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Citizenship tests: a useful means to test immigrant integration?

The long-distance naturalisation that we have previously reported on is naturally only a subcategory of ordinary naturalisation – that is, the grant of citizenship by a public authority to a person, not at birth but later in life. International treaty provisions which aim to harmonize the conditions for naturalisation are rare. Some treaties prescribe the facilitation of naturalisation for some categories of persons (such as stateless persons or refugees), but only the 1997 European Convention on Nationality tries to influence one particular requirement for naturalisation: the length of residence, which should not, according to this Convention, exceed ten years. While comparative studies reveal that the variety of requirements for naturalisation is huge, there are research projects investigating the possiblity for harmonization and develop a ‘global naturalisation law’.

There are essentially two ways of looking at the phenomenon of naturalisation. The acquisition of citizenship may be seen as a ‘catalyist’ helping the immigrant to integrate and be more successful, for example, on the labour market. An alternative view is that naturalisation ‘needs to be earned’ and should be the ‘crown’ on completing a successful integration trajectory.

In many countries citizenship tests, often consisting of an assessment of immigrants’ civic knowledge and language skills, have become more strict in recent years. If a recent survey showing that one in three Americans would not pass the US citizenship test is to be believed, it is doubtful whether these tests serve a useful purpose. Similar failure rates have been reported in European countries, for example Denmark. Moreover, it is often unclear how the questions correspond to the country’s own self-image and overall citizenship policy. Countries with an ethno-cultural profile, for example, have implemented tests conveying a politically liberal idea of a community of citizens, while the tests in countries with a liberal-multicultural reputation may require immigrants to explicitly embrace certain sociocultural norms.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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