Immigrants to the UK wishing to become British will soon have to take part in special language and citizenship classes under new proposals from the government.
Applicants will subsequently have to sit a test, much like the new driving test, and people who fail will not be able to get a British passport.
The measures will radically overhaul how people become British by emphasising the "life changing" nature of the step.
But critics of the scheme say it is discriminatory.
What is the best way to test citizenship? What makes a person British, and how can it be tested?
This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.
The following comments reflect the balance of views we have received:
What is being proposed is the very bare minimum that we should expect from someone who wishes to become a British Citizen. After all they are going to be able to help decide the future of Britain by voting in elections, so of course they should know about this country. I would also suggest two other things: firstly the level of knowledge of history and culture should be increased to cover more of what made Britain what it is and secondly that all British nationals should also have to take the test before they are eligible to vote. If people had to invest some time and energy in order to be enfranchised they might think harder about who they vote for.
John R Smith, UK
Firstly, the willingness to work, and the pride not to accept handouts. Secondly? Everyone already in Britain should have to take it as well. Citizenship should be a privilege, not a right.
Richard Murray, UK
I am a foreign national and live in the UK for the past five years. I run my own successful business and have contributed more than thousands of Brits to this country since 2000. My question is; What do you expect me to do in two years time if I'm not given the right to live here as a Brit? Certainly moving my business to Germany, where I could at least be appreciated for what I would contribute to the country.
Afghanistan, Now London, UK.
What would the advantages of being a citizen (or subject) have over those of being a resident? Given the levels of voter apathy there seems precious little difference between the two!
So let me see if I've got this; our core values are tolerance and celebration of diversity, and we're going to prove it by forcing immigrants to take entry tests! Surely this is glaring hypocrisy? If we really want to think of ourselves as tolerant, we should stop locking up and deporting asylum seekers and other immigrants. Otherwise it's a case of saying one thing, doing another.
Ben Drake, York, UK
The best thing is for people to have classes on the laws and customs of the country, especially where they may conflict with laws or customs of the country of origin.
My mum would have failed the test totally and my Dad would not have done so well (but he was partly deaf having been wounded fighting for Britain in North Africa). But my family - now bringing great grand children into the world have made an enormous contribution to this country, in work, through taxes and as good citizens. It's so stupid to have a TEST. What would be better would be an orientation/settling in programme to help people get into work and able to live independently as soon as possible. Not a TEST.
There seems to be some misunderstanding here, these tests are not going to be used to allow (or prevent) people coming to the UK, that's an immigration issue. These tests are for those folk already here that wish to take the next step and become full UK citizens. I think they are the bare minimum that we should expect people to achieve in order to be allowed to vote here.
John R Smith, UK
It does not matter how difficult the tests are made, people will still come to the UK. This type of process makes it easier for entry not more difficult as the answers will be copied around the world on the internet in seconds. The sad fact is it will cost everyone in the UK more in taxes to administer this process.
I think this now brings us in line with the USA and other countries in Europe which is a good thing. It's not going to be a test that is unachievable and should make those who want to be British proud.
It is interesting to note that a few years ago when a research group in Canada tested Canadians on whether they could pass their own citizenship test. 45% flunked the test. I imagine the results would be similar in the UK.
British citizenship should be earned not given. Anyone applying must not be dependant on the state, spent at least 10 years in the UK and made a considerable contribution. It would be interesting then to see how many are committed to Britain.
If I wanted to become a citizen of another country I would expect to have to learn the language of that country and, without question, I would also want to know as much as I could about the people, culture, history, geography, etc of that country. I very much doubt whether a test of citizenship is going to be helpful in determining who has a valid case for obtaining a full British passport. Written tests will discriminate against the elderly and those with learning difficulties. Even an oral test will be very much a hit and miss affair. Does citizenship require anything more than a proven commitment to the new country of one's choice?
So critics of the scheme say it is discriminatory. Of course it is discriminatory - that's the whole point of it! Surely we have the right to be discriminating in our choice of whom we welcome into our country.
I think the test is a waste of time & money. I think Britain should have the right to accept or decline who they want & should base their decision on what the country requires at the time. As for refugees from war torn countries, fine let them come here for safety but send them back home when their country becomes more stable again. One of the reasons I left my country was violence & I am safe here in UK, but not happy because I can't fit in with the British culture.
