Residency tests will punish others for our failings

They've been on the cards for a while now, but language and social science tests for permanent residency applicants are likely to be introduced over the next few years. It's an ill-judged, counter-productive plan.

Invandring 30 maj 2023 14:38

This testing policy would affect non-EU applicants for permanent residency permits, with some exceptions. EU citizens with residency rights, those with an EU family member residence card, and UK citizens with post-Brexit residency status would be exempt. 

Some argue that citizenship tests are crucial as they help safeguard the unique history and culture of a country, especially in an era of widespread immigration. 

Consequently, the plan's proponents say, these tests reinforce a sense of unity they believe is vital for maintaining robust and efficient liberal democratic institutions. But those who seem to be targeted, based on the criteria above for exemptions, suggest that the aim is a little less admirable.

Obviously newcomers can benefit from civic education. Providing language education is crucial to help newcomers, who are often in vulnerable situations, understand their rights, get institutional support, and participate in community life. 

However, actually forcing someone to learn a language to prove their commitment to supporting a democratic system — and tying this to their access to rights — clearly creates issues. 

In addition, there is no certainty that these tests really motivate people to learn. For instance, in 2019, the Netherlands introduced a rule where newcomers must pass a Dutch language test within three years or face a fine. Yet, about one in every four immigrants still does not pass this test in the required time, the same proportion as before.

Figuring out the problem isn't overly complex: it just requires joined-up thinking.

Older immigrants, particularly from places such as Afghanistan and Ethiopia where education is often disrupted, commonly fail the test. 

This supports the idea that issues like a person's social background and mental skills are more important for learning a language than just having motivation.

Furthermore, the pressure on new immigrants to immediately find work obviously clashes with the demands to learn the Swedish language. And there's no evidence that finding work automatically improves Swedish language skills. 

Indeed, the opposite is often true because newcomers pressured into finding work quickly, without having already learned Swedish, will usually end up in a job, such as cleaning, or warehouse work, that has little or no interaction with Swedes. 

And, of course, these jobs are usually poorly paid, so the newcomer will work extra hours to earn enough money to live, and they'll simply have no time to attend SFI. It's a fallacy that once most immigrants get a job they'll soon be chatting like old friends to Swedish colleagues. Why? Because without speaking Swedish, most immigrants won't get those kinds of job. 

Figuring out the problem isn't overly complex: it just requires joined-up thinking.

Which is where SFI comes in. Norran recently reported on a Swedish Schools Inspectorate (Skolinspektionen), study that found that SFI teachers rely on inflexible courses that are rarely tailored to students' specific needs, capabilities, and goals. Many students said that the course left them ill-equipped to communicate effectively in everyday life.

It goes without saying that this needs to change - that SFI be made more accessible and more student-focused and not just a box-ticking exercise for harassed, underfunded teachers.

We don't demand that every schoolchild in Sweden be brilliant at biology, or they'll be expelled from school. Instead, we improve the education itself. 

It will take resources and vision to improve SFI, but northern Sweden in particular needs willing hands to help build the green transition. 

We should be investing in people to help them settle and integrate, not punishing them for our failures.


This text is a column and the opinion is the writer's own.

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