The four years of the Trump administration have been unprecedented when it comes to immigration policies, along with other decisions. There have been more than 400 immigration-related executive decisions according to the Migration Policy Institute (Forbes). While we’ll see a change in administration beginning next year, it will likely take some time to reverse the various measures taken by the current administration.

A disturbing aspect of the policy has been measured to make things difficult for lawful residents looking to obtain citizenship. From increasing fees to attempting to deport longtime residents from troubled countries, we have seen many attempts to curb various types of immigration. Moreover, these measures have come so frequently that the word ‘recent’ has lost meaning — every week seems to bring news about an anti-immigration move.

Changes to the Naturalization Test

The latest of these moves is a plan to increase the number of questions and correct answers to pass the naturalization test, according to a late-stage memo of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) (CNN). The naturalization or citizenship test has two parts: an English test and a Civics test. According to the USCIS, applicants who file on or after December 1, 2020, will take the 2020 version of the civics test and those that have filed before will take the 2008 version of the test.

The USCIS announced changes to the USCIS civics test last year. “Updating, maintaining, and improving a test that is current and relevant is our responsibility as an agency in order to help potential new citizens fully understand the meaning of U.S. citizenship and the values that unite all Americans,” stated USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli.

The naturalization test helps fulfill the naturalization requirements given in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). According to Section 312 of the INA, the person must have “an understanding of the English language, including an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language…” and “a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States.”

Revising a test to make it more relevant is not unusual, but revising it to considerably increase the difficulty of the test is what has happened in this case. With the 2008 version, the applicants had to prepare from 100 questions for citizenship and answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly to pass the test. With the 2020 version, not only are the total number of questions 128 instead of 100, but the applicant needs to rightly answer 12 out of 20 questions to pass.

Another change to the test is the way it will be conducted. Previously, the test takers would stop once the applicant answered six naturalization test questions correctly. According to the memo, officers will ask all 20 questions regardless of how many correct answers they have received.

Relevance of the Test

Of course, the process of testing people on U.S. history and government for citizenship seems logical and reasonable. However, it’s interesting to note that the 100 civics questions asked on the test aren’t what many American adults can answer, according to a 2018 survey (NBC News). Out of the 1000 survey respondents, only 36% passed, and the pass percentage was only 19% among participants who were 45 years or younger. Business Insider has done an interesting piece on questions of the test – asking readers to answer 6/10 to pass.

The pass rate for the citizenship test is high. Doubling the difficulty level of the test may not reduce the pass because applicants will likely adapt to pass this last hurdle. However, such measures can definitely play a role in slowing down the process of naturalization for them – instead of passing in the first attempt, the increased difficulty may cause them to retake the test.

Richard Herman is a nationally renowned immigration lawyer, author, and activist. He has dedicated his life to advocating for immigrants and helping change the conversation on immigration. He is the founder of the Herman Legal Group, an immigration law firm launched in 1995 and recognized in U.S. World News & Report’s “Best Law Firms in America.” He is the co-author of the acclaimed book, Immigrant, Inc. —Why Immigrant Entrepreneurs Are Driving the New Economy (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). Richard’s poignant commentary has been sought out by many national media outlets, including The New York Times, USA Today, BusinessWeek, Forbes, FOX News (The O’Reilly Factor), National Public Radio, Inc., National Lawyers Weekly, PC World, Computerworld, CIO, TechCrunch, Washington Times, San Francisco Chronicle and InformationWeek.

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