In true British fashion we should make these tests progressively easier so that no-one fails.
Dougal McKinnon, UK
The best of 'Britishness' is tolerance, celebration of cultural and linguistic diversity and an unshakable belief in the right of anyone to liberty within those parameters. Above all it's about 'fairness'.
John Ellard, UK
You could have any number of foreign nationals living in your country, but why would you call anyone a citizen who isn't devoted to it? Citizenship isn't an address but a choice and a duty. As Martin Luther King said, "We may have arrived on different boats, but we are all in the same boat now." If someone says they are an American, I know they are dedicated to the preservation of the Constitution and the Country (which is not synonymous with the present administration).
Mary K., USA
Surely the true test of being British is the ability to have no respect for your culture and language.
It's easy to forget what a bigoted world I live in - and then I read the responses to a question like this and am quickly reminded.
The frequent suggestion of an ability to speak and write English appals me. Many people cannot write in their native language, we are lucky in the UK that our education systems develop a high proportion of literate adults - other countries are not so fortunate.
It appears to me that those that are most needy are the people most likely to fail these tests.
What is all this nonsense about having to know English to live in the UK? Has no-one visited Wales recently? The Welsh language co-exists with English, but we are not suggesting deporting native Welsh speakers? Are we?
I can tell you what ISN'T Britishness. I can speak English, have lived in this country since the age of five, was naturalised at birth and have British parents. However, I couldn't get a British passport because they said all the above wasn't proof I was British. The problem was that I was born in a British military hospital abroad: my father was a British Army engineer. I eventually got a passport when I married a Welshman.
I moved to the UK about four years ago, and one of the biggest gaps in my knowledge is old TV programs. Maybe people applying for British citizenship should demonstrate that they can tell George from Mildred. In the unlikely case I would ever apply for citizenship I will ask them to allow me to do my language test in Cornish rather than English. I won't know a word in it, but neither will the examiner, and it is an official language after all!
All that makes a person British is a passport... any other answer is pure bigotry. There should be no tests, no classes, no language requirements. Britons should learn to speak two or three other languages like the rest of the world.
Hala Aziz, London
I am now living in the UK and know about the culture and history more than an ordinary UK native. But there are quite a good number of English living in Turkey and they did not bother to learn the language, they still find the culture and traditions foreign. Why should I take a citizenship test when UK nationals cannot even bother to spell my name correctly? They should be given tests about different world cultures if they are sharing the economy, society and culture with others.
Rather than just testing people to select the "genuine" applicants, classes should be seen as helping people. Being given free classes to learn English is surely the best way to allow immigrants to contribute to life in this country. How many immigrants, especially women, end up virtually imprisoned in their own communities through speaking no English and not being able to communicate outside that community?
Claire, Great Britain
I'm a little uneasy about a test for those wishing to become citizens. But I'm convinced that a basic knowledge of English is fundamental in helping new citizens integrate with the rest of society, which, in the long run, is what helps build tolerance and understanding. Language skills are essential on a practical level if nothing else. I certainly wouldn't feel at home in a country where I didn't speak the language.
If the written test included knowing the difference between 'effect' and 'affect' and knowing when to use an apostrophe in 'its' then a number of my colleagues would fail.
Roger Jackson, England
A citizenship test in itself is all well and good, but how do you define what is British when life and the outlook on it differs greatly depending on where in Britain you come from?
Jeremy Cedenio, UK
I am amazed to read some comments about asylum seekers not integrating into the British way of life. Where I come from (Tenerife) there are a lot of Brits who have migrated for work or retirement. They have their own "clans" and I don't know of many who can speak the local language or have anything to do with the Spanish way of life at all!
Carlos Hernandez, Spain/England
I think a study course on the Carry On films would tell new immigrants a large part of what they need to know about British culture.
Peter L, England
I don't understand what the fuss is all about. As a naturalised citizen of this country for over a decade and a half, I tell you I had to do all what the Home Secretary is now advocating as a new policy, apart from lessons in citizenship! First I had to swear on the Bible, before a Justice of the Peace, an oath of allegiance to the Queen, her heirs and spares and country. As for my English, when I was interviewed by an official at the final stages of my application, he told me: "Had your English not been as good as it is, I would have aborted the whole thing and walked away".
