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People and Politics Forum 27. 06. 2008

"Should immigrants pass a test before naturalising?"

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More information:

German Citizenship to Become a Testing

Applying for German citizenship will soon have added complications. As of this autumn, hopefuls will have to pass a test comprising questions about social and political issues in Germany. The new plan has attracted a lot of controversy, and there have been conflicting responses among those affected. While the main Turkish association in Germany has been hugely critical, the Central Council of Muslims has welcomed the test as a necessary step. Hüriyett and other Turkish newspapers have asserted that even Germans would fail on certain questions.

Our Question is:

"Should immigrants pass a test before naturalising?"

Carola Catex, in France, writes:

"I've lived in France for 13 years and for a few months now I've had French citizenship. The only "test" I had to go through was a longish conversation in French covering a wide range of topics. I think that if you conduct such an interview cleverly you can find out quite easily if an applicant is willing to integrate or not. The very fact that someone has a good grasp of the home language already points to a basic integration level...A sympathetic conversation can uncover much more than a test with applicants learning the answers by heart. If you were to place this test before Germans who have always held German citizenship and also grew up in Germany the result would probably be disastrous. So much for its credibility. I assume the whole idea of the test is to demoralise people and reduce the number of applications. The end seems to justify the means."

Jerome Dourlet, also in France, agrees:

"The idea is not bad but I am not sure that it's really effective. Can we say that the basic knowledge of some key datas and figures of a country's history or society is a guarantee of good integration within the society ? To me good integration can't be the result of a simple test. It depends on a global policy that sends this kind of message to naturalisation candidates : "We'll give you a real chance to succeed here but you have to adapt to our cultures and follow our rules". Too often, immigrants that come to a country to take low paid jobs don't have any chance to get ahead. It creates some disappointment and so they stick to their culture without any real willingness to integrate.This is the case in France."

Some strong words from Rudolf Lappe in Canada:

"(Interior Minister) Schäuble's "federal test creation" that wasn't even put to discussion in the Bundestag but was simply ordered, doesn't invite people, it only frightens and excludes them rather than helping in their integration. This test is useless and counter-productive."

But that's not what Gerhard Seeger in the Philippines thinks:

"Of course applicants should know something about the country. But more importantly, people from other cultures - and there are a lot - where there is no rule of law should be told that practises regarded as "honorable" constitute a violation of the law here. It's important that immigrants adapt to the country they want to live in, and to its laws - and not the opposite, as some immigrants seem to think. Example: forced marriages and what happens to girls who resist."

Thomas Schröder in Germany says:

"I think demands for a knowledge test are absolutely OK..That we, the inhabitants here, might not be able to answer some of the questions is perhaps a shame and can triggger reactions, but it's not an argument against the test - even if it's put forward by parliamentarians. The point of such a test is to achieve a link with the country whose nationality one is striving for - for concrete reasons. So just do it!"

Similar sentiments from Torsten Quack in Canada:

"..it should be seen as an opportunity and not as a hurdle, and certainly not as some kind of harrassment."

Werner Horbaty, in Nicaragua, stresses language skills:

"..it's absolutely necessary for immigrants to comprehend the culture and the laws of their host country, and to speak the language. Here in Nicaragua you won't get far, even by taxi, if you can't speak Spanish."

In Mexico, Sascha Simmering says:

"If you want a Mexican passport it's perfectly normal to do a test. And it's definitely tougher than the German one, including questions about the constitution.."

Erich Prinz in Thailand also targets the questions:

"Any German should also be able to answer the questions. I think it's OK to ask about the number of Germany's federal states and the colors of Germany's national flag."

Not the view of Ulrich Pillen in Switzerland:

"..I don't think questions such as the number of federal states in Germany are suitable in assessing an applicant's identification with Germany, that is, questions that don't touch a person's immediate environment...One could ask questions about the federal state where the applicant is living: the name of the capital or the premier; famous landmarks; questions about the German national capital; federal politicians; general lines of German history...and questions about current political issues which give special insight into an immigrant's interest in his surroundings..."

Renate Berthold, in the USA, writes:

"I did the immigration test here in the USA and thought it was a perfectly normal thing to do. It was interesting and I learned a lot. The test forces you to deal with the history and the politics of your new country..The fact that many Germans would fail the German test is embarrassing and only shows that citizens need better coaching in social and civic matters."

In Britain, Charles Smyth says:

"It would be good to the extent that they would have some knowledge about Germany as a country and its history. More usefully, such a test - if sensibly designed - would be a test of their German language skills, so that there would be less likelihood of them becoming victims of the social alienation which afflicts so many of the immigrants to the UK for example. Especially those from Pakistani and Indian communities."

Stephan Pabel, in Brazil, notes:

"Yes, I think they should do a test. They should be informed about everyday German life and know something about German values. Then they will know what they have let themselves in for and decide for themselves if they want to go ahead with it (naturalisation)."

Some unequivocal words from René Junghans, also in Brazil:

"Those applying to be German should have adequate knowledge of German culture, politics, economics and a command of the German language, both spoken and written. And everyone should be able to sing the German anthem without mistakes and swear allegiance to the German flag, and do military service. Is that too nationalist? Don't think so. It's the same in the USA...Noone has to be deported but it's up to the individual to decide if he wants to integrate or stay an outsider. That's democracy!"

Ali Cakmakcilar, in Turkey, stresses the role of the host country's language:

"It's a similar situation about being Turkish in Turkey...especially in universities that give an education in English making you foreign in your own country."

And Erwin Scholz in Costa Rica quips:

"Knowledge is fine, manners are better,

Principles shouldn't always matter.

Immigrants are taken for a ride,

do that test or just stay outside!"

The People and Politics desk reserves the right to edit and abbreviate texts.