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USCIS Announces Changes to the Current Naturalization Test

8/8/2019
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The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it’s making revisions to the current naturalization test and will start implementing an updated test beginning December 2020 or early 2021. According to USCIS, the changes are a step toward ensuring that the test is an accurate measure of an applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history, government, and values. However, since the White House is capable of exerting control over the test, critics are dubious of any proposed changes and the reasons for them. 
 
About the Naturalization Test
 
Debuted in 1986, the last revision to the naturalization test occurred over ten years ago in 2008, the result of a $6.5 million redesign taking place over six years of discussions with historians, immigrant organizations, and both liberal and conservative research groups. The 2008 revisions to the naturalization test did not change the format of the exam; rather, it shifted the focus of the test away from civics trivia to basic questions about the structure of government, U.S. history, and geography.  
 
In its current format, potential citizens must answer a minimum of six out of ten questions randomly generated from a list of 100 questions. All of the questions and answers for the naturalization test are found on the USCIS website. If it sounds like the naturalization test is merely a formality, consider that a 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation discovered that just 1 in 3 U.S. citizens could pass the current test.
 
USCIS’s Reasons for Changing the Naturalization Test
 
When announcing the upcoming changes to the naturalization test in May, then-USCIS Director Francis Cissnac wrote, “Citizenship is the culmination of an immigrant’s journey to fully join our nation and live with us in a common bond... By revising this test every 10 years, we can ensure that the civics education requirements remain a meaningful aspect of the naturalization process.”
 
USCIS acting Director Ken Cuccinelli says the reason for the overhaul of the naturalization test is that “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 U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans.”
 
Other Notable Changes to the Naturalization Test
 
In addition to changing the questions asked on the naturalization test, alterations to the speaking section of the test are also expected. According to the Immigration and Nationality Act, candidates for naturalization must have “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language.” USCIS has yet to reveal any specific changes to the speaking portion of the test. 
 
Concerns About Changes to the Naturalization Test
 
Critics of the White House and its immigration policy fear that this is another attempt to increase the difficulty of naturalization and slow down the process. The naturalization test affects a large number of individuals; in Fiscal Year 2018, USCIS naturalized nearly 757,000 people—a five-year high in new oaths of citizenship—up from 707,265 people in 2017. 
 
GoffWilson Immigration Law 
 
GoffWilson is monitoring the revisions to the current naturalization test so we can best strategize with our clients and help them prepare to pass this important test. Given the problematic changes expected and unknown future of the exam, we urge those planning to apply for citizenship to do so as soon as they’re eligible. 
 
GoffWilson is a full-service immigration law firm assisting everyone from multinational businesses to families and individuals navigate the complex U.S. immigration system. If you have a question about what the changes to the naturalization test mean for you, or any other immigration questions, contact GoffWilson today. Immigration isn’t just what we do, it’s our passion!
 
Filed under:Immigration Law, Immigration Reform