September 23, 2019

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USCIS Revising, Updating Naturalization Test

USCIS is on its way to revising and updating the Naturalization Test. It will start with a pilot test involving about 1,400 volunteers this fall, then a second field testing pilot in spring 2020.

Last updated in 2008, the new Naturalization Test is expected to be implemented as soon as late-2020.

Recent issues surrounding the Administration’s attempt to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census and delays in processing naturalization applications have prompted the Acting Director of USCIS, Ken Cuccinelli, to tell the Washington Post that paranoia regarding the reason for these changes is not warranted. People who are paranoid will be “sorely disappointed when [the new test] looks like another version of the [current] exam.” Decennial revisions are proposed to “ensure that the civics education requirements remain a meaningful aspect of the naturalization process.”

The working group revising the test includes staff from across USCIS. The group is “soliciting the input of experts in the field of adult education to ensure that this process is fair and transparent.”

Currently, naturalization applicants are asked 10 randomly selected questions from a list of 100 (the list is available on the USCIS website). The questions are on American government, history, and civics and reflect middle school and high school curricula. To pass, 6 of the 10 questions must be answered correctly. There is a 90% pass rate among applicants. A 2018 survey by the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation showed the pass rate among U.S. citizens was only 36%. Citizens over the age of 65 had the highest pass rate: 74%.

Test yourself. Answer the following (answers are at the bottom of this post)

  1. Why did the colonists fight the British?

  2. When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?

  3. How many amendments does the Constitution have?

Along with changes to the civics test, the agency also is considering changes to the English language proficiency test. According to the naturalization statute, applicants must read and write “simple words and phrases” and “no extraordinary or unreasonable condition shall be imposed upon the applicant.”

When Francis Cissna, then-Director of USCIS, announced the revision he noted that the new tests would continue to provide “special consideration” to those over 65 who have lived in the U.S. as green card holders for at least 20 years. He also stated that “due consideration” would be given to “applicants’ education, background, age, length of residence in the United States, opportunities available and efforts made to acquire the requisite knowledge, and any other elements or factors relevant to an appraisal of the adequacy of the applicant’s knowledge and understanding.”

Last year, 750,000 applicants were naturalized. In the years preceding presidential elections, the application levels typically increase.

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The answers:

  1. Because of high taxes (taxation without representation), because the British army stayed in their houses (i.e., boarding and quartering), or because they did not have self-government
  2. July 4, 1776
  3. 27
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About this Author

Peter Reca, Jackson Lewis Law Firm, White Plains, Labor and Employment Law Attorney
Associate

Peter A. Reca is an Associate in the White Plains, New York, office of Jackson Lewis P.C. His practice focuses on representing employers in workplace law matters, including preventive advice and counseling.

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