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Top 10 of 2007 - Issue #4: Testing Immigrants — Literally

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Top 10 of 2007 - Issue #4: Testing Immigrants — Literally

Australia now requires immigrants to pass a test before they can become citizens.

Prove you can fit in here. That is the challenge many countries placed in stark terms this year by implementing citizenship tests or increasing language requirements.

In the case of Australia, the government decided to do both.

Earlier this year, the mere mention of instituting a citizenship test that required cultural knowledge and basic English skills caused outrage among some Australians. They feared that such a test would scare off potential migrants (especially the much-desired highly skilled), contradict federal legislation and provincial multicultural policies, and disadvantage migrants from non-English-speaking backgrounds. Some called the citizenship test "fundamentally un-Australian."

Despite such arguments, the conservative government pushed ahead, and Parliament passed the measure. Nearly 300 people took the first citizenship test on October 1, and 83 percent achieved the 60 percent pass rate.

Acknowledging that better English language skills mean better jobs and pay for migrants, Australia also raised the English proficiency bar for its General Skilled Migration Program. As of September 1, those seeking entry as skilled migrants need to score at least a 6.0 when previously only a 5.0 was needed on the International English Language Testing System (IELTS). Those who score a 7.0 or higher receive 25 points, instead of the 15 points awarded to those who score at least a 6.0, toward their overall score for entry.

The United Kingdom’s Highly Skilled Migrant Program already required a 6.0 IELTS score. Under its new point-based system — which covers all types of employment and students and will begin rolling out in 2008 in a multistage process — most migrants coming for skilled or highly skilled work will have to show they have an "acceptable standard" of English.

The French have joined the trend, too. Tests for language skills and French values became new requirements for prospective immigrants thanks to a law passed this fall. Immigrants recognized as lacking competency in written and spoken French are required to take 400 hours of subsidized French language courses in France.

While the United States does not require English language skills for entry, it has moved toward demanding a better understanding of U.S. history and civic values of would-be citizens. This year, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) tried out its civics questions on immigrants in numerous cities before narrowing the list down to 100 in September. USCIS will start giving the new test on October 1, 2008.

Although Singapore has not yet considered a citizenship test, the prosperous Southeast Asian country held its first National Citizenship Ceremony this August. One commentator suggested that a citizenship test might make the highly skilled choose another destination but also stated, "Neither should we be so desperate for a higher body count that we do not assert the need for some adherence to Singapore values."