by Russian invaders, the Russians clanked their vodka glasses over the body! It's a small point but, let's face it, it is the little things in life that lead to the big problems! However, as far as concerns about those men (and it is men!) who believe in arranged marriages, genital mutilation and the subjection of women - do we really want those sort of people here?
Is it not more than a little hypocritical to demand things of immigrants that we do not demand of ourselves? One could argue that a working knowledge of English is not that common, not to mention knowing about British institutions (which ones?) or oaths of loyalty (to what? The crown? The British state? Tony Blair? We have Sinn Fein MPs who won't do it!) Sadly, this will all pass precisely because it will only apply to "them".
Why not? The US has always had them, it's about time we started taking pride in our heritage and culture as other countries did instead of letting it slip into the cesspit it's heading towards. It would also help immigrants if they could go to prospective employees with a recognised certificate stating they had basic knowledge of English.
Most of the immigrants will not have a clue about a loyalty oath or what it means. They see this country as a free ride, which it is, so they will say and do anything to get in. The only effective control would have been to keep them out in the first place, but alas I fear it is now to late. Get off the ship before it sinks !
I have lived in many countries around the world. I applied for residency in Malaysia after I had worked there for five years under a legitimate work visa. When it came to decision time I was told "You are a Christian, you have no place in Malaysia." Britain is for the British who speak English and maintain our culture. If migrants cannot abide with this, they should go back to where they came from- they were not invited. When did church bells ring out over Saudi Arabia on Sundays? The answer is never!
It would be horrible to for people entering immigrating to our country to become part of homogeneous British society but a grounding in British culture and lessons in basic English would make the lives of people who are newly arrived here easier, more rewarding and hopefully more enjoyable. I would like to think our country and its culture has a lot to offer the people who choose or are forced to come here.
Of course they would help. Though according to someone I know in the asylum situation, most immigrants can already speak English. But that's not the issue here. America and Canada already have stringent allegiance and requirements to stay in their countries, but nobody complains about that now? To have any chance of staying in Canada you need to already speak English or French before applying! I don't hear people protesting that is unfair, do you?
However, I am not so sure the ideas of asking new immigrants to promise loyalty or about testing them for "unacceptable" opinions - who would decide which opinions were OK and which were not allowed? Surely there are still native Brits who believe in the subjection of women and other things of which we might not approve, but this does not affect their citizenship. And as a British-born citizen, I would be outraged if asked to swear an oath of loyalty to the queen!
Allegiance should be sworn to our country not the queen.
To be honest, I'm surprised a citizenship test
isn't already in place.
I moved to Canada many years ago and I am
now a Canadian citizen. To achieve such status I
first of all had to study the social, political and economic history of Canada and learn how the system of government
works. Then write an exam.
Having passed the test you then have to take an oath
and pledge your allegiance to Canada and the queen.
Considering the many diverse backgrounds Canadian immigrants have, I feel it's a simple way of introducing them
to a new culture and way of life. Many of whom have no idea
what a democratic society is, let alone how it works.
It's a simple idea that hopefully puts everyone on the same page.
Considering that the vast majority of British citizens have absolutely no knowledge of how the Constitution, legal system or electoral system it seems farcical to demand that asylum seekers meet some kind of citizen standard.
For the life of me, I can't see what is wrong with this. Many other countries have similar requirements, and it's time we caught up. If I wanted to become a citizen of another country, I would expect to have to learn the language and understand how the system worked. Why should Britain be any different?
Given the levels of adult literacy and poor awareness of the institutional framework of this country amongst the whole of the British population there are many, immigrants or not, who would benefit from such classes.
This proposal has come far too late. It's about time the immigrants in this country learnt a bit more about the place they are going to live in. It is a ridiculous notion to go and live in a foreign country but have no knowledge of the language or culture. That only creates tension and segregation within communities, especially in large towns and cities. Swearing an oath is also a concept that should be introduced. Far too many immigrants view England as an easy target and if we can deter those who think they can come here and exploit the system the better. Our population is huge for the land mass we inhabit and deterring false claims is necessary. For too long we have treated immigrants with ultra-PC kid gloves. Why not scrutinise them and make them swear allegiance? After all in the past we have let some utterly undesirable people into this country and are now stuck with their bigoted, idiotic and potentially dangerous views and habits. We need to toughen the whole system up. If you have nothing to hide then you should have nothing to fear.
I really do not understand the problem here. Refugees, whether for political or economic reasons, are attracted to this country presumably because of the stable, open society that it offers. This society which has evolved over many centuries, with many diverse influences should be cherished and respected by the fortunate inhabitants of these isles. Why should we accommodate and differentiate cultures or beliefs that are obviously failing the people who seek to come here?
Those who seek to come to the UK on a permanent basis should formally express allegiance to the laws, inherent culture and structure of our society.
Great idea, since I moved to the US, I have started citizenship classes prior to becoming an American citizen, these classes teach you your rights and responsibilities and give you a sense of belonging. Britain should have the same system, it would help immigrants to become part of British culture, and it may stop some of the resentment to these new immigrants. Everyone in America is happy to hear I am doing my classes and they are all more than happy to discuss the constitution, supreme court etc..
I see nothing wrong with ID cards or citizenship classes, as long as safeguards are in place, particularly for those immigrants, elderly parents and such, who are joining their families. As a teenager I moved to the States from the UK and became an American citizen. As part of this process, I was required to take citizenship classes and pass a test. I pledged allegiance to the US constitution and the flag. Some of my elder relatives (all retired) from the former Soviet Union who joined their children did not have to undergo the same procedure. Allowances are also made for those older permanent residents who have not taken out citizenship but continue to live in the US with their families.
