U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is considering significant changes to the citizenship test, possibly adding an English-speaking section and multiple-choice civics questions, making it harder for would-be Americans.
Currently, the citizenship test does not evaluate the applicant’s English skills. The only time the applicant’s English skills are put to the test is during the eligibility interview the candidate has with an immigration officer. An officer would show photos of ordinary scenarios to the test takers, which they would have to describe orally.
The proposed changes would also include a multiple-choice civics exam taken on a tablet. The current exam does include a civics section but it is taken orally.
The citizenship test is one of the last steps for migrants who are seeking to become Americans—a process that can take up to years. The test requires migrants to show their knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and the principles and form of the U.S. government.
Despite high passage rates, many would-be applicants are intimidated by the exam and do not end up applying for citizenship, according to attorney Ruby Robinson at the Michigan Immigrant Rights Center.
In December, the USCIS announced that the test was due for an update, which it receives every 15 years. The agency said it would be conducting a nationwide pilot test of the proposed changes to the exam. USCIS said it hopes that the proposed changes will help standardize the test since the current test can widely vary in difficulty.
Some migrants have expressed concern with the proposed changes, claiming that they might have not passed the test if they had to take the new version of the exam.
“I feel like a lot of people come into the country planning on [passing] the test, and they build their knowledge on what the test has and not on the speaking portion,” one 2020 test taker told News 12. “Mainly because they can’t adopt the English language in such a short amount of time.”
The permanent updates are expected to be incorporated into the exam by 2024. None of the proposed changes have been approved yet.