Citizenship Tests

Categories: Citizenship

Can citizenship tests coexist with multicultural approaches to integration?

Varying methods of naturalisation persist among contemporary international society. Many states employ citizenship tests in order to fashion their own requirements for citizenship. However, with the rise of multiculturalism, citizenship tests have frequently been viewed as contentious methods of integration. Those who oppose citizenship tests assert that these trajectories solely serve to assimilate migrants and do not do enough to maintain and embrace their original cultural roots.

In order to determine whether or not citizenship tests can coexist with multicultural approaches to integration, integration, civic integration, multiculturalism, and citizenship’s fundamental meaning across different perspectives will first be delineated.

Secondly, the Dutch citizenship test will be critically analysed in order to examine why its components do not fit a multicultural model of integration.

Thirdly, the Canadian citizenship test and its capability for multicultural integration will be examined. Finally, these two cases will be juxtaposed and compared, in order to show how their differences help to explain whether or not citizenship tests fit multicultural models of integration.

Citizenship tests can coexist with multicultural approaches to integration, but in order to do so, they must be able to accommodate immigrants with varying levels of wealth and education, they must not seek to alter their pre-existing social beliefs, and they should help them ease into life in a new country whilst still enabling immigrants to celebrate their cultural roots.

Integration and multiculturalism are two equivocal in international migration discussion that are rarely defined in modern political discourse.

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Integration, according to Professor Tariq Modood, is “where processes of social interaction are seen as two-way, and where members of the majority community, as well as immigrants and ethnic minorities, are required to do something; so the latter cannot alone be blamed for failing to or not trying to integrate” (Modood, 2011: 4).

Established institutions in society, such as the government, employers, and civil society, must take the lead to promote integration within their establishments (Modood, 2011: 4). For integration to take place, Modood asserts that citizen’s rights and opportunities “must be made effective through anti-discrimination laws and policies” (Modood, 2011: 4). Sergio Carrera and Anja Wiesbrock define civic integration, a relatively new extension of integration, as the “strong cultural and identitarian connotations on the juridical framing of the phenomena of human mobility and diversity” (Carrera et al, 2009: 3).

They go on to explain that, in contemporary international migration, it “can be considered a new discursive line intending to hide the much-contested classical logics of assimilation or acculturation” (Carrera et al, 2009: 3). Mireille Paquet defines civic integration as policies that “correspond to mandatory measures focused on the acquisition of language and on the demonstration of individual alignment with a set of national often presented as liberal – values” (Paquet, 2012: 244).

According to Paquet’s definition, these civic integration programs may contradict multicultural models of immigration since they usually intend on influencing the beliefs and values of immigrants to fit with the pre-existing national identity. Civic integration programs commonly employ integration courses or introductory/orientation programmes, tests and contracts (Carrera et al, 2009: 3). Political philosopher Will Kymlicka defines multiculturalism as the legal and political accommodation of ethnic diversity (Kymlicka, 2012: 1). Modood offers a more detailed explanation, stating that multiculturalism is “where processes of integration are seen both as two-way and as involving groups as well as individuals and working differently for different groups” (Modood, 2011: 4).

In this sense, Modood explains, each group is distinctive, and thus “integration cannot consist of a single template” (Modood, 2011: 4). In the context of multicultural integration and citizenship, Modood says that multiculturalism can be mistaken as being “about encouraging minority difference without a counterbalancing emphasis on cross-cutting commonalities and a vision of a greater good.” This, he believes, convinces many that multiculturalism can be “divisive” and a “productive of segregation” (Modood, 2011: 10). This interpretation may add stigma and stymie effective multicultural naturalisation policy.

In simple terms, a citizenship test determines whether a person is qualified to become a citizen (Etzioni, 2007: 353). However, this definition is rather limited especially in the context of modern international migration. Amitai Etzioni describes them as tools used to control the level and composition of immigration (Etzioni, 2007: 353). To support this claim, he notes how almost exclusively immigrants or their children who are subject to these tests and how, historically, citizenship exams have been “introduced or modified in line with changing attitudes towards immigration in those nations that utilise them” (Etzioni, 2007: 353). A proper citizenship test, Etzioni asserts, should “establish both whether they are acculturated (on some key fronts) and are fully aware of their right to keep their differences in many other areas.” (Etzioni, 2007: 359).

The meaning or status of citizenship itself has different meanings dependent upon the perspective used. The liberal perception of citizenship views it as a set of rights enjoyed equally by every member of a certain society (Etzioni, 2007: 358). Liberal citizenship tests “determine whether future citizens are aware of their right to free speech, and that it cannot be denied. They seek to ensure that citizens know that they are free to form any associations as they wish, practice their religion and so on” (Etzioni, 2007: 358). A neo-communitarian perspective views citizens as “both right-bearing individuals and as persons who must assume responsibilities towards each other and toward the community at large” (Etzioni, 2007: 359).

