Concerns Arise Over Proposed Changes to US Citizenship Test

US Citizenship Test

The US citizenship test is undergoing updates, sparking worries among immigrants and advocates about potential challenges for test-takers with lower English proficiency. The changes to the naturalization test, which is a crucial step towards citizenship, have raised concerns following the previous administration’s alterations in 2020, which made the test longer and more difficult. While the test was reverted to its previous version under President Joe Biden, new modifications are now being proposed, including the addition of a speaking section and a shift to multiple-choice questions in the civics section.

Proposed Speaking Section Raises Concerns:

The proposed speaking section aims to assess applicants’ English skills by having them describe photos depicting daily scenarios. However, some immigrants, such as Heaven Mehreta from Ethiopia, worry that this new format, based on visual prompts rather than personal questions, could pose difficulties, particularly for those who learned English as adults. Shai Avny, an immigrant from Israel, also expresses concerns about increased stress during the test and the potential language barrier that may hinder effective communication.

Shift to Multiple-Choice Format in the Civics Section:

Another proposed change suggests transforming the oral short-answer format of the civics section into a multiple-choice format. This alteration would require applicants to possess a broader knowledge base to select the correct answer. For example, instead of simply naming a US war fought in the 1900s, the applicant would need to choose the correct option from a list of possibilities. This shift is anticipated to demand higher language proficiency and test-taking skills.

Challenges for Individuals with Limited English Literacy:

The new format for the civics section, involving increased reading comprehension, may pose difficulties for individuals with English literacy challenges, including refugees, immigrants, and those with disabilities that impact their test performance. For these individuals, the multiple-choice test may prove more daunting due to the increased amount of reading required.

USCIS Plans and Public Feedback:

US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defends the proposed changes as reflecting current best practices in test design and aiming to standardize the citizenship test. The agency plans to conduct a nationwide trial in 2023, followed by a review from external experts. Public feedback will be sought, and the final implementation of the changes is expected late next year.

Record Numbers of Naturalizations:

Despite concerns about the test modifications, more than 1 million people obtained US citizenship in fiscal year 2022, with USCIS significantly reducing the backlog of naturalization applications. This positive trend highlights the ongoing importance of the citizenship test as a pathway to US citizenship.

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