Sun, 17 Jan 2021

New US Citizenship Test Adds Questions, Complexity

Voice of America
04 Dec 2020, 23:35 GMT+10

WASHINGTON - U.S. legal permanent residents on the path to naturalization will now be required to take a longer and more complex citizenship test.

The new civics test is drawn from 128 questions test takers must be prepared to answer about American history and government, up from 100 questions previously. Anyone who applies for U.S. naturalization after December 1, 2020, must take the new version.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a federal agency under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that administers the country's naturalization and immigration system, announced in 2019 it was improving the naturalization civics test for the first time since 2008. It made the move official last week.

"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," Ken Cuccinelli, who was then serving as USCIS acting director, said in a statement.

Applicants must answer 12 out of 20 questions correctly to pass instead of the previous six out of 10.

"But you are asked all 20 questions," said Nancy Newton, program director of the Citizen Preparation Program at Montgomery College, a public community college in Montgomery County, Maryland.

Passing the naturalization test is the final requirement for legal permanent residents, also known as green card holders, to become American citizens. The test is given orally during the naturalization interview, one of the final stages of the citizenship process.

Newton told VOA the new test will require greater English proficiency, shifting from a high-beginning level of English to a high-intermediate level.

With the assistance of a DHS grant and a partnership with local nonprofits, the Citizen Preparation Program helps about 300 legal permanent residents every year. Legal permanent residents eligible to naturalize spend months studying for the citizenship test.

"What we need to ensure is that our learners know exactly what is required of them. And that we prepare them as best we can," Newton said.

What's new?

While doubling the number of test questions, USCIS said the passing score will remain at 60%. While many questions have not changed, some have been reworded and others will require additional explanation in the answers.

The former test asked, "There were 13 original states, name three." The revised version says "There were 13 original states. Name five."

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

Some immigrant advocates criticized the test, saying some questions have been made more difficult without evidence there was a need for it.

The questions have also taken on a "subtle political stance," wrote Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, policy counsel at the American Immigration Council.

"One question in particular raises concerns of politicization. On the old test, applicants could be asked 'Who does a U.S. senator represent?' The suggested answer was 'all people of the state.' On the new test, the suggested answer is 'citizens of their state.'" Reichlin-Melnick wrote adding "This is not correct. Members of Congress represent everyone who lives within their district, regardless of citizenship status. It's been that way since the nation was founded."

It is not known whether President-elect Joe Biden will undo any changes in the civics test.

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

USCIS said it finalized the 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.

Montgomery College was part of the pilot program, and Newton said applicants agreed the wording of the questions was different but "it wasn't something that was completely alien to them in terms of English language ability."

"Whilst we may think that the new test is more challenging than the current one, our learners are immigrants [and] have been through so much to get to this stage. There is so much that comes before even getting an application in to become a citizen. We'll get through this. We'll get through this together as a community," Newton said.

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