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The story of how British citizenship developed and why this matters for questions of race, migration and belonging in 'Global Britain'

Hosted and produced by Michaela Benson.

Cover Art: George Kalivis

Production and post-production: Art of Podcast 

Jan 21, 2022

Should the ability to speak English be a precondition for access to rights and belonging in Britain today? What is really tested for in English-language testing for the purposes of migration and naturalisation? How is this connected to the global dominance of English as a ‘world language’? And what links this to the increasing hostility experienced by those speaking languages other than English in public space in Britain today? It might seem common sense that to live in a country you should be able to speak the language. But looking at the relatively short history of language testing into the UK’s citizenship testing regime reveals that not all is as it seems.


In this episode, we discuss how language testing was introduced into the naturalisation process alongside the Life in the UK test in 2002. What can the back story to its introduction tell us about Britishness and belonging? Presenter Michaela Benson outlines how the stage was set for English language ability to be part of the criteria for becoming British through the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002. We hear from George about his experiences of language testing for the purposes of coming to the UK for postgraduate study and heads back into the archives to uncover how these new provisions related to anti-terrorism legislation. And we’re joined by sociolinguistics scholar Kamran Khan to explore how testing potential citizens for linguistic proficiency emerged against the backdrop of domestic concerns about integration and community cohesion and the global rise of Islamophobia in the wake of 9/11, and what this meant for Britishness and belonging. 


You can access the full transcripts for each episode over on the Rebordering Britain and Britons after Brexit website

In this episode we cover … 


  • Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 and 9/11
  • Islamophobia and Britishness
  • The relationship between language and nation-building




What that comes down to in the end is do you think language is a precondition for access to rights nd all those things that go with citizenship? And that comes with how you see the nation. Monolingualism and English is, is really tied up with the kind of idea of nation building.


  • Kamran Khan

Where can you find out more about the topics in today’s episode?

Kamran tweets about his work (and other things) @securityling


His book Becoming a citizen explores many of the themes we address in the episode brought to life through the experiences of W, a Yemeni migrant in the UK, going through this process. But we also recommend his recent piece in Ethnicities that explores his ideas about the racial politics of language proficiency in the UK’s citizenship regime. 


And we are recommending Nisha Kapoor’s fantastic book Deport, Deprive Extradite.


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