I enjoyed filling in BBC Online's citizenship test, and found some questions not as easy as I thought (only got 8/10), but if these types of question that asylum seekers or those applying for citizenship can except to face, what hope do they have - I'd be very surprised if a majority of young British people knew who Edward Heath was, or when the Queen's real birthday is? Why should we expect new UK citizens to know these things when we don't teach or expect our own young people to know?
A German friend of mine has just obtained Canadian citizenship for which he had to undergo a test and pledge allegiance to the Queen! Something which is not required in Britain itself!
Have lived in the UK for 5 years, with a complete set of tax records. And during that time having no more than one year claiming unemployment benefits.
Hold an active UK bank account for a min of three years.
No arrests or convictions from criminal activities.
This will route out the fraudsters, make sure they have a valid employment and ensure they behave.
V Smithy, Derbs
There seems to be a lot of resentment in some responses to this test. Britain doesn't need new nationals, we have enough, so if someone wants to come here they should put a very good case forward to get in and the test is a small step to acceptance. Let's not forget the phrase, "Like the Roman, I see the River Tiber foaming with much blood".
Speaking the language should be mandatory. After this, I think as long as they abide by the laws of the land, respect the communities in which they live and the property and well being of others, they are welcome as far as I'm concerned. To test immigrants on their knowledge of our government and royal family is not ethical in view of the fact that many of us either don't give a damn about them or don't understand them.
Surely the best test of 'Britishness' is the appreciation of a good Carry On film? I would like to see immigrants watch Sid James & Co. for a couple of hours to make sure that they laughed at the appropriate moments. Maybe they could then sit a paper afterwards testing the candidates understanding of double entendres. Anyone not shouting 'Phhhoooaaarrrr' when Babs Windsor appears in shot should be sent home immediately.
Paul Driscoll, Barnsley, England
Oral and written tests are a must. I could not imagine expecting a passport from a country where I could not be speak the language. People who rely on their community to get by avoid learning English and are not integrating. They should not get the benefits of citizenship such as a passport or the right to vote. Any other argument is laughable. If you want citizenship you need to integrate into the country ANYWHERE as a citizen.
We have to question the motives of people who wish to live here but who protest against having to learn even the very basics of our language and our culture(s). Why else do they want to come if not to be a part of the UK? I would like to see a test include the English language and basic British geography. It should also test people's awareness of the diversity of the British population and include basic knowledge of the key principles of the main religious beliefs that are followed in the UK. It would also be beneficial to the immigrants to be taught about how our government and ruling bodies work.
Of course it should be mandatory that they learn English once they're here but I think it's nonsensical to insist they do from the outset. I've lived and worked in countries all over the world and only had a basic grasp of all the native languages. The way things are going with this country at the moment, I'm seriously thinking of emigrating but no other country that I'm looking at is insisting that I am fluent in the language. I am taking lessons, I will continue to take lessons once I'm there, but I'm way off being fluent.
I believe a good understanding of written and spoken English and a pledge of allegiance to the Queen and Country is important. This should also include the right of our government to call up citizens for national service. More importantly, anyone who wants to live and work in this country should go through simpler test and declaration before being given an immigration card (similar to the passport). This card could then be used to provide health care, employment opportunities and housing to all legal immigrants. Then if anyone is caught without this card or employs someone without this card, they and their employer can be extradited.
What is the British culture today? Highest rate of pregnancy in Europe, divorce rate is high, social disorder, urinating on the street at night time, getting drunk and fighting on the street. Is this citizen test is all about?
Anyone who wants to live in the UK should be able to support themselves financially, pass a basic written exam and more extensive English language test. After all it must cost both central and local government millions of pounds to get documents translated into various languages. Obviously exceptions should be made for GENUINE asylum seekers.
In response to Steve: What rubbish. The major contributors to the NHS are foreigners - refuse them citizenship and just see how long the waiting times will grow in A&E wards! Then there's also the fact that my wife and I (and many other people we know) are both foreigners living legally in the UK and are contributing (and have been doing so for four years) to the welfare economy that supports Brits who are too lazy and useless to look for work.
