The impossible barrier: Would you fail the ‘Life in the UK’ test?

by | Jun 9, 2017 | Migration | 3 comments

by Miriam Tenquist

An integral part of the British immigration policy, the Life in the UK test has to be taken in order to gain permanent residency and citizenship in the country, however despite the test seemingly being aimed at integrating and positively creating migrant citizens, there is much criticism about the test and is viewed more as a barrier to migrants. Further shaping the representation of immigrants and supporting media discourse (the image we have of people, things, society) of the immigrant ‘crisis’ at hand.
The most recent statistics identifies 117,608 participants for the ‘Life in the UK’ test with a decreasing pass rate from a steady 86.31% to a gradually decreasing 69.85%, but why has there been such a decrease in pass rate?

The citizenship test consists of 24 questions and takes up to 45 minutes to complete, with applicants having to answer 18 or more questions correctly to pass. The test has been dubbed a ‘bad pub quiz’ of which even the most patriotic British person would have difficulty passing. The inclusion of ‘trivial’ facts, vast inconsistencies and major gender imbalances leads many to criticise the purpose of the test. The emphasis on ludicrous facts and historical knowledge is far from what constitutes citizenship surely, it is more useful to be able to understand how to participate in British society than know the recruitment centres were set up on the west indies in the 1950s.

To fully understand the hidden agenda of the test It is important to look at the exemptions to the test.  The most prominent exemption is the exemption of “highly skilled migrants applying under the terms of the highly skilled program (HSMP) judicial review, and their dependants” ( as listed by Davidson Morris, find online article). Surely all those within the specified age range should be required to take the test, having such exemptions brings into the light the truth of the crisis. In which, our country claims to take in all refugees/immigrants for the sake of kindness and humanity. However, prioritisation of skilled workers and those which can economically benefit our country highlights the reality of the test and the ‘unwanted’ migrant. So, the question I ask is why and how average humans are being classed as unwanted? Well, this is achieved through the representation of immigrants, via the multiple mode of representation such as media, politics, literature, images, blogs and that is just the start of the ways in which the meaning/identification of ‘immigrant’ can be shaped and changed. Despite its effort, it is crystal clear to see that ‘the life in the UK’ test is just another way to represent migrants.

The representation of immigrants in the life in the UK test (in my opinion) is just another form of political and media discourse of immigrants. The test- which theoretically must be taken by anyone seeking citizenship-creates divisions between migrants, some are ‘good’ and are allowed in to the UK and others are ‘bad and unwanted’ and there is excessive effort to stop their entry into the country. There becomes a right and wrong type of immigrant. The test is identifiable as media discourse because it is heavily publicised in social media, the media is awful when it comes to creating an image of immigrants. Pushing more and more towards the dehumanization of migrants creating the idea that immigrants are animals, dirty, filthy, essentially inhuman; using ‘race’ and cultural differences to separate migrants as ‘them’. Racialisation of immigrants pushes them more and more into the other category. Here is an interesting article on political and media discourse.

This continues to be seen across the world, not just in the UK. Although, yes, there is also different media discourse which identifies immigrants as helpless victims, because the dehumanizing discourse (a really interesting video on media’s dehumanization of immigrants) is supported by the political discourse, like ‘the life in the UK’ test. It reinforces the disgusting claims made in the media. Immigrants are ‘stupid, uncultured, filthy and a burden’…I know that if I (a British born citizen) tried to complete the test I would fail miserably. Does that make me stupid, filthy, unworthy of being in this country? The test is not about how a citizen should and would act, but involves the most obscure and ridiculous questions which only a person with a degree in English History would be able to answer. (Thom Brooks article really sums up the disastrous test)

The terms economic immigrant, asylum seeker and refugee are all coined together, but the images associated with each different term could not be more different. Economic migrants are the unskilled workers, asylum seekers the ‘unwanted immigrant’ and refugees the ‘positive immigrant’ ( a more detailed explanation). The difference has such a strong effect on the opinions of masses towards the ongoing refugee crisis at hand that instead of focusing on the true humanitarian crisis of racism and violent hate crime, the population see a crisis of job, national, welfare security and sovereignty. We feel such an intense need to keep out these people that need help, we have made ourselves believe that we are better, that these people are dirt which will degrade our nation so far as to mock those who have been an integral part of our nation for numerous years, by demanding them to take the ‘life in the UK test’ to prove they’re ‘worthy’ enough for our country.

It is clear to see that the test is complete bogus and has a negative purpose to further separate between ‘types’ of migrants. If you have enough financial/ educational backing you can successfully learn the answers regardless of their obscurity, leaving so many normal people to continuously fail whilst ironically paying to even take the test. It yet another barrier towards immigrants, another way to represent normal people in the most inhumane way and maintain power. With hate violence and racism at an all-time high, with politicians such as Donald Trump using immigration to fuel their campaigns: “Mexico are sending people with lots of problems…they’re bringing drugs…crime, racism”.  It is time to reshape the word immigrant and redesign our immigration policies, starting with the ridiculous ‘life in the UK’ test.


  1. Hasan Khan

    I tried for the test and passed. I think a lot of it is irrelevant to life today. If I took is again in 6 months without revising I doubt I would pass it. I used this site to practice

  2. Julia Cournoyer

    Dear Miriam,
    I read your article and think your views on the Life in the UK test are fascinating. I am a student at the LSE and currently producing a short documentary about this test, as part of a group project. Would you be able to be interviewed for this project?
    Please email me, I’d love to chat!
    Many thanks and best wishes,

  3. UK Trip

    You’ve done it! You’ve done it! What a great concept! Your capacity to work on a variety of subjects. I’m impressed with the approach you’re taking with your posts and the effort you’ve put in to attain this. On concepts, you truly went above and beyond. You’re carrying out your duties and responsibilities honestly. Keep up the excellent work.


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