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The United States Naturalization Test Research Paper

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Updated: Dec 14th, 2021

General description

The naturalization is an examination that must be taken by all individuals interested in becoming an American citizen. This test is particularly useful due to the long history that the United States has of accepting immigrants to work in the country. The naturalization test is meant to test the individuals on fundamental English language skills as well as their knowledge of the country. The test is composed of the civics and the English components. The civics portion of the test has numerous questions about the history and government of the United States. During the test, applicants will be asked ten questions from a list of a one hundred possible questions dealing with the U.S. civics. Applicants are required to correctly answer a minimum of six questions in order to pass the civics examination.

The second portion of the naturalization test is the English portion. This section is composed of three sub-sections namely: speaking, reading, and writing. The applicant’s ability to speak English is usually tested during the oral eligibility interview that applicants go through when they apply for naturalization. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer in charge of the interview is the one to determine an applicant’s English speaking abilities. The reading test of the naturalization test contains a list of vocabularies which applicants are supposed to read out loudly. In order to pass the reading test, applicants should read at least one out of three possible sentences. The English writing portion of the test also contains a list of words which applicants are required to write correctly. In order to pass the test, applicants should be able to write at least one out of three possible sentences accurately (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2009).

Applicant criterion

Not all immigrants can apply for naturalization. The following is the criteria used to determine the eligibility of the applicants.

Age – all applicants must be 18 years old or older.

Permanent residence – a permanent residence is an immigrant who has acquired the status under the U.S. immigration legislations, for instance, holders of the Green Card. However, applicants must be permanent residents for a specific time period before they can apply for naturalization. In addition, they must have been in continuous residence.

Continuous residence – an immigrant in continuous residence is an immigrant who has not left the United States for a give time frame. Leaving the country for a long time, say one year, often disrupts an immigrant’s continuous residence irrespective of the length of time a person had stayed in the country before the departure. The continuous residence condition however does not apply to certain groups of immigrants, such as those serving in the U.S. Armed Forces in times of war. On the other hand, some individuals can leave the U.S. for more than one year without disrupting their permanent residence as long as they have filed for an “Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes – Form N-470,” (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2009, p. 22). Individuals who are eligible for this exemption include those who have not broken their continuous residence for at least year since attaining their Permanent Residence status and those whose application for N-470 have been approved prior to leaving the U.S.

Physical presence in the United States – applicants for naturalization must have been physically present in the United States for a specific duration of time. Some applicants are exempted from this condition and include those who are employed by the U.S. Government and have been sent abroad on a mission. The days spent abroad in such cases are actually counted as days physically present in the U.S.

Residence in a USCIS District or State – applicants for naturalization must have resided in a district or state served by USCIS offices for at least three months before they can be eligible for application. Students who wish to apply for naturalization may apply in the district or state where they are schooling or where their family resides (in case they still depend on their parents for financial support).

Removal proceedings – individuals cannot apply for naturalization if they have been ordered removed, or if a removal proceeding against them is still pending in court. This condition however does not apply to individuals who are eligible for naturalization based on their service in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Good moral conduct – applicants for naturalization must be considered to be of good moral conduct by the USCIS. Good moral conduct is determined in various ways by the USCIS including:

Criminal record – individuals who have committed felonies (serious crimes) are not eligible for naturalization. Some crimes may prevent individuals from becoming eligible for naturalization but only for a certain time period after which they are allowed to apply for naturalization. While not all offenses committed by individuals may be recorded, the USCIS requires applicants to report all offenses. If an applicant fails to report an offense and the USCIS later discovers the truth, the applicant’s naturalization application will be denied irrespective of the seriousness of the offense committed.

Lying – an individual may be considered to be lacking good moral conduct if he fails to tell the truth during the interview process. In such cases, the individual’s application is refuted.