Jason Miles, UK
In response to Jason Miles: I am guessing that Steve was referring to people who could afford to support themselves financially through work rather then people coming in and living off the state. I would have assumed that this would have been the case anyway as we have enough people living on benefits already without letting more in.
Mark E, England
I am a foreign national who will be eligible for British citizenship next year and I welcome some sort of qualifying test. I made the choice to come and live in Britain and I feel it is only right that I make the effort to become part of British society.
Greg Phillips, UK
I think it's a great idea. An interesting side-effect however would be that you'd get citizens who weren't born in Britain but who have much more general knowledge about the country and speak better English than the natives.
The most important test to become a British citizen is the ability to speak English well enough to be able to integrate into society. There is no need to waste money on a test about who is the Queen etc, just the ability to speak the language of the country they wish to live in. This at present is a large problem and one that will keep our communities separate for years to come if not tackled now.
It's not really been very difficult for this team of "experts" to draw up this proposal for citizenship, since it's a BLATENT COPY of what British people must do to become Canadian citizens, I know I going through the process at the moment!
How about more practical tests? Such as how to throw litter at a bin and just miss the bin by a few centimetres, how to complain about everything under the sun when being served and how to stomach a full English and a pint before noon on a Sunday.
Many are rushing to praise the scheme on dubious merits. A decent standard of English especially spoken is very desirable for all, especially for immigrants. Understanding much about how this country functions will be of great benefit to them, though the history aspect is questionable. What does the culture part mean? Questions in the test should be meaningful, the US question, how many stars in the flag is laughable. There is a case for the citizenship scheme to be extended, to a good proportion of this country, especially what makes a good neighbour and for some upping the standard of English.
Barry B, UK
A citizenship test isn't a bad idea - many countries do it, if only to test the language skills of the applicant (if the test is to be conducted in one of the official languages). I find it bad however that the test should include sections other than constitution, rights and duties to the state. If I'm not interested in pop music, no test should make me learn bands.
Tivadar Mach, UK / Hungary
If any of the immigrants went to America instead of coming here. Then to get citizenship they MUST pass the US citizenship test. So I don't see the problem with introducing it here.
Robert Knox, Scotland
There is no reason to be against these proposals. Other countries do it, and it's only fair that people wanting a British passport know basic things about what that means. If you want it, earn it. Ultimately there is only a small amount of space on this island, so vetting people by seeing how bothered they are is a surely a good step.
I think it's a great idea! What is wrong with people knowing about the country they are settling in? It helps them communicate on an equal level, I think it will be a great benefit for immigrants and the people who live along side.
Just the normal government "talk". Does anyone, for a single moment, believe that anyone won't be given a passport because of this?
It's just like the 'asylum' law, just a huge load of meaningless, unenforceable, hot air, to be seen to be doing something without actually doing anything at all.
What shall we learn from Britain? So called British culture lives not in the Church but the PUBS! And shall we Indians forget our rich culture, belief in GOD, respect to elders and greater belief in institution of marriage and learn how to be single parents, enjoy teen-sex and drugs! Sorry, if this is what British citizenship will teach me, I am happy to be Indian and work in Britain to improve the British society.
We are not citizens so how can we have a citizenship test? We are, bizarrely in the 21st century, subjects. Logic suggests swearing allegiance to the crown is the appropriate test. Better still, why not make us all citizens with properly drafted rights and responsibilities, with our allegiance to the defence of our democracy rather than a remote and outdated monarch.
The funny thing is that most foreigners know much more about British history, British current affairs and the correct use of the English language than most Britons! The number of English people I have met who cannot hold their own in a discussion on British current affairs is staggering.
Amoroso Gombe, Kenya
I lived as an immigrant in South Africa for six years. If anyone had told me I had to learn to be a good citizen of that country I would have been horrified. I think the government is being patronising and insulting. In Britain we need the skills that immigrants bring and the taxes they pay.
Sue B, England
British citizenship isn't required to obtain NHS treatment, benefits,
schooling, the right to work or the right to vote, so what difference to public spending requirements will this actually make?
