Research highlights migrants’ criticisms of the ‘Life in the UK’ citizenship test and its lack of clear connection to their daily lives.

The multiple-choice 'Life in the UK' test that must be passed as one component of the UK citizenship process to become a British citizen is in urgent need of fundamental review, says a new study from the University of Leicester.

Citizenship tests were introduced in the UK in 2005 amid heightened anxieties over immigration and the perceived failure of multiculturalism. "Such tests and other policy instruments such as citizenship ceremonies were viewed by some to be appropriate solutions to these challenges," explains Professor Leah Bassel. "It was claimed they would facilitate integration into British society."

In a four-year project, researchers explored how migrants themselves experienced the citizenship test process. The study was based on more than 150 interviews with migrants of 39 nationalities and analysis of survey data, and highlighted many participants’ discontent with how the citizenship test is constructed and implemented. Crucially, many migrants pointed to ways they felt the citizenship test process excluded them rather than helped them to integrate: that it was about immigration control rather than integration.

The study highlights migrants' criticisms both of the content of the 'Life in the UK' test and its lack of clear connection to their daily lives. Much of the knowledge needed for the test that participants deem useful – such as how to access public services – has disappeared from the most recent version of the test and preparation materials. Researchers also found the test process to generate divisive and negative perceptions of some groups of migrants as 'deserving' and others as 'undesirable'. In addition, for some women, the time, money, energy and skills required by the test process can make existing inequalities worse and create new challenges.

In view of these challenges, the study suggests a full review by representatives ranging from the Home Office to civil society organisations, community representatives and migrants of different nationalities, social backgrounds and lengths of time in the UK.

A review, the research team recommends, must address the fear and anxiety the citizenship test process creates for migrants. The public should also be better informed about what is involved in becoming a UK citizen beyond a kind of ‘pub quiz’, as many see it. In the short term, specific recommendations include reintroducing practical material about life in the UK into the test; allowing the test to be prepared for and taken in other languages; reducing fees and offering means-tested fees and/or interest-free loans to cover the costs of naturalisation; and making the citizenship ceremony optional rather than compulsory.