U.S. Naturalisation Test to be Revised

One of the requirements of becoming a US citizen is being able to pass a rigorous naturalisation exam.

For South Africans who are looking to gain US citizenship via the EB-5 Investment Programme, Naturalization Interview & Testing is mandatory – but the process may just have become that little bit more tricky as the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has just announced its intention to revise and improve the current test.

The new test, which is expected to be rolled out in December 2020 or early 2021, is being upgraded to “create a meaningful, uniform, and efficient test that will assess applicants’ knowledge and understanding of US history, government and values,” according to the USCIS website.

The intention is to improve the fairness and transparency of the test, although it has been suggested that the level of difficulty may also be increased. Naturalization Interview & Testing was initially devised with the intention of improving the integration of immigrants and promoting the values of citizenship, as well as ensuring that applicants had the necessary English language skills to become citizens.

The new test is set to provide a more accurate measure of applicants’ civics knowledge and will also reflect best practice in adult education assessments. A working group is updating the test questions and also assessing potential changes to the speaking portion of the test. The new test will be piloted within a couple of months. Once the pilot has been analysed, and officers sufficiently trained, USCIS will firm up the implementation date.

According to USCIC Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, “Granting US citizenship is the highest honour our nation bestows. Updating, maintaining, and improving a test that is current and relevant is our responsibility as an agency in order to help potential new citizens fully understand the meaning of US citizenship and the values that unite all Americans.”

Applicants cannot become citizens without meeting the English and civics requirements for naturalisation, in terms of Section 312 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The N-400 application requires that eligible individuals must be able to read, write and speak in English, as well as know and understand the fundamentals of US history, along with the principles and form of government of the US.

Only one correct answer is required to pass for each of the reading and writing tests – however, the current civics test, which is administered orally, allows USCIS offers to select 10 questions from the list of 100 potential questions. Successful applicants must score at least 60%.

According to a survey conducted by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship, only four in 10 Americans are able to pass the test, which indicates its level of difficulty. However, each applicant has two chances to take the exam, which is usually held on the same day as the citizenship interview. If you fail the exam a second time, you have a chance to appeal with denial.

Some applicants are eligible for an exemption based on their age, how long they have held a Green Card, or if they have certain physical or developmental disabilities, or are mentally impaired.

South Africans eager to embark on the process of becoming US citizens should understand just how important the test is and prepare accordingly. Applicants generally attend classes in order to familiarise themselves with American history.  Preparatory documentation must be checked thoroughly and updated if any information has changed.

USCIS provides a number of resources for applicants – its website contains study materials for the English test, a civics practice test, and a pocket study guide. Audio and video materials are also available. USCIS also provides practice exams, which simulate real tests.

Close to 757 000 people became naturalised citizens in 2018 – a five-year high in new oaths of citizenship. According to the Department of Homeland Security, approximately 13.2 million foreign-born permanent residents currently live in the United States, about 9 million of whom are eligible to become naturalised citizens.  

American Dream works with experienced immigration attorneys who can guide you through every step in your immigration journey. Contact us today for more information.


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