Education level – persons wishing to apply for naturalization must have some fundamental English language skills including the ability to speak, read and write basic words. Secondly, individuals must demonstrate a basic understanding of the history and government of the United States. Some individuals are however exempted from this condition and include: Persons over the age of 50 who have been permanent residents for at least 20 years (not necessarily continuous) are not mandated to take the English test but can take the civics test in their preferred language; Persons over the age of 55 who have been permanent residents for at least 15 years (not necessarily continuous) are not mandated to take the English test but can take the civics test in their preferred language; Persons over the age of 65 who have been permanent residents for at least 20 years (not necessarily continuous) are not mandated to take the English test but can take the civics test in their preferred language. The civics questions for this group are also designated with an asterisk; and Individuals with a physical, mental, or developmental disability that prevents them from attaining English skills may be exempted from taking the English test. The disability should be at least one year old (or anticipated to last not less than one year) and not caused by illegal drug use (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2009).

Historical perspective of the new naturalization test

The redesign of the new naturalization test began in 2001 when the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), at the time a part of the Department of Justice began to make changes to the English and U.S. history and civics tests. The redesign efforts were later continued by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) under the Department of Homeland Security (Office of Inspector General, 2005,). One of the goals of the redesign process was to make improvements on the current test delivery procedure and content through standardization of the test. The redesign was to tackle the concern that the testing processes of the past naturalization test were not standard across all the USCIS offices and did not successfully establish whether an applicant had a significant understanding of the English language and the U.S. history and governance. In 2001, the INS made a contract with a firm that specializes in educational test development to make changes to the format and procedures of the naturalization test. The outcome of the contract comprised of development of test content with recommendations from scholars, experts and stakeholders. Research studies were conducted on test formats and test administration processes and sample English questions from the test were pilot tested. The pilot testing was done between mid-March and mid-June, 2003.

In April 2004, another contract was made with the National Research Council’s Board on Testing Assessment (BOTA) to evaluate the process of test redesign and to provide autonomous recommendations to help the USCIS and test development firm maximize on the validity, reliability and just of the redesigned tests. To achieve this, BOTA instituted the Committee on the U.S. Naturalization Test Redesign. This committee comprised of experts from institutions of higher learning, research groups and experts from different fields. The committee issued its first report in December 2004 which stated that the test development procedure was not in accord with its view of professional test development norms and that majority of the decisions concerning the tests’ design had been made by only a handful of USCIS and contractor employees. Concerning the high contentious redesigned tests, the committee proposed that the USCIS should “apply an open, transparent, and accountable test development process,” (Office of Inspector General, 2005, p. 5).

The committee made the following recommendations to USCIS:

  1. To institute an advisory organization to assist the agency in making significant decisions concerning the redesign of the naturalization test;
  2. To establish a comprehensive test development plan that complies with testing norms with assistance from a technical advisory committee and assessment by a supervision committee;
  3. To stop working on the development of the content frameworks until the agency and contract firm define an apparent, transparent, and responsible procedure which is authorized by an supervisory group; and
  4. To create a comprehensive plan for standard setting, with advice from the technical advisory group and ultimate advice by the supervisory committee.

To support these propositions, the committee argued that the establishment of a multi-tiered consultative organization to oversee the test development process would “meet professional standards of good testing practice and … increase the likelihood that stakeholders [would] view the [new tests] as legitimate” (Office of Inspector General, 2005, p. 6). USCIS took into consideration the committee’s proposition to establish a consultative body to supervise the test development process and argued that such an action would need to comply with the standards set by the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Besides the burden imposed on the support staff, the establishment of an advisory committee and the activities it undertakes are also time-costly. Such activities necessitate the notification of the general public and synchronization among the members and, as a result, can consume a lot of time, thereby slowing down the ability of the advisory committee to make valuable propositions and, subsequently, the ability of the sponsoring agency to make decisions. The resolution of differences in opinion among the members of the advisory committees may as well prove difficult. This is because FACA calls for the committee memberships to be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented and the functions to be performed” (Office of Inspector General, 2005, p. 7). Once the USCIS assessed the recommendations put forward by the BOTA committee, it decided to progress with the naturalization test redesign by itself. This redesign process continued until September 2007 when the final version of the redesigned test was introduced after the USCIS pilot-tested it.

