Wednesday, September 3, 2003

LONDON — Immigrants seeking British citizenship will be required to show basic knowledge of the country’s history and take a short written test under proposals published by the government yesterday.

However, they will not necessarily be required to speak good English. Provided an immigrant has shown progress in learning the language, a rudimentary understanding will be sufficient to gain naturalization.

Recommendations from an independent advisory panel have been toughened up after complaints that an interim report published in January had ruled out learning history as a condition for gaining citizenship.

Bernard Crick, an academic and chairman of the panel, conceded that the absence of history had been “a neglect.”

The historical dimension was inserted at the request of Home Secretary David Blunkett.

Mr. Blunkett said he did not believe that an ability to list the country’s kings and queens in order or a knowledge of the names of Henry VIII’s six wives were necessarily indications of good citizenship.

But it was imperative that a would-be citizen have a knowledge of how the nation developed, an appreciation of its institutions, and an awareness of its customs and laws, he said.

“An understanding of our history underpins an understanding of life in the U.K.,” he said.

New settlers should be proud of their origins and heritage, Mr. Blunkett said, but he added that the “trendy liberal multiculturalism” of the 1980s had pushed the concept of a multiplicity of cultures to the detriment of integration.

The test, to be introduced next year, is likely to feature a section on institutions, including the monarchy; the roles of prime minister, the Parliament and the Cabinet; political parties since 1945; the civil service, the Commonwealth; and “values of toleration, fair play, freedom of speech and of the press.”

There also could be questions on etiquette, neighborliness, the changing role of women, sexual equality and youth culture.

At present, an immigrant may apply for naturalization after being a resident for five years, or three years if married to a British citizen.

The new rules will end the practice of granting citizenship as little more than a formality with no ceremony attached. Last year, 120,000 people — the highest number on record — became British citizens.

Mr. Blunkett said the tests would make new citizens feel more welcome and would give them a stake in their new nationality.

Those who are accepted also will attend ceremonies where they will swear allegiance to Queen Elizabeth II and pledge loyalty to the country. Those who fail will be able to retake the test, which will not be “unduly onerous.” Mr. Bernard said it would be “a bit like a driving test.”

Since applicants have residency rights, failure does not mean that they must leave the country.

In the United States, an individual who wishes to become a citizen must read, write and speak basic English, be of good moral character, pledge support for the U.S. Constitution and U.S. law, as well as demonstrate a fundamental knowledge and understanding of the nation’s history and the principles of its government.

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