Following a leaked draft Cabinet document last year which reportedly proposed revamping the citizenship test ‘to strengthen accountability for commitments made at citizenship conferral’, the Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, has now suggested through the media that a new test is needed which would ‘more embrace Australian values’ rather than focussing on ‘Australian trivia’. So let’s take a look at Australia’s current citizenship test and what some other countries do.
First implemented in 2007, Australia’s citizenship test comprises 20 multiple-choice questions covering ‘Australia and its people’, ‘Australia’s democratic beliefs, rights and liberties’, and ‘government and the law’. Generally, all applicants for citizenship aged 18–59 must sit the 45-minute test. Applicants must score 75% to pass (increased from 60% in 2009) and may re-sit the test the same day if they fail. While the multiple-choice nature of the test means it may resemble a trivia quiz, the 78-page booklet, Australian Citizenship: Our Common Bond, on which the questions are based, is a comprehensive overview of Australia’s history, government, values, traditions, geography and achievements. Practice tests are also available.
The US naturalisation test comprises an English test and a ‘civics test’, both of which are conducted verbally. The civics test covers ‘knowledge and understanding of US history and government’ and consists of ten questions chosen from a publicly available list of 100 questions. Applicants must score 60% to pass and are allowed two attempts. If an applicant fails either of the tests on their first attempt, they are retested 60–90 days later on the part of the test they failed. If an applicant fails on their second attempt, their citizenship application is refused.
Anyone aged 18–65 applying for British citizenship or settlement in the UK must sit the ‘Life in the UK Test’. The 45-minute test consists of 24 questions and applicants must score 75% to pass. Applicants who fail the test can re-sit it as many times as they need to, but must wait seven days between each attempt. Test questions are based on the official test handbook, Life in the United Kingdom: A Guide for New Residents, and cover the ‘values and principles of the UK’, ‘traditions and culture’, ‘events and people that have shaped the UK’s history’, and ‘government and the law’.
Germany’s naturalisation test is used to determine whether applicants for citizenship over 16 years of age have ‘the necessary familiarity with Germany's legal system, society and living conditions’. The hour-long test consists of 33 multiple-choice questions in German (B1 level under the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) about Germany’s laws, history and people, three of which apply only to the state where the applicant lives. The 30 general questions relate to ‘living in a democracy’, ‘history and responsibility’ and ‘people and society’. Applicants must answer 17 questions correctly to pass, and those who fail the test may take it again. The Federal Office for Migration and Refugees provides a free sample test online.
Reports indicate that in October 2012, the new Hollande Government scrapped plans by the previous Sarkozy Government to introduce a citizenship test, with the Hollande Government’s Interior Minister at the time reportedly stating ‘You don't become French by answering multiple choice questions’. Despite warnings since by some right-wing politicians that France risks ‘cultural and political disintegration’ unless foreigners assimilate, it still does not appear to conduct any sort of citizenship test.
Canada conducts a written citizenship test to test knowledge of ‘the rights, freedoms and responsibilities of Canadian citizens’, ‘Canada’s democracy’, ‘Canadian political and military history’, ‘Canadian social and cultural history and symbols’, and ‘Canadian physical and political geography’. All applicants for citizenship aged 14–64 must take the test. Test questions are based on the study guide Discover Canada: The Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. Free sample test questions are also available. If applicants fail the first test, they may sit a second test four to eight weeks later. If they fail the second test, applicants must then attend a 30–90 minute interview at which applicants are asked the test questions verbally. If applicants fail the oral test, citizenship is refused.
Although Japan does not appear to have an official citizenship test, government officials still informally assess a person’s suitability to live in Japan. The formal criteria by which applicants for long-term residency are assessed include not only ensuring that applicants observe Japanese laws, but also that ‘his/her daily living as a resident does not invite any social criticism’.
Since 2015, applicants for Spanish citizenship have had to undertake a Spanish language test (A2 level) and a test to assess knowledge of ‘the Spanish Constitution and the Spanish social and cultural reality’. According to the University of Deusto, the ‘Spanish Constitution, Society and Culture’ test comprises 25 questions and has a 60% pass mark. Fifteen of the questions relate to ‘Spanish government, law and citizenship’, and the other ten to ‘Spanish culture, history and society’. Applicants who fail the first time, may re-sit the test within 18 months.
Before applying for citizenship applicants must be ‘sufficiently integrated’, which means ‘you can read, write, speak and understand Dutch. You show this by passing the civic integration examination at A2 level’. Although there are exemptions, ‘integration’ is a legal requirement:
To integrate, you must learn Dutch. You must then learn how the Dutch people live and work. This is required by the government as indicated in the Civic Integration Act. You take the integration exams after you have learned enough Dutch.
Applicants have three years to integrate, during which time they must pass the integration exam. The integration exam consists of four language tests, the ‘Knowledge of Dutch Society’ test, and the ‘Orientation on the Dutch Labor Market’ test, each of which take between 35 and 65 minutes. Applicants must pass all six tests and practice exams are available. The Government strongly recommends applicants undertake a formal ‘integration course’ at an approved school rather than trying to learn by themselves. Applicants who do not complete integration within three years may be fined.
Although in response to Minister Dutton’s proposals it has been suggested that ‘citizenship tests are not well-suited to testing an applicant’s “values”’, and citizenship tests have previously been criticised for the assumption by governments internationally that a ‘test of language ability and some history of government will bring them civic nationalism or social cohesion’, they clearly form part of many countries’ attempts to encourage and evaluate the willingness of prospective citizens to engage with their new country socially and culturally. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it demonstrates a similarity between countries in the cultural aspects that citizenship tests generally aim to assess, and provides an insight into how rigorously different countries conduct such assessments. Australia currently seems to lie somewhere in the middle.