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On Becoming British

When I arrived at the test centre, I wasn't worried at all. Instead of buying the 145 page book Life in the UK - A Journey To Citizenship for #10, I visited my library and scanned through it quickly - noting that it was dull and packed full of facts/figures/dates. It seemed crazy that they might test us simply on factual matters, so I assumed the test would test your grasp of key concepts (which seemed straightforward to me).

To my dismay, the questions were fiendishly factual, and I just managed to scrape by. Others who took the test weren't so lucky, and they'd invested days of preparation (some had even been to preparatory courses). There are 24 multiple choice questions, and I managed to remember some of the more outrageous ones. Very few native Britons have been able to give me correct answers to questions such as “What percentage of the population is Catholic?” and “What is the population of Wales?” If you are reasonably fluent in English, you are required to pass this test in order to become a UK national. The test costs time you take the test, and some test centres are booked up for more than a month in advance. People who don't speak fluent English are required to pay for English language (ESOL) and citizenship classes instead.

Having passed the test, I was eligible to apply for citizenship. This incurs a whopping fee of #655 (plus about #70 for a passport if desired). That's not the end of it though. If I want to give up my UK citizenship, I can submit a form and pay an additional #385 to leave behind my newly acquired Britishness.

When I got notice of my acceptance for citizenship, I still wasn't yet a Briton. I still had to go to their Citizenship Ceremony. British friends who attended found the whole thing drab, embarrassing, discouraging, and patronising.

Since gaining citizenship, I've renewed lobbying my MP and councillors with greater vigour now that I can threaten them with “you'll lose my vote if you don't get this done”. I now tell friends how prohibitively expensive the naturalisation process is. I am particularly vocal about how unhelpful the Citizenship Test is. I propose a better test, one which doesn't test English language skills, but instead checks that people have the correct knowledge of how to live in Britain. I'd have useful questions like - “What's the phone number for emergency services?”

Jesse Schust is an organiser of the London Naked Bike Ride.