The United States’ decision to revise the citizenship test has raised concerns among immigrants and advocates with limited English skills. Currently, individuals seeking US citizenship must go through a months-long process that includes years of legal permanent residency. However, the test changes implemented in 2020 under the previous administration increased the difficulty and length of the test, posing challenges for many applicants. In response, US President Joe Biden signed an executive order to remove barriers to citizenship and revert to the previous 2008 version of the test.
Recent estimates indicate that approximately 96% of applicants pass the citizenship test. In fact, over one million people became US citizens, marking the highest number since 2017. Additionally, compared to countries like Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom, the United States is known to have a relatively straightforward citizenship test.
Nevertheless, US authorities have determined that an updated test is necessary after 15 years. The new version, scheduled to be released next year, may include a speaking section. During this section, an officer will present photos of everyday scenarios and ask applicants to verbally describe the pictures. Currently, the speaking test involves the officer asking personal questions to the applicant. Heaven Mehreta, an immigrant from Ethiopia who became a citizen in May, expressed concerns about the new format, stating, “I think it would be harder to look at pictures and explain them.” Mehreta learned English as an adult after moving to the US and found pronunciation challenging.
Shai Anvy, an immigrant from Israel who became a US citizen last year, believes that the new format will increase the stress level for applicants. She mentioned that conversing with a federal government official can be intimidating, especially when English is not one’s first language. Anvy shared, “When it’s not your first language, it can be more difficult. Maybe you would be nervous and won’t find the words to tell them what you need to describe. It’s a test that will determine your citizenship. So there is a lot to lose.”
To provide a comprehensive understanding of the changes to the US citizenship test, here’s a summary:
- After 15 years, the US authorities will revise the citizenship test and release the updated version late next year.
- The new test may include a speaking section to assess the applicant’s conversational skills in English. Applicants will be shown pictures of daily scenarios and asked to describe them.
- The civics section, which covers US history, will transition from the current oral brief-answer format to a multiple-choice pattern.
- The US Citizenship and Immigration Services stated that the revisions aim to “reflect current best practices in test design.” A nationwide trial of the proposed changes will be conducted in 2023 to standardize the test.