Immigrants who have permanent residence in the United States often hope to become US citizens. While the number of immigrants who become American citizens rises and falls each year, about 844,000 green card holders became US citizens in 2019.
Permanent residents need to satisfy several requirements before they become eligible to apply for US citizenship. They need to satisfy additional requirements as part of the application process. Passing a citizenship test administered by US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is one requirement. This blog explains how that process works.
Who Is Eligible for Citizenship?
Everyone who is born in the United States automatically becomes a US citizen, even if their parents are citizens of another country. No citizenship test is required.
Children of US citizens born outside of the United States usually become a citizen automatically if at least one parent regularly resides in the United States. Parents need to process some paperwork to establish the child’s citizenship, but the child is not required to take a citizenship test.
Individuals who were born outside of the US and who don’t have an American parent must usually acquire citizenship through a process known as naturalization. Eligibility for citizenship depends on several factors.
Most applicants must satisfy these criteria:
- The applicant is a lawful permanent resident (also known as a “green card” holder).
- The applicant has been a lawful permanent resident for at least 5 years.
- During the time the applicant has been a lawful permanent resident, the applicant has not taken a trip outside of the United States for longer than 6 months.
- The applicant has been physically present in the United States for at least 30 months.
- The applicant has lived in the state or USCIS district in which the applicant applies for at least 3 months.
- The applicant does not have a disqualifying criminal record.
- The applicant answers all questions on the naturalization application truthfully.
- The applicant completes an interview with USCIS.
- The applicant satisfies USCIS that the applicant has good moral character.
- The applicant passes a citizenship test.
- The applicant swears an oath of allegiance to the United States.
The 5-year residence requirement may differ if the applicant is married to a US citizen or is serving in the US military.
Must All Applicants for Naturalization Take the Citizenship Test?
The US citizenship test has two components. First, most applicants must demonstrate their ability to read, write, and speak the English language (the “language test”). Second, all applicants must demonstrate a basic knowledge of US history and government (the “civics test”).
While most applicants need to take the language test, these long-term permanent residents are not required to demonstrate their ability to speak English:
- Permanent residents who are over the age of 50 and have lived in the US for a total of 20 years.
- Permanent residents who are over the age of 55 and have lived in the US for a total of 15 years.
To qualify for the exemption, the age and residency requirements must be met at the time the citizenship application is filed. Continuous residency is not required to satisfy the total period of years needed for an exemption to the language test.
Applicants who are exempt from the language test must bring an interpreter to the USCIS interview. The interpreter must be proficient in English and in the applicant’s language.
All applicants must take the civics test. Applicants who are exempt from the language test requirement may take the civics test in the language of their choice.
What is the Language Test?
Unless the applicant is exempt from taking the language test, the applicant must demonstrate proficiency in speaking, reading, and writing English during the USCIS interview. The interviewer will judge spoken proficiency by listening to the applicant’s responses to the interviewer’s questions. Interviewers are not allowed to consider accents in determining whether the applicant speaks English proficiently.
To pass the reading test, the applicant must correctly read out loud one of three written sentences. To pass the writing test, the applicant must correctly write out one of three sentences.
What is the Civics Test?
The civics test covers American history and government. The test is not written. Unless the applicant is exempt from taking the language test, the USCIS interviewer asks the questions in English and the applicant must answer in English.
At the end of 2020, the Trump administration implemented a new civics test. That test required applicants to answer 20 questions drawn from 128 study questions. The former test, implemented in 2008, required applicants to answer 10 questions drawn from 100 study questions.
The Biden administration has reinstated the 2008 test. When a citizenship application is filed after March 1, 2021, the applicant will take the 2008 civics test.
Both tests require the applicant to answer 60% of the questions correctly to pass the test. Applicants who take the 2008 test must therefore answer six of the ten questions correctly.
Permanent residents who are over the age of 65 and have been in the US for 20 years are only required to study 20 questions. They are asked 10 of the 20 questions during the citizenship interview and must answer 6 of them correctly to pass.
Retaking the Tests
Applicants who fail either part of the test are given a second chance to pass. Applicants are only required to retake the part of the test that they failed.
The retest will be scheduled 60 to 90 days after the first interview. That gives applicants some time to study in preparation for the second test.
Preparing for the Tests
The best way to prepare for the language test is to speak English as often as possible. Spend some time every day conversing with people in English. To learn how to read and write English, it may help to take classes in English as a Second Language (ESL). Many community colleges offer low-cost ESL classes. You can also search online for free lessons.
You can study for the civics test by downloading and studying the 100 questions and answers from the USCIS website. Although you will only be asked ten questions, there is no way to know in advance which ten questions you will be asked.
For at least several months before your USCIS interview, spend a little time every day memorizing the answers to the test questions. Your goal is to be able to answer them all when the time comes to take the test. Memorizing all the answers will assure that you pass the test, even if you forget an answer or two.
If you have a Green Card and not sure if there are any benefits for you to apply for US Citizenship, read this blog post explaining it.
If you are dealing with any aspect of immigration, the process can seem overwhelming at times. There are layers and layers of complicated procedures and regulations. Even a minor error can result in a processing delay or denial of claims. That is why it can be beneficial to consult with a skilled immigration attorney.
The Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz in Cedar Rapids, Iowa has a proven and successful history in dealing with immigration cases. If you have any questions about immigration, please feel free to reach out for assistance. The Law Office of Raphael M. Scheetz is available by calling 319-378-7416.