I'm a Briton living in the US, and I intend to become a US citizen eventually, but I will have to pass a test on the US constitution (there is a 150 page study guide). Though it is hard work, citizenship is something to be earned, and to be honest, I'm surprised the UK doesn't already have something similar.
Run this test for current UK citizens as well. Hook them up to a lie detector and ask "are you willing to show religious and cultural tolerance for others and abide by the laws of this country?" That should thin things out nicely.
Tony H, UK
A Saturday night game show called "I'm an immigrant, get me into there" where each week a group of applicants for UK citizenship have to perform songs, complete tasks and spend an hour with Tara Palmer Tomkinson without slapping her and then have the public vote for the winner.
Harry, London, UK
I would not follow the States' deplorable test. As long as you can climb a fence and speak unintelligible English or Spanish you're a citizen. Completion of this test entitles you to abuse social services and charitable institutions. I forgot to mention limited education and skills are a must. New Zealand has an immigration policy the developed world should follow. Essentially if you are English speaking, young and skilled you can apply. This does not guarantee your acceptance. You must pass a serious of tests. Bravo Kiwis!
Immediate and unequivocal entry to anyone that can successfully explain the phrase "It's just not cricket".
I don't think citizenship tests are necessary. Did the English army care to learn the history, culture, languages and ways of the native people when they invaded India, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Jamaica, etc.? Don't think so. I am all for foreigners to appreciate the life they make here. But a test of language and citizenship is really a disgraceful idea. It smacks of racism and prejudice. Time the so-called British Nationals who support this idea sign up as members of the BNP movement - because that is what this idea smacks of...extremism. There is no such thing as Britishness. I am forced to hold a UK passport despite the fact that I am not British. I cannot tell you a thing about English History or its ways. So I would fail the so-called test for sure. And I am Scottish.
GM, Glasgow, Scotland
I don't have a problem with taking a test for citizenship. My native country has one. What I DO have a problem with is the racist attitude of many British people who feel that immigrants like myself should bend over backwards to assimilate. If immigrants are to take a test to become citizens, perhaps the British could take courses to learn to be less racist. That would be wonderful.
Stacey Turner, UK (ex-USA)
If some of the comments made on here were directed at non-British immigrants there would be an outcry of intolerance and racism! Surely a person wanting to be a citizen of another country should at the very least be expected to learn a little of the place where they are so desperate to be and learn a little of the official language. I have a friend whose parents were kicked out by Idi Amin and yet his mother has still not bothered to learn English, personally I find this situation a farce!
Introduce compulsory service for two yrs in the Armed Forces or approved national organisation such as the Police, Fire & Rescue, Nursing, Social Services etc. Oh, and it wouldn't do the indigenous population any harm to be required to do the same IF they wish to avail themselves of voting rights, social security assistance, NHS services etc. once they come of age.
David, in Milton Keynes, UK
I suggest that to be British you need to be born here and one of your parents need to be born here.
The whole issue of "being British" is a political one and has little to do with culture, religion, language or where you live. If you hold a valid British passport then you are British even though you may also be French, Russian or whatever. I would like to see it made more difficult to obtain a British passport and that people doing so should meet certain criteria. It should be necessary to be fluent in English and have a reasonable understanding of how our society works, its laws, its government and its culture.
Isn't it slightly ironic that we are going to force foreign nationals to understand our parliamentary and democratic system before they can vote, when the majority of the UK population thought Geoff Hoon was a member of the England cricket team until last month and 'last past the post' refers to the grand national. Moaning might be the quintessential British characteristic, but it does give rise to these entertaining columns.
Phill Adams, UK
I hold dual South African and British citizenship. Although I regard Britain as my permanent place of residence, I consider myself South African and will take great pleasure if South Africa take the cricket series at the last test at the Oval!
Richard, South African in UK
I think this is a brave move by the home secretary who deserves applause for sticking his head above the parapet in the name of common sense instead of excessive political correctness. It makes perfect sense that to live in a country you should know how the country is run, how its services operate, and how to communicate with the natives.
Neil Kiley, UK
People should be proud to hold a British passport. It provides a lot of extras like easy access to other countries without visas, access to NHS, its not a bus ticket! It should be earned by people who can understand the common language and show a willingness to contribute to society. Something I hope is being taught to children in school!
