human behavior

The Citizenship Test critics

Posted in Australian Culture & Politics, Foreign Impressions by humanb on December 12, 2006

The following is an update to my previous post on the price and privilege of citizenship.

Plenty in the OZ blogosphere are ‘going off’ on the government’s decision to implement a citizenship test. Tim Dunlop at Blogocracy derides the whole idea of a citizenship test and Jason Soon at Catallaxy predicts it will be yet another battleground over the indoctrination of new migrant minds. Andrew Bartlett considers it discriminatory and potentially divisive, and yet admits it probably won’t have much effect on the number of migrants who become citizens – save on a few skilled migrants with many options, who couldn’t be bothered with the test. If a skilled migrant couldn’t be bothered with a 30 question quiz and an English test, why should Australia be bothered with attracting them to stay?

I know an Israeli social worker who works with children with learning difficulties in Jerusalem. Many of the children she works with are Ethiopian Jews who had never before been in a classroom before migrating to Israel. This is the reason for their difficulties. They have enormous challenges, but these are intelligent, capable human beings, who are progressively becoming more adapted to Israeli school life and academic expectations. They are learning. So also the Ethiopian Jewish adults. Frankly, I find complaints against any citizenship test or English language requirement on the sole basis of their supposed discriminatory difficulty, condescending.

America welcomes immigrants from every country of the world, and many from African countries. Our immigrants, like most immigrants, are hard-working people committed to making sacrifices and working hard to obtain the lives they want for themselves and their children. And they are perfectly capable of putting their minds and energy to completing a citizenship test.

On the citizenship test, Andrew Bartlett says:

If anything, it will increase alienation, and a sense amongst migrants – especially from non-English speaking backgrounds – that they are viewed with suspicion by the government.

I am sorry but I just don’t see how a citizenship test reasonably creates such an impression among permanent residents who would have already lived in this country for years – especially if such people were looking to migrate to an English-speaking country and know such tests to be operative in others. These kinds of suspisions about government intent are born elsewhere, and once seeded look for anything to feed them.

On the contrary, I think citizenship tests increase the value one places on citizenship, and therefore one’s connection to her adopted country. When citizenship is obtained, the new citizen is proud of her final accomplishment, from initial migration, to learning English, to studying about her new country’s history and culture, to finally obtaining citizenship.

Many countries, if not Australia, are happy and proud to receive new migrants who demonstrate a desire to be a part of their nation, and a willingness to learn about and even be tested on, its history and culture.

I am not speaking of anyone in particular here, but I wonder what some critics of citizenship tests in general, were they in power, would establish as the requirements of citizenship for migrants. And I wonder what kind of loyalty and connection to Australia these new citizens would have, when such critics would sell citizenship so cheaply.

I suspect that much of the criticism of citizenship tests in general, is a case of ‘hating the messenger, so hating the message’. John Howard’s personal motivation and intent in establishing such a test may be as contemptible as critics believe. I don’t know. But a citizenship test itself is not necessarily a contemptible, divisive and discriminatory tool.

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3 Responses

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  1. Club Troppo » Wednesday’s Missing Link said, on December 13, 2006 at 12:40 pm

    […] Andrew Bartlett, “John the Analyst“, Hyperidian Bannerman, Tim Dunlop and “Human Behaviour” all have interesting and worthwhile posts on John Howard’s proposed new citizenship test.  But arguably the best comment comes from The Great Nabakov who has invented his own alternative ozcitizenship test. […]

  2. Andrew Bartlett said, on December 13, 2006 at 3:01 pm

    My “suspicions about government intent” aren’t “born elsewhere”, they come directly from seeing how government has used the law, public administration and public debate to discriminate and divide.

    I can tell you why I think some migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds will take this as a sign that the government is suspicious of them – it’s because many of them have told me this is how they feel. I would have thought the way migrants feel about this test and the reasons it is being put forward is relevant.

    A test is not discriminatory per se, but it certainly has the potential to be depending on how it is designed and administered. That’s why I believe that it should be demonstrated that any test that is put up is able to be passed by the vast majority of Australian born citizens. Otherwise, you will be requiring migrants to know more about Australia than other Australians do, which definitely would be discriminatory. It also clearly has the potential to be divisive – people applying for citizenship are already permanent residents, so we have already accepted them. If we then block them from accessing the rights of citizenship with tests that many Australians couldn’t pass, it would not be unreasonable for them to feel they are being treated as second class.

    Australia’s ability to absorb a large number of migrants from hugely diverse backgrounds is one area where we have done better than most other countries on Earth – this is one area where I don’t think we need to be following the lead of other countries who clearly haven’t done this so well.

  3. humanb said, on December 13, 2006 at 3:31 pm

    Andrew:

    You wrote:

    My “suspicions about government intent” aren’t “born elsewhere”, they come directly from seeing how government has used the law, public administration and public debate to discriminate and divide.

    I mean to refer to the “suspicions” and feelings of migrants and permanent residents here, not yours.

    You wrote:

    I can tell you why I think some migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds will take this as a sign that the government is suspicious of them – it’s because many of them have told me this is how they feel. I would have thought the way migrants feel about this test and the reasons it is being put forward is relevant.

    Of course some migrants will feel this way. There will always be some migrants who have negative reactions to, and offer negative interpretations of, government actions. But are they justified?

    I mean to suggest that such a reaction among migrants to a citizenship test is not reasonable on its own, in the absence of previous suspicions about government. Those previous suspicions will colour future intepretations of government initiatives.


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