Americans are proud to call ourselves “a nation of immigrants,” but the subject of immigration has been a sore one in recent years. So, an idea just implemented in Australia might be worth borrowing to help us reconcile our own conflicted feelings on the matter.
One the one hand, most Americans can trace our lineage to immigrants and recognize the many contributions of immigrants in all sectors of life, like science, commerce, medicine and the arts. It’s cool that we live in a place that attracts talented people.
Plus, demographic trends show there won’t be enough workers to pay Social Security benefits to the baby-boom generation without immigrants.
On the other hand, we also realize that a major asset for any country is when the population is united through shared language and values. There are plenty of negative examples to prove the dangers of balkanization, such as Syria, Turkey, Bosnia, and Myanmar.
How do we welcome immigrants and yet ensure they share enough of our worldview to enhance our society rather than conflict with it?
Many countries around the world face the same struggle. Disputes about it led to Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, and clashes over it in France are frequent and violent.
Australia has a novel approach. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull just imposed a multipart test.
It quadruples the period of required residency from one year to four. Applicants must also provide evidence of community involvement over that time, like job records, volunteering, club membership or school enrollment.
It imposes language fluency requirements for writing, reading, listening and speaking -- recognizing that hearing and reading a new language is comparatively easy but speaking and writing takes real understanding.
Turnbull’s test also questions immigration applicants’ values to ensure they mesh with the majority of the country. They are asked their views on forced child marriage, female genital mutilation and whether they believe religious laws trump civil laws.
America’s citizenship test is already pretty rigorous with history and civics questions that stump many native-born adults. Adding a few of Turnbull’s ideas might help strengthen confidence in it.
Improved public confidence in our citizenship requirements might lead to wider acceptance of the kind of immigration reforms that could ultimately change the flow of illegal immigration into legal immigration with greater assimilation.