Neo-communitarians believe citizenship tests should include normative commitments, not just knowledge. Preparation for neo-communitarian tests would include significant efforts towards acculturation, but not the fostering of assimilation in the sense that “it would encourage eradication of subcultures of various immigrants” (Etzioni, 2007: 359). Contrarily, authoritarian communitarians believe that, in order to maintain social harmony, individual rights and political liberties “must be curtailed” (Etzioni, 2007: 359). Authoritarian communitarians also assert that the West’s notion of liberty is anarchic, that strong economic growth requires limiting freedoms, and that the West “uses its idea of legal and political rights to chastise other cultures that have inherent values of their own” (Etzioni, 2007: 360). Proponents of this view of citizenship usually prefer other means of immigration control instead of using citizenship tests (Etizoni, 2007: 360).

The path to full Dutch citizenship is expensive, unaccommodating, and many suggest it does not fit a multicultural model of integration. The possession of a Dutch high school (or higher) diploma provides exemption from the requirement to pass a citizenship test for naturalisation (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 9). This exemption implies that the citizenship test will primarily affect first generation of immigrants, who have generally not followed Dutch education, and second generation school drop-outs, “the number of which is exceptionally high in the Netherlands” (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 9). These latter categories will be barred by the expensive and complicated Dutch citizenship test, which will need to be passed in order to acquire full citizenship and permanent residence (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 9).

Since the introduction of this test in April of 2003, naturalisations decreased by 50% (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 9). The test, for which no study material has been made available, was made so difficult that many immigrants did not register to take the expensive test in the first place (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 9-10). This is clearly to the detriment of immigrants with low levels of education and is therefore not consistent with a multicultural model of integration. Although one of the official aims of the test was to improve integration, the opposite effect occurred many immigrants gave up their wish for full citizenship (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 10).

Hence, this citizenship test creates extra barriers for lower-educated immigrants who lack the financial means to obtain the level required by the test and is difficult to justify in respect of the principle of equal treatment of all citizens in a liberal democracy (Groenendijk et al, 2010: 10). In regards to content, political sociologist Christian Joppke classifies the Dutch citizenship test as a nationalist imposition of ill-defined Dutch norms and values on (Muslim) immigrants, with increasingly punitive and exclusionary connotations (Joppke, 2010: 1).

After decades of using an effective multicultural model of immigrant naturalisation, Joppke notes how Dutch political elites responded by scaling back social multiculturalism and turning towards civic integration (Joppke, 2007: 6). The contents of the test itself aims to promote participation in mainstream Dutch institutions, and obliges most non-EU newcomers to participate in a 12-month integration course, which consists of 600 hours of Dutch language instruction, civic education, and preparation for the labour market (Joppke, 2007: 6). Migrants are also required to pay for the integration courses in full (Joppke, 2007: 7).

This requirement exemplifies a citizenship test that clearly does not fit an accommodating multicultural model of integration, as it will significantly disadvantage lower-income migrants. Joppke concludes his analysis of the Dutch citizenship test by stating that, “what began as an immigrant integration policy has thus turned into its opposite, a no-immigration policy” (Joppke, 2007: 8).

Many have praised the Canadian citizenship test as an exemplary process of naturalisation. The test, by most accounts, adequately accommodates multicultural integration (Banting et al, 2013: 587). The exam is one of the last steps in Canada’s naturalisation process (Pacquet, 2012: 251). The test is comprised of 20 multiple choice questions, focusing on themes such as democracy, citizens rights and duties, and Canadian history, geography, economy, and political institutions (Pacquet, 2012: 253).

Political philosopher Mareille Pacquet states that, due to the “relative simplicity” of the test and the “broad scope of the study guide,” with proper preparation, most candidates will be able to pass the test (Pacquet, 2012: 253). Therefore, Pacquet asserts that the test has a “rather minimalist conception of citizenship, and its content does not seem to be an obstacle to naturalization” (Pacquet, 2012: 253).

According to Banting and Kymlicka, the citizenship test combines multiculturalism and integration due to two main elements which are critical to this compatibility (Banting et al, 2013: 588). Firstly, language training and integration programmes are provided by the Canadian government free of charge. There is no linkage between participation in them and continued residency or access to social benets (Banting et al, 2013: 588). Secondly, the Canadian national identity actively embraces and celebrates diversity (Banting et al, 2013: 588). Banting and Kymlicka attribute this multicultural sentiment to the adoption of bilingualism and multiculturalism in Canada in the 1960s and 1970s, which represented a state-led redefinition of national identity, an effort to deemphasize the historic conception of the country as a British society and to build an identity more reactive of Canada’s cultural complexity (Banting et al, 2013: 588).

Although the Canadian conservative government has since instituted some reforms in order to redefine Canadian identity by emphasizing more traditional symbols such as the monarchy and the military, these reforms have not sought to eliminate multiculturalism and has operated through incremental adjustments (Banting et al, 2013: 589). The Canadian citizenship test harmoniously coexists with Canada’s multicultural approach to integration and provides very few cultural barriers to a sense of belonging (Banting et al, 2013: 588).

