Immigrant advocates worry the updated English speaking test and civics exam, could be tough for would be citizens
The path to the American dream might be getting harder with the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reported to be updating its citizenship test by adding a new English-speaking section and multiple-choice civics questions.
The proposed changes could be tough for applicants, the Washington Post said citing some immigration advocates and prep centers.
“It’s going to create a learning curve,” Jessica Senat, who directs English-language programs at the Immigrant Learning Center in Malden, Massachusetts was quoted as saying. The Center is one of several sites that has volunteered to test out the revised exam this year.
USCIS announced in December it would pilot both the updated speaking test and civics exam, hoping to roll out changes in 2024.
The immigration agency currently checks would-be citizens’ English skills during their eligibility interview with an immigration officer, not the citizenship exam itself.
Another proposed change would make the civics section on US history and government multiple-choice administered on a tablet, instead of the current oral short-answer form.
In the current test, an officer evaluates English speaking ability during the naturalization interview by asking personal questions the applicant has already answered in the naturalization paperwork.
In the new test, an officer would show photos of ordinary scenarios – like daily activities, weather or food – and ask the applicant to verbally describe the photos, according to the Associated Press.
The citizenship test had been a focus of the Trump administration, which doubled the number of civics questions applicants had to answer and added to the pool of potential questions they studied.
The Biden administration reversed those changes in 2021, though the Trump-era revision hadn’t reduced the passage rate, which is consistently above 90 percent, the Post noted.
Despite high passage rates, test anxiety is the primary reason people balk at applying for citizenship, attorney Ruby Robinson, who works at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center, was quoted as saying.
“People who’ve lived here for 50 or 60 years can be really scared to take the test,” he said. “This includes people whose native language is English.”
The new changes will modernize the exam, which last got a significant refresh in 2008, according to Immigration authorities cited by the Post. If accepted, the changes would make the process of becoming an American citizen more like that of other countries.
Even the current test can vary widely in difficulty, the Post said citing a 2011 study. Despite what could be a rough adjustment, Senat told the Post she hopes the revision will further standardize the citizenship test.