Chris Davies, UK
One wonders just how much "citizenship" is understood by native inhabitants of this isle. Ad, UK is correct - we should be testing everyone.
I have now worked in London for two months. Nobody cared to explain to me how things work here (even though I asked at the embassy in Berlin if they have some special information before I started). How do people who come here learn and know about the social system, laws in general, how to behave in traffic on the streets, etc?
Andrea, Germany/ UK
Last night in my local pub, there were at least 20 people who would fail any citizenship test. Ignorance, intolerance, bigotry, racism, aggression, drunkenness, abusiveness, and an inability to construct a meaningful sentence in English.... Please can these people be refused a British Passport, and stopped from travelling abroad and damaging the good name of the rest of us.
It does seem highly subjective and more then a little pointless. So what if you're not a monarchist, don't support the English football team and make a lousy cuppa?! That doesn't make you a bad citizen. I'll be interested to see how they test it so that it's not discriminatory (immigrants from Europe and the West being advantaged) and or totally puerile.
In my opinion, everyone in this country should take citizenship classes so that they may appreciate how to function as a useful member of society. I believe such classes were suggested as a part of the National Curriculum but I believe they would be very useful to a large number of adults in the UK. Perhaps this could help to address the diminishing sense of community and the increasingly self-centred viewpoint of a large proportion of the population.
Steve, Notts, UK
Would British people actually pass this test? I can think of a number of British people who can't speak English properly, and would be unable to answer all questions relating to how the democracy, NHS, parliament work - what do we do about them? Take their passports back off them?
You have to take a test in the USA if you want citizenship. It's long, comprehensive and very difficult to pass. It certainly sorts the genuine from the rest, and it is a good idea to introduce it in the UK.
Ken Binch, UK (ex-USA)
Great idea!! Let's make it mandatory to include everyone born here. Just imagine how many louts, yobs, deadbeats and TV personalities we could off-load.
What about British citizens who spend most of their lives in foreign countries? They must know as little as foreigners do about the British way of life. In a multicultural society does it really matter if everyone is different?
Jonathan Gill, UK
There is no such thing as British; there simply is no national culture. Red buses and a picture of the Life Guards are about as far as it goes.
Test of being British? Have you got a passport?
How can the authorities run citizenship tests when inhabitants of the UK are not citizens; we do not live in a republic - we are subjects of the Queen. This comes up every time; I wish that people would get our status and terminology correct.
Hugh Neal, UK
The most important question: Do you know how to make a nice cup of tea?
When a friend of mine was granted citizenship recently I was shocked that entry and welcome into one of the most sought after countries in the world was such a low key affair. The UK should be proud to confer its citizenship, and recipients should be proud to become part of this important nation. Being British is about democracy, meritocracy, opportunity and help for those less fortunate.
I'd say - either test everyone or don't test at all.
Secondly - I'd make all the politicians do the test first - if they can't do it - then neither should the rest of us expect to do so.
How about lessons in smashing bus shelters, loutish drunkenness etc. these seem to be the qualifications needed in modern Britain. I am strongly in favour of immigration as it will hopefully civilise a little by diluting the indigenous population.
Gwyn Jones, UK
The tests are pointless. Many foreigners arriving here don't consider themselves to be British even if they hold a British passport. Also, it would be easy to pass the test without actually meaning any of the things that they have to repeat. I hate to say it, but the true test for Britishness would automatically enforce people not to wear religious or traditional clothing from their homelands, and be banned from supporting their country of origin should they ever play a British team in any sport! How likely is that?
This could be a good idea as long as it's handled well, as long as it is not treated as another stick with which to beat immigrants. It could be useful for people new to the UK to learn about it, and meet others in similar situations - in fact, they might end up knowing more about the UK's institutions than some of its 'natives'.
Anyone that doesn't want to do the classes should be sent packing as that shows the attitude that they have. I don't think they would integrate well with our society or be a benefit to it. It's not much to ask and would be a real benefit to them.
To be British you have to moan a lot. So your ability to complain about everything should be included. You also need to know a lot about the weather. If you can combine moaning...and the weather...you are truly British!!