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Durham University

Durham Law: Policy Engagement

Introducing the Research

70% of 150,000 people passed the test in 2012

Thom Brooks is an award-winning author, broadcaster and senior policy advisor with wide-ranging expertise in British immigration law and policy. He is a frequent media commentator on immigration issues and the leading expert on Britain’s Life in the UK citizenship test. His landmark books include Becoming British: UK Citizenship Examined published by Biteback. In recent years, Thom has campaigned for:

The Life in the UK citizenship test.

The test must be passed by anyone applying for Indefinite Leave to Remain or naturalisation. Thom has argued that it is unfit for purpose and is in need of urgent reform. The Citizenship Test fails to meet its central goal as a test of knowledge about life in the United Kingdom.

Reducing net migration does not reduce migration impact

Less net migration does not guarantee less migration-related impact on public services. Policies centred on macro-level numbers are unsatisfactory for addressing needs of local communities with different experiences of migration.

The creation of a Migration Impacts Reduction Fund.

A new Migration Impacts Reduction Fund could raise over £11.7m by introducing a £25 levy on immigration applications.

The need for a Citizenship Advisory Group.

Thom argues there is an urgent need for a new advisory group to examine and review the massive growth of immigration rules and procedures that is public and transparent. The last group met a decade ago and since the citizenship test and citizenship ceremonies have been introduced and significant reforms to visa application guidance without any subsequent review.

The Life in the UK Citizenship test : A 'bad pub quiz'


Impractical. The new test removes information available previously about the NHS, educational qualifications and what subjects are taught in schools, how to report a crime or contact an ambulance.

Inconsistent. The test no longer requires citizens to know the number of MPs in Westminster, but continues to require knowledge of the number of members in the Welsh government, Scottish Parliament and Northern Ireland Assembly.

Trivial. The test includes facts that are purely trivial, such as the following dates in the life of Sake Dean Mahomet: birth (1759), first came to UK (1782), eloped to Ireland (1786), opened first curry house (1810), and death (1851). 

Gender Imbalance. The historical chapter gives dates of birth for 29 men, but only 4 women. Neither of the Queen’s birthdays are included. No women artists, musicians or poets receive any mention. The Home Office announcement of the new test celebrated the inclusion of artistic and cultural heritage in the test by naming 9 men. No women were mentioned.

Already Outdated. Some information is already outdated. The handbook states that former PM Margaret Thatcher is alive although she died about a fortnight after its publication.


Reducing net migration does not reduce migration impact

The Government is committed to reducing net migration to 100,000 or less. The use of net migration as a target is a mistake. Net migration is a composite statistic taking together all migration entering or leaving the UK, including British citizens and international students. Reducing net migration can be achieved without decreasing migration-related impact. The Government should focus more on impact instead of numbers – ending net migration as a ‘target’ and move towards more specific, and achievable, targets.

Migration Impacts Reduction Fund

Thom has argued that urgent funding is required to help reduce the impact of migration on public services. Previously a fund distributed about £70m over two years, but it was scrapped by the coalition government after the 2010 general election. The pressures on public services from migration-related impact have continued, but without funding support.

The Citizenship Advisory Group

Over the last 10 years, immigration law and policy has undergone significant changes. Over 1 million have sat the Life in the UK citizenship test. Thousands have participated in citizenship ceremonies across the country. Home Office guidance for assessing visa and naturalisation applications have been revolutionised. But there has not been any review of procedures or consultation with naturalised British citizens to ensure immigration policy is fit for purpose. A Citizenship Advisory Group is urgently needed to review policy and procedures engaged in public discussion to improve regulations and build public confidence.

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This project has been funded by the ESRC Impact Acceleration Account