Citizenship tests, like the Canadian one, that are accessible, that can cater to the needs of disadvantaged migrants, and can prepare immigrants for life in a new country whilst still respecting their own cultural values can coexist with multicultural approaches to integration. Although both Canada and the Netherlands have national identities that ostensibly endorse multiculturalism, evidence suggests that only Canada has been able to properly integrate this into their processes of naturalization.

While Canada’s citizenship exam is well-balanced and based on a practical understanding of things such as the country’s history and the rights of its citizens, the Dutch integration requirements are structured as “a form of assimilation” based on the mandatory adherence of a “thick public moral that the immigrant is expected to share” (Michalowski, 2009: 2). This distinction is key to understanding which citizenship tests can effectively accommodate multicultural integration. While Canada provides study guides for its citizenship test, the Netherlands has decided to keep questions and answers to its exams secret (Michalowski, 2009: 9). Unlike the Canadian test, the Dutch exam “asks questions about (supposedly) Dutch social norms which immigrants are asked to know and respect” (Michalowski, 2009: 21).

The Netherlands, unlike Canada and other states with multicultural approaches to integration, employ a citizenship test, which stresses the “large role” that the Dutch state assumes over immigrant integration, as “even details of social interactions are considered to fall under the scope of state action” (Michalowski, 2009: 21). Professor Ines Michalowski even goes as far to state that the presence of these “lifestyle questions” may serve to target and alienate certain ethnic groups such as religiously conservative Muslims, as the test even addresses controversial issues such as “equality between men and women, the (legal) acceptance of homosexuality or the illegal character of honor killings, female genital mutilation, and forced marriage” (Michalowski, 2009: 21). Such citizenship exams have led some scholars to believe that the aim of these tests is not to “enhance citizenship capacity and the free unimpeded development of the self in manifold associations with others” but to “enhance governments” control of membership of the polity and the disciplining of the migrant population” (Kostakopoulou, 2010: 16). While some states such as Canada adopt processes of naturalisation which seek to prepare immigrants for life in their country, others such as the Netherlands structure citizenship tests and other integrations methods to influence immigrants and indoctrinate them into their chosen ideals, beliefs, and practices.

In conclusion, citizenship tests can coexist with multicultural approaches to integration if they are accessible, ease immigrant transition, and instead of seeking to shape their own culturally-derived beliefs and ideals, they encourage different beliefs and ethnic diversity. As interstate migration continues to rise, citizenship tests that do not fit multicultural models of integration will be increasingly visible. Migration is an innate human right that must be upheld, and should not be subject to heavily-assimilationist policies that do not tolerate alternative cultural views and practices. While, in some cases, civic integration may merely seek to ease immigrant transition, some states have used this term as a guise to influence their migrant population. In order to facilitate a more inclusive, pluralistic international society, citizenship tests and other forms of naturalisation must employ multicultural models of integration. Barriers to citizenship only serve to alienate immigrants and exclude them from certain benefits that are normally granted to nationals. States should denounce overly-restrictive naturalisation processes as this may promote the fusion of different cultures internationally.


  • Banting, K. and Kymlicka, W. (2013). Is there really a retreat from multiculturalism policies New evidence from the multiculturalism policy index. Comparative European Politics, 11(5), pp.577-598.
  • Carrera, S. and Wiesbrock, A. (2009). Civic Integration of Third-Country Nationals: Nationalism versus Europeanisation in the Common EU Immigration Policy. CEPS ‘Liberty and Security in Europe. [online] Brussels: Centre for European Policy Studies, p.3.
  • Etzioni, A. (2007). Citizenship Tests: A Comparative, Communitarian Perspective. The Political Quarterly, 78(3), pp.353-360.
  • Groenendijk, K. and van Oers, R. (2010). How liberal citizenship tests are does not merely depend on their content, but also their effects. In: C. Joppke and R. Baubck, ed., How Liberal are Citizenship Tests. Florence: Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, pp.9-11.
  • Joppke, C. (2007). Beyond national models: Civic integration policies for immigrants in Western Europe. West European Politics, 30(1), pp.1-8.
  • Kostakopoulou, D. (2010). What liberalism is committed to and why current citizenship policies fail this test. In: C. Joppke and R. Baubck, ed., How Liberal are Citizenship Tests. Florence: Robert Schuman Centre for Advanced Studies, pp.9-11.
  • Kymlicka, W. (2012). Multiculturalism: Success, Failure, and the Future. Washington, DC: Migration Policy Institute, p.1.
  • Michalowski, I. (2009). Citizenship Tests in Five Countries An Expression of Political Liberalism. WZB Discussion Paper SP IV 2009-702. Berlin: WZB Berlin Social Science Center.
  • Modood, T. (2011). Multiculturalism and Integration: Struggling with Confusion. Florence: European University Institute, pp.4, 10.
  • Paquet, M. (2012). Beyond Appearances: Citizenship Tests in Canada and the UK. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 13(2), pp.251-253.

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Citizenship Tests. (2019, Dec 20). Retrieved from

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