1.10.2007 | Von:
Christian Joppke

United Kingdom

The British adoption of civic integration is an interesting contrast case to the continental European pattern, in at least two respects. First, whereas the continental European integration policies outlined above emerged as a component of (increasingly restrictive) immigration policies and were only later carried over into citizenship policy, in Britain the sequence was reversed.
Von Kindern gemaltes Wandbild in Birmingham.Von Kindern gemaltes Wandbild in Birmingham. (© picture alliance / David Hughes/Robert Harding )

First introduced in terms of a "citizenship test" in 2005, civic integration became a requirement for being granted permanent residence only after that, in 2007. Second, if the continental European approach is characterised by increasing coerciveness, the British approach has remained rather gentle and service-oriented, with a marked reluctance to subordinate integration to the immigration control agenda. The Crick Commission (2003), which prepared the new civics courses and tests in the context of a reformed citizenship policy, expressed this clearly: "(T)he object is not to diminish, and indeed cannot diminish, numbers of people already settled and employed".

The mellower features of British-style civic integration are conditioned by two factors. First, it shows the imprint of a Labor government unhampered by the need to react to a populist fringe party or movement, like the ones backed by Pim Fortyn in the Netherlands or Jean-Marie Le Pen in France. Second, it rests on the fundament of a revamped, Canadian-style immigration policy, which operates on the basis of a points system that selects preferentially the skilled and highly-skilled. The government's 2005 Five Year Strategy for Asylum and Immigration bluntly states that low-skilled immigration "will (be) phase(d) out over time", particularly as ample supply in this category is now available "from the new EU countries" (and thus cannot be prevented due to free movement rights). In a nutshell, any low-skilled immigration from outside the EU that may still occur is not to be for permanent settlement, and thus it will not need to be taken into consideration in the context of integration policy or nationality law. As a result, there seems to be no impetus in the UK to use integration policy as a means of controlling the entry of low-skilled, economically "undesirable" migrants. In fact, the entire current British integration discourse does not apply to low-skilled immigrants at all. And with respect to highly-skilled immigrants, who have other destination countries than Britain to choose from, a less control-minded, more "soliciting" logic applies. The voluntaristic, liberal tone in British-style civic integration cannot be detached from the more exclusive profile of the immigrants to be processed by it.

However, much as in the rest of Europe, the starting-point of new thinking in Britain was an apparent failure of immigrant integration, which became evident in the race riots in Northern England in 2001, which prominently involved Muslim youth. The Cantle Commission, which was set up by the government to investigate the causes of the riots, castigated especially local-level official multiculturalism policies and self-segregation of minorities as part of the problem, recommending instead a policy that would "reinforce feelings of citizenship and shared elements of nationhood." Its, to date, most visible expression are more demanding and ceremonial naturalisation procedures, as laid out in the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act of 2002. The 2002 act introduced formal and standardised naturalisation tests to ensure that applicants showed "a sufficient knowledge" of one of the official languages (English, but also Welsh or Scottish Gaelic) and about "life in the United Kingdom". In addition, living up to then Interior Minister Blunkett's pronouncement that "(b)ecoming a British citizen is a significant life event", the 2002 act introduced a citizenship oath and pledge to be given at American-style, public citizenship ceremonies.

The Crick Commission, which prepared the format of the naturalisation tests, stated as rationale for the new approach that "citizenship is more esteemed and valued if it is earned, not given." However, whereas the new Dutch (and most other continental European states') philosophy has been that citizenship should be the end-point of successful integration, the British philosophy has remained faithful to the liberal diction of the past: "(B)ecoming naturalized should not be seen as the end of a process but rather as a good beginning." And whereas the Dutch government has embraced the nationalist phrasing that one "cannot study to be Dutch", thus refusing to provide information and learning materials and courses to Dutch citizenship applicants, the British government is of the opposite opinion and offers preparation courses free of charge, along with a free brochure entitled "Life in the United Kingdom" to prepare applicants for the civics part of the naturalisation test. Moreover, while applicants for citizenship in the Netherlands can try only three times, there is no such limit for citizenship applicants in the United Kingdom.

With respect to the contents of the civics requirement, the Crick Commission established six broad categories in "descending order of difficulty and relevance", with "British national institutions" and "Britain as a multicultural society" being the two most important categories. While in terms of content this is not so different from continental European civic integration, the difference between both approaches becomes apparent when considering the language components. Whereas the continental European approach was to make the language tests ever more demanding for applicants, in the opposite British approach, "the test is not to be unduly onerous", as a member of the House of Lords put it. Concretely, this meant not imposing one (impossibly high) language standard on all applicants, but devising a flexible system that respected the individual learning trajectory of each applicant. Accordingly, fulfilling the language requirement for naturalisation does not mean to reach an objective minimum standard that is the same for all, but to have improved one's English skills by one step on an official "English as Second Language" (ESOL) scale after having taken an ESOL course. This takes "future citizens" as "life-long learners", who "will be likely to continue to develop their language skills, and a whole range of other employment, recreational, educational and social skills, long after they have gained citizenship." [1]


See Crick Commission (2003).



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