Taking U.K. Immigration Test? Remember Who's in Charge

By Lyall, Sarah | International Herald Tribune, January 31, 2013 | Go to article overview

Taking U.K. Immigration Test? Remember Who's in Charge


Lyall, Sarah, International Herald Tribune


In a revised guidebook on the country's culture for would-be immigrants, the authors concentrate more on the excitements of the British past than on the practicalities of the British present.

The 100 Years' War actually lasted 116 years. Pantomime dames tend to be men dressed as women. The hovercraft was invented by Sir Christopher Cockerell. York Minster has very nice stained-glass windows. Margaret Thatcher successfully tamed the unions and turned London into a powerful international financial center by deregulating the financial markets.

These and other interesting pieces of information can be found in "Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents," a revised book issued by the Conservative-led government that, starting in March, will form the basis of the country's revised immigration test. To pass, applicants who want to become citizens or live in the country permanently will have to answer 18 of 24 questions correctly.

Judging from the sample questions released by the government, the test may end up being relatively easy. But the guidebook, crammed with information, reflects the Conservative view that too many people are trying to immigrate to Britain, and that once they arrive they are failing to appreciate the country properly.

"The new book and test will focus on events and people who have contributed to making Britain great," Mark Harper, the immigration minister, said last weekend.

In announcing the revised guidebook, Mr. Harper went out of his way to criticize the old one, "Life in the United Kingdom: A Journey to Citizenship," which was issued by the rival Labour government in 2007.

While it includes some history, the Labour version tends to concentrate less on the excitements of the British past than on the practicalities of the British present. (Plus, in its own partisan contribution, it says that Mrs. Thatcher was a "divisive figure" whose policies might have "caused a massive decline in industry.")

"The new book rightly focuses on values and principles at the heart of being British," Mr. Harper said. Referring to the old book, he said, "We've stripped out mundane information about water meters, how to find train timetables and using the Internet."

Indeed, a chapter called "Everyday Needs" in the old Labour version gives advice on things like what to do if you feel sick ("call your G.P.," is one possibility); how to rent a house; and, weirdly, how best to refer to garbage. "Refuse is also called waste, or rubbish," it explains.

Roger Helmer, a member of the European Parliament from the anti- immigrant, anti-Europe U.K. Independence Party, said it was about time the old manual was retired.

"They've taken out a lot of references to New Labour achievements, which is a jolly good thing," Mr. Helmer said in an interview.

But Don Flynn, director of the Migrants' Rights Network, an interest group, said the new version propagated a snobby, atavistic, superior approach to British culture and history.

He singled out as particularly objectionable the historical chapter, called "A Long and Illustrious History," whose first page depicts a rousing scene from the Battle of Trafalgar.

"The chapter which primes applicants' knowledge about history is permeated with the sort of Whig views of the world-civilizing mission of the British realm which have encouraged generations of Etonians and Harrovians to play their role in the great imperial enterprise," Mr. …

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