The United Kingdom Boarding Agency (UKBA) developed a new system to decrease the rate of immigration from outside the European Economic Area (EEA). From the beginning of 2013 people, who are wishing to settle in the UK, have to take a test to prove that they are familiar with the English culture, history and traditions. It is a multiple-choice test, questing stereotypical British symbols as the Stonehenge, Admiral Nelson and the Queen. Similarly to language exams as IELTS or TOEFL, this test has already started to transform into a new product of the business of education. The test itself cost £50, but there are trial tests online for £20 and textbooks for preparation for £5.99. However, the test could be easily passed by simply reading the Wikipedia article of the United Kingdom.
‘Would you be able to pass the test?’ – arose the question on news portals. Although some talk highly about the test, claiming that it is reasonably difficult, others neither find it any hard nor relevant in connection with cultural assimilation. Nevertheless, there are some questions in the test that cannot be answered without preparation, as ‘how many people called himself Muslim in 2001 in the UK?’, therefore people who aim to come to the UK, take this challenge rather seriously.
It is questionable whether this test is going to decrease the rate of new immigrants in the UK. The test is unlikely to be feared by educated immigrants, but even for non-educated workers is an absolutely manageable task. However, the creation of the test mediates a sense of hostility towards non-EEA immigrants. The test aims to be a barrier for immigrants, and it also aims to prove that immigrants have to achieve something to deserve the right to live in the UK. The test and the textbooks for preparation essentially enable to obtain this right through the process of partial cultural assimilation, which admittedly is a major issue of immigration in all countries.
The necessity of partial cultural assimilation in order to facilitate peaceful co-existence of different ethnic groups or nations within one country is still not recognized by many. Immigrants from outside Europe come from countries with a very different culture of social interaction, national traditions, and approaches towards religion; therefore they are largely unfamiliar with the English way of living. The test takes a step towards the removal of this obstacle.
This test should not be regarded as an attempt to repress immigrants’ national identity and turn them into exemplary Brits. The UK became a relatively popular destination for immigrants not only on the reason of job opportunities, but also because its open-mindedness towards foreign cultures for many decades. Although this openness has decreased over the last ten years, the majority of English people would still refuse xenophobic behaviour. Therefore the ‘Life in the UK’ test is more of an encouragement for immigrants to only enter the country if they decide to do so based on this knowledge. Furthermore, it essentially aims to exclude immigrants who have no motivation to fit in the English society.
Giving such conditions for entering the UK may not seem to be a sympathetic behaviour from the outside, and could generate assumptions that the UK wishes to express its political hostility towards immigrants. This way, the ‘Life in the UK’ test might cause the decrease in the number immigration whether it aims or not, and represent a politically closing door to workers outside the EEA. On the other hand, thinking of this test idealistically is more preferable; thus the assumption should be that the primary goal of the test is to ease the accommodation of immigrants in the English society. Many other steps are obviously going to be necessary in order to accommodate immigrants and encourage partial cultural assimilation. The main difficulty with such policy development is that it easily can be represented as hostile, or xenophobic behaviour.
By Krisztina Fozo