Friday 5 September 2008

Book Comparison: UK and Canadian Citizenship Test Material

Before you can become a citizen in either of Canada or the UK, you must pass a written test of knowledge about the country. In the case of the UK, those who want to be apply for indefinite leave to remain (i.e. to live in the UK as long as desired without need for further visas, aka permanent residency) must also pass the test.

The purpose of these tests is, as the UK Border Agency explains in its FAQ document, to "... ensure that migrants have an understanding of life in the UK and the requisite skills to allow them to fully integrate.", or, in Canada's case to "... help you prepare to become a Canadian citizen."

How the two books compare? What do they reveal about each country? Are they useful to an immigrant?

Canada's Book: A Look at Canada (2007) - 47 pages
The UK's Book: Life in the United Kingdom - A Journey to Citizenship (2007) - 146 pages

Test Knowledge: - The bar is set much lower in Canada: its test only requires a pass mark of 60% vs 75% in the UK, and if you fail, you can go for an interview with a Citizenship judge who can decide if you meet the knowledge criteria despite the test result. In the UK, fail and you get to try again after paying the £34 fee again (there seems to be no separate fee for Canada's test - It looks to be included with the citizenship application). Plus, if your written English or French is too poor, in Canada they will give you an oral test. Plus, if you are over 54 in Canada, you don't need to take the test at all, whereas it is 65 in the UK. The UK does allow you to take the test in Scottish Gaelic or Welsh ... now I wonder how many people living outside the UK and wanting to immigrate who aren't already citizens can write those languages fluently enough for a written test?

There is lot more to be learned by the immigrant in the UK, despite the fact that only chapters 2 to 6 of the UK book, or 60 pages, is actually test material. A glossary takes up a whopping 30 pages of the remainder, including such obscure terms as "cannabis: an illegal drug that is usually smoked" and "conquered: beaten in battle". But there is only about 40 pages of test material in Canada's book after subtracting a half dozen pages pages devoted to intro material and test suggestions at the end. Those 40 pages contain many photos - just about on every page - and there are many fewer words on a typical page.

Canada book - a combination of politically-correct boosterism and indoctrination on geography and civics written at a grade-school level. Its practical utility is more or less nil, except for explaining how federal voting works.
UK book - practical explanations of all aspects of living, both public/government and private (like buying a house, renting, credit cards, opticians, churches, marriage, employment, sports, driving licenses etc) with web references, addresses and phone numbers. If you do know all this info, then no doubt you will be able to do what you need to cope with life as well as the native-born. But why give and test this info two or even five years after the person has arrived? It's material that someone needs upon or before arrival. In fact, I would recommend this book as a handy all-in-one primer on the practical side of living in the UK for those coming here. For a facts and figures overview of the UK, read the UK Wikipedia entry.

Consider this contrast - the UK book has a section on sports and states that football (soccer for Canadians), rugby, tennis and cricket are the most popular sports. Nowhere in the Canada book does the word hockey even appear. Is that a proper "Look at Canada"? Similarly, the UK book spends several pages detailing ethnicity and religion, whereas the only mention of religion in Canada's book is the phrase "freedom of religion". On the other hand, Canada's book starts off with a chapter on environment and sustainable development where the preaching and talking down to the reader is enough to make one nauseous. The UK book doesn't even mention the environment. At least the Canada book has a map though! One would think the UK to be disembodied country floating in space. Sadly, neither book touches upon literature, fine arts, media, all essential parts of a country I would venture to say.

It seems that to become a UK citizen you need to know the practical "what to do or not do", whereas in Canada you must know the proper way to think and have the correct attitudes.

It is true that advice on practical matters can be obtained on the federal government's Citizenship and Immigration Canada website under Live in Canada Before You Arrive and After You Arrive. Check out the Wikipedia Canada entry for summary and figures.

The Citizenship test itself is thus another way in which Canada is more favourable to immigration than the UK. Maybe it should be no surprise - without immigrants Canada's population would be falling, while the UK has been flooded with migrants from new European Union countries like Poland (who have a right to live and work in the UK and don't need to pass the test) and so doesn't particularly want or need any immigrants from other places (like Canada).

Book Cost and Source: Why should one be obliged to pay anything for the UK publication, which costs £9.99 at the official government publisher TSO? Worse, the government publisher charges more than booksellers such as Amazon, where it costs only £7.52? Why can the UK not publish the document as a pdf like the Canadian book, which is available for free here as a pdf download?

The Test: Now that I've taken the UK's test, I can say that any reasonably intelligent person should be able to pass it on the first attempt with 3-4 hours of studying. If you already have a general familiarity with the answers to the topic areas in the What You Need to Know at the official Life in the UK website, you might even be able to pass without studying at all. Remember that it is multiple choice so it is only testing recognition memory, much easier than having to supply your own answers from nothing. One thing they could state in their background info, which I did not see anywhere, is that the test appears to be customized to the local part of the UK where you live, whether it is Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Half the confusion I had studying was keeping straight the different rules for each area like education, water rates etc. It took me all of 5 minutes to complete the 24 questions, including double-checking all my answers, out of the 45 minutes allotted - a skoosh, as the Scots say. Some smarty-pants young woman finished before me, harrumph!

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