I think Blunkett is on the right track as long as the rules are equally applied and all residents (whatever the status or ethnic make-up) are given ID cards (in the US, one cannot do anything without a picture ID) and this information is treated with sensitivity and its confidentiality guaranteed.
I swore allegiance to Australia when I became an Australian citizen. The oath was my choice and I take my citizenship seriously. If it had not been a voluntary choice, I am not sure that I would regard it in the same way, though any country that offered me refuge from mortal danger would have my eternal gratitude. As to cultural matters, I am sure that all citizens should do the best they can to learn one of the principal languages of their adopted country. If granted open-ended (economic and working) residency status, it could be a pre-qualification for citizenship but should not be required for such residency. Multiculturalism is a fad, a political correctness viewpoint. In times past assimilation was the watchword. I would not build any such fads into the law.
The Americans have done this for years and it hasn't harmed them, so why should it harm us? If you truly want to live in an integrated society then you should be able to speak the main language of that society.
Andrew W, Britain
Yes, it's an excellent idea. I think a lot of immigrants in this country feel they have no identity, no longer are they Pakistani (for example) but they also don't feel British. This could be because of language difficulties, problems understanding the law, etc. Women especially can miss out on an education because they don't speak the language. I met a young Moroccan man a year or so ago, whose grandfather came here to live in the1950s and 40 years later he still couldn't speak English. As a consequence, he had no job, relied heavily on the state and offered very little contribution to British society. I say it's an excellent idea, all round everyone will benefit.
I have lived in the USA for 20 years and elected not to take up citizenship. That's my choice and as a result I can't vote in local or national elections and can be deported for criminal activity. (I can and do pay taxes however!) Is this harsh? I don't think so. If I want to change my status and enjoy the benefits of citizenship I can.
It would take some time and effort on my part but it can be done. I see no reason why Britain should not take the same approach, if you want to enjoy the benefits of citizenship, put in the effort. Yes, many Brits take for granted what they have, as do many Americans, but we will never be able to change where "God parachutes us in."
Citizenship lessons should first be given to the indigenous population, most of whom have not the slightest conception of social duty.
Srinivas, Chillara, India what a strange comment to make. Last time I was in India, in Bangalore, I saw plenty of places like McDonalds for example. Does that mean that place is no longer Indian?
Could someone please tell me what one earth "Britishness" is?
I know Scottishness, Englishness and Welshness, but how on earth can you teach something that basically does not exist? Or is the usual "Englishness is Britishness" thing going to happen?
I hope they don't make existing citizens swear allegiance to the Queen too. I might have to emigrate.
Common sense: how can an immigrant to the UK benefit from and contribute to society without the means to communicate in the native language. They can survive in ghettos as we see in the Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities in Dewsbury, Bradford etc. This closed-off life is not what the UK has to offer.
Reading some of the other comments, yes the devil is in the detail...but courts and appeal procedures exist to ensure the spirit of the law is correctly applied, rather than the letter.
On a personal note, I couldn't imagine living in Mexico without being able to speak Spanish. What a miserable isolated life that would be!
An excellent idea. It goes without saying that all people of British origin or descent, living in Asia, Africa, Australia or the Americas, and never having bothered to learn any native, pre-colonial language or culture, should at the same time be expelled to Britain. In the USA alone, this would cause a distinct purification of the culture. Far be it from anyone to think that any country's culture could actually benefit from an influx of different views. Better extinguish the danger at the border!
From the Molmutine Laws (ca. 1400 BC, Molmutius was the King of Britain):
There are three things indispensable to a true union of nations:
sameness of laws, sameness of rights, and sameness of language.
The language in question was Welsh, but the point still applies today.
The laws also formed the basis of King Alfred's Saxon laws, and remain the spirit behind our laws and customs.
On what basis. If classes had to be taken, how many current citizens would pass the test?
I lived in England for 7 years. I watched as British people destroyed their own culture, buildings etc; these were not foreign nationals vandalising British heritage. Secondly I speak excellent English much better than the Brummie, Scottish or Cockney accent, and anyone anywhere in the world can understand me. I hold both a Masters and Phd from one of the best universities in England, which I paid a minimum of 15,000 pounds a year for, yet the British immigration will not let me work or apply for citizenship.
What kind of hypocrisy is this? The British would much rather allow an English speaking uneducated individual into the country to live off hardworking tax payers money, than an educated person who has invested 35,000 pounds on a British education. I think the government has some wires very crossed. Maybe too the British themselves should swear an oath to the British government. For those who think England is an easy target, try being an overseas student in Britain.
As someone who became a naturalised citizen of the Netherlands last year, I think the British government would do well to consider the "softer" approach of the Dutch. Certain categories of immigrants (not all of them) are required, upon arrival, to attend a certain minimum number of hours of instruction in Dutch language and Dutch culture, institutions, etc. but this is not directly tied to the naturalisation process. In order to be eligible for naturalisation (usually after five years), the applicant must have a reasonable knowledge of the language. When applying, the applicant's knowledge of the language is simply tested through the actual process of talking to the official, submitting the documents, etc.
No separate formal test or certificate is required, nor is any formal test of familiarity with Dutch history, or institutions. No oath of allegiance is required. I think an oath would be archaic, silly and meaningless (and from what I know of the British, completely "un-British"!) It goes without saying that you are under a duty to respect the laws of the country. To the extent that values are enshrined in the law, you will by definition be bound to respect them.
However, "values" are always a work in progress and a naturalised citizen will have just as much of a right as an indigenous citizen to set the agenda for the future. English is a major international language and if only for that reason I think most immigrants would want to improve their command of it anyway (unlike Dutch). So, yes to language and no to an oath.
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