Are you one of the immigrants who aspire to become a citizen of the United States? Becoming a U.S. citizen is one of the major life decisions an immigrant can make. U.S. citizenship offers many benefits, but it also requires a strong commitment to the country. U.S. citizenship comes with rights and responsibilities. There are various ways to obtain citizenship depending on your situation – and one of these ways is through naturalization. A credible New Jersey immigration attorney can help you determine whether you are eligible to apply for naturalization.
Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a lawful permanent resident after meeting the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). As part of the naturalization process, applicants for U.S. citizenship must pass a two-part citizenship test. The first component is an English test that assesses the applicant’s ability to read, write, and speak the language. The second part is a civics test that evaluates the applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government. The naturalization test will be held during your citizenship interview at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.
The USCIS provides abundant resources on how to study for the English and U.S. history and government exams. If you don’t pass one or both of these tests the first time, you’ll normally get one more chance, typically within 60 to 90 days of the first interview. Here’s an overview of what to expect during the naturalization interview and the citizenship test:
- Purpose of the U.S. Citizenship Interview
- Preparation for the English Exam
- Preparation for the U.S. Civics Exam
- Exempted Applicants
- The Role of an Immigration Attorney
Purpose of the U.S. Citizenship Interview
During your naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will ask you questions about your application and background. A reliable New Jersey immigration attorney can help you prepare for the citizenship interview. The interview serves the following purposes:
- review your N-400 application (check whether you meet the basic requirements for U.S. citizenship)
- review your immigration file
- test your ability to speak, read, and write English
- test your knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics)
- decide on whether you are eligible for citizenship
Preparation for the English Exam
During the citizenship interview, the USCIS officer will talk to you in English, and observe how well you respond to questions and instructions. Don’t be pressured to use the perfect grammar and vocabulary. Immigration officers administering the exam expect that most people will make common mistakes. If you aren’t confident enough to communicate in English, taking the language class can help you improve your skills.
The English exam will consist of three parts: a speaking test, a reading test, and a writing test.
- Speaking Test – Your ability to speak will be determined while you answer questions during the interview.
- Reading Test – You will be given three sentences in English and you have to be able to read one of the sentences to the satisfaction of the USCIS officer. Your main goal is to convey to the immigration officer that you understand the meaning of the sentence. The USCIS provides the complete list of vocabulary words used in the reading test.
- Writing Test – You will be given three sentences to write in English and you will have to write one sentence legibly.
Preparation for the U.S. Civics Exam
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has prepared a list of potential questions for the history and government exam. However, you will not be able to know in advance which questions you’ll be asked. The civics test has a total of 100 questions. To pass the U.S. Civics exam, you must be able to demonstrate sufficient knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government, by answering at least six out of 10 questions correctly. The immigration officer will randomly select the questions, read them aloud to you, and stop the test once you’ve provided the right answer to six questions.
Most immigrants applying for naturalization must take the U.S. citizenship exam. However, there are exceptions for various groups of applicants.
English Test Exception for Elder Applicants
There are two English test exception rules applicable for older people: the “50/20 waiver” and the “55/15 waiver”.
- The “50/20 waiver” – If you are at least 50 years old and have lived in the United States as a green card holder for at least 20 years when you file your citizenship application, you can have the full citizenship interview conducted in your native language. Your 20 years of residence need not be continuous. If you have been away for short periods in between (usually fewer than six months at a time), that is acceptable as long as you live in the United States for a total of 20 years.
- The “55/15 waiver” – If you are at least 55 years old and have lived in the United States as a green card holder for at least 15 years when you file your citizenship application, you can have the citizenship interview and exam conducted in your native language. Your 15 years need not be continuous.
Keep in mind that if your interview will be done in your native language, you need to bring your interpreter because the USCIS will not provide one for you.
Civics Test Exception for Elder Applicants
Applicants of old age may find it difficult to answer the civics test questions. In such cases, a “65/20 exception” can be applied. If you are at least age 65 and have lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for at least 20 years when you file your citizenship application, you can take an easier version of the history and government exam. You’ll be required to study 20 questions which are marked with asterisks from the questionnaire. You only have to answer six out of ten questions correctly to pass. In addition, you may take your test in your native language with the help of your interpreter.
Exceptions Based on Disability
If you have a medical condition that has lasted (or is expected to last) for at least 12 months, you can apply for an exemption from the English test, the civics test, or both. Qualifying medical conditions include:
- Physical disabilities
- Mental impairment
- Developmental disabilities
To qualify for the exemption, you need to submit a Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648) together with your Application for Naturalization (Form N-400). Form N-648 has to be completed by a licensed doctor who can certify that your condition prevents you from being able to complete the test. In such a case, you would be allowed to have the citizenship interview done in your native language.
The Role of an Immigration Attorney
Applying for citizenship through naturalization can be a complex process. Passing the citizenship test is one of the most important steps of the naturalization process. To help you prepare, USCIS provides study materials for each part of the exam, including the English test and the civics test. To ease the burden on your application for citizenship, do not hesitate to schedule a consultation with our experienced New Jersey immigration attorneys at Andres Mejer Law. Our immigration law firm will guide you throughout the immigration and naturalization process until you have reached your goal of becoming an American citizen.