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US Citizenship Test Changes Raise Alarming Concerns for Those with Low English Skills

Written by Reynaldo — July 5, 2023
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The U.S. Citizenship test is being updated, and some immigrants and advocates worry the changes will hurt test-takers with lower levels of English proficiency. The naturalization test is one of the final steps toward citizenship that requires legal permanent residency for years before applying.

Many are still shaken after former Republican President Donald Trump’s administration changed the test in 2020, making it longer and more difficult to pass. Within months, Democratic President Joe Biden took office and signed an executive order aimed at eliminating barriers to citizenship. In that spirit, the citizenship test was changed back to its previous version, which was last updated in 2008.

In December, U.S. authorities said the test was due for an update after 15 years. The new version is expected late next year. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes that the new test adds a speaking section to assess English skills. An officer would show photos of ordinary scenarios – like daily activities, weather or food – and ask the applicant to verbally describe the photos.

In the current test, an officer evaluates speaking ability during the naturalization interview by asking personal questions the applicant has already answered in the naturalization paperwork. “For me, I think it would be harder to look at pictures and explain them,” said Heaven Mehreta, who immigrated from Ethiopia 10 years ago, passed the naturalization test in May and became a U.S. citizen in Minnesota in June.

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