Potential immigrants must complete several steps in their journey to become U.S. citizens, including passing a short examination. Recently, the USCIS announced significant changes to the test that are expected to roll out in late 2023 or 2024. The application process is daunting, and it’s natural these proposed changes to the U.S. citizenship test may make many immigrants concerned. Here’s a brief overview of what applicants can expect over the coming year.
Why is the USCIS making changes to the U.S. Citizenship test?
The U.S. Citizenship test covers two main components that the USCIS feels are important to be official members of the U.S. community: the English language and civics. Questions on the test assess the applicant’s ability to read, write, and speak English with a minimal level of fluency, while the civics portion of the exam evaluates their knowledge of U.S. history and how our government functions.
Over time, the USCIS received stakeholder feedback desiring more standardization and structure to the naturalization test. Their proposed changes aim to make the test more meaningful for applicants while remaining consistent with the framework of recently implemented Executive Order 14012, which intends to restore faith in the legal immigration system and strengthen the integration and inclusion efforts of new Americans.
Proposed Changes to the U.S. Citizenship Test
The naturalization test redesign initiative includes proposed changes to the English-speaking portion of the test and updates to the content and format of the civics test. During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask the applicant up to 10 questions from a list of 100 civics questions, and the applicant must answer at least six of them correctly to pass the civics portion of the test. Here are the changes we expect to see:
- Updated speaking section: The new test proposes an updated speaking section to assess English skills. An officer would evaluate the applicant’s ability to describe what is happening in a photo. The photos would contain elements of daily life: the weather, food, or routine activities. In the past, the interviewer has asked verbal questions about the candidate, representing a change in the subject matter of the questions to gain more consistency.
- New written multiple-choice format: Applicants can expect to see some questions asked in a new format, too. The new test will likely include a multiple-choice format for ten questions that were previously asked verbally.
The USCIS plans to conduct a nationwide trial in 2023 to gather public feedback and involve external experts in reviewing the results before implementing the changes.
Concerns and Potential Impact
Changes and uncertainty often cause worry, so it’s understandable that many applicants and their advocates are anxious about the new test format. During the Trump administration, the USCIS changed the examination that lengthened the test, and made passing it more difficult, so many potential immigrants have already felt apprehensive about this stage. Now, those applicants with less fluency in the English language fear the changes will create new barriers to gaining citizenship. To overcome this challenge, many applicants feel they will need much more preparation time to study and practice their language skills before attending the interview.
Applicants for U.S. citizenship should be aware of these proposed changes and keep an eye on the latest updates. They should also be prepared for potential application processing delays and ready to adapt to changes in the citizenship test format.
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