Immigrants and advocates have raised concerns regarding the proposed updates to the U.S. citizenship test and questions for 2023. These changes are causing worry among individuals with lower levels of English proficiency. They fear it may negatively impact their ability to pass the test.
President Donald Trump’s administration changed the test in 2020.
It increased in length and heightened difficulty level. When President Joe Biden took office, he signed an executive order aiming to make the naturalization process more navigable. This included reviving the old version of the citizenship test. (which hadn’t been updated since 2008).
This past December, authorities in the US stated that after 15 years, it was due time for an update. The release of the new version is anticipated to occur in the latter part of next year.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is suggesting the addition of a speaking section to their new test.
This would evaluate English language proficiency. The interviewer would show images of ordinary scenarios. Those can include daily activities, weather, or food. They’d ask the applicant to verbally describe the photos.
During the current interview process, an officer assesses an applicant’s speaking skills. They ask personal questions (which the applicant has already responded to in their naturalization paperwork). This allows the officer to evaluate the applicant’s ability to communicate effectively in English. It also ensures consistency with their previous responses.
The new changes to the naturalization test include a greater emphasis on interpreting images.
Some say this would make it more challenging to pass. Adding a new speaking section to the US citizenship test based on photos, rather than personal questions, will make the test harder. The new speaking section could also increase the stress applicants already feel during the test.
Engaging in conversation with a federal government representative can evoke feelings of intimidation, particularly when English is not one’s native language, making it even more challenging to effectively communicate and describe important matters due to potential nervousness and difficulty in finding the right words. The high stakes involved in such interactions further amplify the pressure.
Another proposed change:
is to modify the US citizenship test’s civics section by transitioning from an oral short-answer format to a multiple-choice question format. This alteration aims to provide a more structured and standardized assessment method for this subject matter.
In December, USCIS wrote that the updates would showcase better practices for testing and help with standardization.
In accordance with federal law, individuals applying for citizenship must show proficiency in the English language.
This includes being able to speak, read, and write words commonly used in everyday situations. Additionally, applicants must also demonstrate knowledge of United States history and government.
In 2023, the agency plans to carry out a nationwide trial of the proposed changes to the US citizenship test. This trial will provide an opportunity for the public to give their feedback and opinions on the matter. After the trial phase, a panel of experts in language acquisition, civics, and test development will carefully evaluate the results. Their objective is to identify the most effective strategies for implementing the proposed changes. Stakeholders anticipate putting the final implementation plan into action towards the end of next year, with these recommendations playing a crucial role.
Compared to other Western countries, the US Citizenship Test as it stands in 2023 is relatively easier. To pass the test in the U.S., applicants must answer at least 6 out of 10 questions correctly. Recent estimates suggest that approximately 96% of applicants successfully pass the test. The test evaluates English skills at a “high beginner” level and provides a question bank with answers for applicants to study in advance.
The suggested format for the US citizenship test’s questions on civics involves multiple-choice questions where answer options are provided to applicants. This format aims to eliminate the memory challenge currently present in the test and make it easier for applicants to select the correct answers.
According to USCIS, in fiscal year 2022, the number of individuals granted U.S. citizenship exceeded 1 million, marking one of the highest figures on record since 1907, which is the earliest year for which data is available. Additionally, USCIS successfully reduced the significant backlog of naturalization applications by over 60% compared to the previous year. We have high hopes for 2023.