On December 1, 2020, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) implemented a revised naturalization civics test (2020 civics test updated from 2008 civics test) as part of a decennial test review and update process. In addition to making changes to the test content, the 2020 civics test updated the number of questions for applicants to study (from 100 possible questions in the prior 2008 civics test, to 128 possible questions in the 2020 civics test), and updated the number of questions applicants must answer correctly to pass, from six out of 10, to 12 out of 20 questions.
USCIS received approximately 2,500 comments from the public regarding the 2020 civics test and the policy. Multiple commenters noted that there was little advance notice before implementation of the 2020 civics test, which raised concerns about limited time for study and preparation of training materials and resources.
Due to the comments and in keeping with the Executive Order on Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans, USCIS will revert to the 2008 civics test. There will be a brief period during which USCIS may offer both versions of the test to accommodate certain naturalization applicants who filed on or after December 1, 2020 and before March 1, 2021 and are scheduled for an interview before April 19, 2021. This is because such applicants may have already been studying for the 2020 civics test. USCIS will provide notices to such applicants affected by the policy update.
General Eligibility Requirements for Naturalization
The applicant must be age 18 or older at the time of filing for naturalization.
The applicant must be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for at least five years before being eligible for naturalization.
The applicant must have continuous residence in the United States as an LPR for at least five years immediately preceding the date of filing the application and up to the time of admission to citizenship.
The applicant must be physically present in the United States for at least 30 months out of the five years immediately preceding the date of filing the application.
The applicant must have lived within the state or USCIS district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least three months prior to the date of filing.
The applicant must demonstrate good moral character for five years prior to filing for naturalization, and during the period leading up to the administration of the Oath of Allegiance.
The applicant must have an attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law.
In general, applicants for naturalization must demonstrate a basic understanding of the English language proficiency, which is determined by the applicant’s ability to read, write, speak and understand English; and a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and civics. Applicants have two opportunities to pass the related English and civics tests.
English Portion of the Test
A naturalization applicant must only demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak and understand words in ordinary usage. Ordinary usage means comprehensible and pertinent communication through simple vocabulary and grammar, which may include noticeable errors in pronouncing, constructing, spelling, and understanding completely certain words, phrases and sentences.
An officer determines an applicant’s ability to speak and understand English based on the applicant’s ability to respond to questions normally asked in the course of the naturalization examination. The officer’s questions relate to eligibility and include questions provided in the naturalization application. The officer should repeat and rephrase questions during the naturalization examination until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either understands the questions or does not understand English.
An applicant who does not qualify for a waiver of the English requirement must be able to communicate in English about his or her application and eligibility for naturalization. An applicant does not need to understand every word or phrase on the application.
To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to read in English, applicants must read one sentence out of three sentences. The reading test is administered by the officer using standardized reading test forms. Once the applicant reads one of the three sentences correctly, the officer stops the reading test.
To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to write in English, the applicant must write one sentence out of three sentences in a manner that the officer understands. The officer dictates the sentence to the applicant using standardized writing test forms. An applicant must not abbreviate any of the words. Once the applicant writes one of the three sentences in a manner that the officer understands, the officer stops the writing test.
An applicant does not fail the writing test because of spelling, capitalization or punctuation errors, unless the errors interfere with the meaning of the sentence and the officer is unable to understand the sentence.
Civics Portion of the Test
A naturalization applicant must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, principles and form of government of the United States (civics).
To sufficiently demonstrate knowledge of civics, the applicant must answer correctly at least six of 10 questions (also called test items) from the standardized civics test form administered by an officer. The officer administers the test orally. Once the applicant answers six of the 10 questions correctly, the officer stops the test.
Failure to Meet the English or Civics Requirements
If an applicant fails any portion of the English test, the civics test, or all tests during the initial naturalization examination, USCIS reschedules the applicant to appear for a second examination between 60 and 90 days after the initial examination.
In cases where the applicant appears for a re-examination, the reexamining officer must not administer the same English or civics test forms administered during the initial examination. The officer must only retest the applicant in those areas that the applicant previously failed. For example, if the applicant passed the English speaking, reading and civics portions but failed the writing portion during the initial examination, the officer must only administer the English writing test during the re-examination.
If an applicant fails any portion of the naturalization test a second time, the officer must deny the application based upon the applicant’s failure to meet the educational requirements for naturalization. The officer also must address any other areas of ineligibility in the denial notice.
USCIS has indicated that they would like to substantially increase the filing fee associated with filing for naturalization. The courts have enjoined the fee increase but it is possible the fee will be increased sometime in the future. Therefore, now that the history exam has been restored to the lower threshold, it may be a good time to file if you have been considering naturalization.
Kathleen M. Peregoy is a highly accomplished immigration attorney and serves as Co-chair of Connell Foley's Corporate Immigration and Global Mobility practice. Prior to joining the firm, Kathleen was a partner at Dornbaum & ...
Neil Dornbaum, Co-chair of Connell Foley's Corporate Immigration and Global Mobility practice, is recognized as one of the most active and distinguished immigration attorneys in New Jersey. Prior to joining the firm, Neil was a ...