People Seeking US Citizenship Face Tougher Test

    07 December 2020

    People seeking U.S. citizenship will now be required to take a longer and more complex test.

    The test centers on civics, a study of the rights and duties of citizenship. There are now 128 subjects relating to American history and government for applicants to study before taking the test. There used to be 100 subjects.

    FILE - Immigrants pick flags as they arrive to take their citizenship oath during naturalization ceremonies at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) ceremony in Los Angeles, Sept. 20, 2017.
    FILE - Immigrants pick flags as they arrive to take their citizenship oath during naturalization ceremonies at a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) ceremony in Los Angeles, Sept. 20, 2017.

    The new test requires applicants to answer 20 questions instead of 10. To pass, individuals must answer 12 questions correctly, or 60 percent. This is the same pass rate as before.

    The process of becoming a U.S. citizen is known as "naturalization." Passing the naturalization test is the final requirement for legal permanent residents - also known as green card holders - to become American citizens. A U.S. immigration official asks the applicant the questions during a naturalization interview, one of the final steps in the process.

    U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the federal agency that administers the country's naturalization and immigration system. Last year, it announced it was improving the naturalization test for the first time since 2008. The change became official last week. Anyone applying for U.S. naturalization after December 1, 2020, must take the new test version.

    The USCIS's acting director, Ken Cuccinelli, said in July it was the agency's responsibility to improve and keep the test current in order to help new citizens "fully understand the meaning of U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans."

    What's new

    While many questions have not changed, some have been reworded and others will require additional explanation in the answers. For example, the former test asked, "There were 13 original states, name three." The new version states "There were 13 original states. Name five."

    Instead of "What are two rights of everyone living in the United States?," an applicant must now answer, "What are three rights of everyone living in the United States?"

    Some immigrant rights groups have criticized the new test, saying some questions were made more difficult without a clear reason to do so.

    Aaron Reichlin-Melnick is with the American Immigration Council. He raised concerns that some questions were influenced by politics.

    "On the old test, applicants could be asked ‘Who does a U.S. senator represent?' The suggested answer was ‘all people of the state,'" he said. On the new test, the suggested answer is "citizens of their state."

    "This is not correct," Reichlin-Melnick said. "Members of Congress represent everyone who lives within their district, regardless of citizenship status. It's been that way since the nation was founded."

    A 2018 study by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that only one in three U.S.-born citizens would pass the former naturalization test.

    USCIS said it finalized the new test with the help of community-based organizations and volunteers across the country in summer 2020. "The data collected from this pilot was used to help USCIS make determinations about the language and grammatical structure of individual test items," the agency said.

    Sarah Pierce is a policy expert at the Washington D.C.-based, Migration Policy Institute. She said the test changes could possibly triple the amount of time each immigration officer needs to spend with applicants.

    "These changes reduce the efficiency of this already struggling agency," Pierce said. "The administration is adding hundreds of thousands of more minutes to these naturalization exams."

    USCIS spokesman Dan Hetlage said applicants 65 years and older who have been living in the U.S. legally for at least 20 years will be provided special consideration. They will be able to study from a smaller number of civics subjects and will need to only get six out of 10 questions correct to pass.

    I'm Bryan Lynn.

    VOA News and The Associated Press reported on this story. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    applicant – n. someone who asks for something officially, usually in writing

    interview – n. a meeting in which someone is asked questions to see if they are suitable for a job, position, etc.

    original – adj. existing since the beginning

    status – n. the legal position of someone or something

    determination – n. a decision that something will happen

    efficiency – n. the good use of time and energy