Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The values debate

valuesOverseas visitors seeking to work, study or attend business meetings in the UK would have to demonstrate they respected “British values”, under proposals to make this commitment an integral part of any visa application.  -- FT.com

Oh dear…and just when the Life in the UK test was finally behind me.

Immigration is a difficult and contentious topic across Europe, as it is in the US.  The arguments for importing skilled talent and enhancing social diversity are well described by businesses and civic leaders.  But the reality seems different for native citizens, who must grapple with how to honor traditions and maintain fairness despite demographic change and economic austerity.  Migrant cultures seem to challenge rather than enrich established neighborhoods, to compete for jobs rather than create them.

wilders le pen feragePoliticians have responded by building barriers (reducing non-EU net inward migration) and enforcing assimilation (promoting a simple code that all can readily accept).  In 2014, the UK government suggested that, in addition to speaking English and mastering history and politics, a British values requirement would be adopted.  This would  assure that migrants respected ‘democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of those with different faiths and beliefs’.  We’ve already been talking about how to test for it.

After all, these aren’t qualities that can be put into a multiple choice test, or captured through interviews or role playing.  It asks how applicants live their lives.

british-treatsIt may be that regular meetings with a caseworker or sponsorship by a neighbor may be required to establish a fit. 

Hopefully, there won’t be a skills test of preparing proper meals (battered fish), knowing the first thing to do on arrival in a new place (boil water for tea), or giving the correct greeting (‘You all right?’).

I’m smiling inwardly as I remember how long it took before those British elements became second nature.  And that alongside a whole different set of language, cultural and social rules that I needed to learn in the Netherlands.

The Netherlands is actually Welkom Nederlandsfurther down the road to assessing ‘values’ among immigrants.   My Dutch civics program tested to the ‘Red Book’, Welkom in Nederland

Now, “Integration from Abroad” requires demonstrating language and cultural skills before ever leaving one’s home country (domicile). 

And, since 2014, immigrants must sign a ‘participation statement’ acknowledging their understanding of Dutch values and their individual responsibility to contribute to society.

None of this need be a bad thing: it could be a sign that immigration is evolving from an exclusionary device to an inclusionary one.

Sarah Goodman notes that, increasingly, Civic Integration tests have two purposes.  They assure both mastery of content (articulated expectations for belonging, including social rules), and demonstration of commitment (language and civic orientation, general knowledge tests, naturalization ceremonies, and integration contracts).

Interestingly, then, conservative values testing satisfies a liberal purpose.  ‘Passing’ is not simply a reward for having achieved full integration; it is also a means to assist in reaching that goal.

As she notes,

Citizenship has previously been a simple instrument of migration control; passports are a device to regulate who enters and leaves physical territories.  In a sense, it is an international filing system, a mechanism for allocating persons to states.

But new changes in citizenship policy alter this definition.

New requirements balance out previous liberalization that has given more people access to citizenship without accompanying obligations of membership. Requirements also infuse new content into traditional national membership, emphasizing a universal not particularistic set of skills and values. Finally, civic integration requirements modify citizenship from an exclusionary device to an instrument of inclusion.

‘perhaps more progress than Teresa May intended.

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