The new naturalization test came into effect in October 2008. A number of changes were made during the redesign process and include:

  1. Focus on democracy – The new test is more focused on the basic concepts of American democracy and the civil rights of citizens. This focus is demonstrated on the content of the questions in the test. The questions revolve around American history and governance.
  2. Civics section – the new test introduced 100 new questions focusing on the history and government of the U.S. Unlike in the previous version, the civic questions are multiple-answer type of questions such that a question can have more than possible answer. In some situations, the correct answer may not be listed among the options.
  3. Changes in the English test – changes were made to the reading and writing sections of the English test. The new questions are civic-based and include words that are related to U.S. history and government. This was done to increase the relevance of the test to the applicants.

Changes in the test administration and evaluation – the new test uses standard forms and weighted test content to make sure that the same level of difficulty is administered to all applicants (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2008).

Elderly Integration

New York Times article

In 1965 the American government changed its immigration policy to permit naturalized citizens to support the immigration of their parents without quota limits. This policy was changed by 1996 due the increasing perception that elderly immigrants were taking advantage of the policy. Specifically, it was discovered that their children were claiming to support them when instead they were registering them in the Supplemental Security Income and food stamp programs. This revelation formed the basis upon which major welfare reforms were made. The Congress put in place a five-year waiting period for Medicaid and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and limited the eligibility of the S.S.I. and food stamp for adults. However, some states such as California and New York abolished the waiting period for Medicaid for the legally abiding immigrants residents (Brown, 2009). The number of the elderly in the United States has been growing over the decades. A significant portion of this cohort is composed of immigrants. Michael Fix, the senior vice president of the Migration Policy Institute, argues that as the number of immigrant elderly continues to rise, “all the issues that bear on health care and social services will increasingly be transformed in part into immigrant issues” (Brown, 2009, p. 4). According to census data, approximately 16 percent of immigrant elderly were living below the poverty threshold in the year 2007 while an additional 24 percent are close to living below the poverty threshold.

Majority of the members of the elderly population are aging parents of naturalized American citizens, who come to the US to reunite with their children and other families. Unfortunately, the ethnic elderly remains one of the most neglected people in the United States. Majority of the immigrant elderly have little, if any, knowledge of the English language and do not know how to drive. Lack of ability to effectively communicate with other Americans minimizes their ability to establish social connections with those around them. In addition, their values often conflict with those of their assimilated families. While they were independent in their native homes, the elderly immigrants are forced to totally depend on their children once they come to the U.S. Some families have tried to integrate their aging parents by making them a part of the families’ activities. For instance, busy working couples may assign their aging parents to be in charge of their young children while they are away at work. While this keeps the aging parents preoccupied, the extent to which it is beneficial to them is limited by language barriers (Brown, 2009).

Community treasures

The issue of elderly integration has also been addressed by Yoshida, Gordon and Henkin (2008) in their report dubbed “Community Treasures: Recognizing the Contributions of Older Immigrants and Refugees.” The report argues that as America’s aging population grows, persons above the age of 50 from different cultures can serve as important resources for their communities. With nothing much to do, majority of the elderly people are in need of opportunities to make positive contributions to their families and the wider society. Unfortunately, research studies (though limited) indicate that elderly immigrants are not actively engaged in their communities. The aim of the report was to gain a deeper insight into the contributions that elderly immigrants can make to their communities and to identify capable practices that give support to elderly integration. The report recognizes that the term “volunteering” is not a familiar term in majority of the American cultures and therefore it has been replaced with the term “civic engagement” (Yoshida, Gordon and Henkin, 2008). The latter tern is a broader term that encompasses both formal and informal means of providing assistance by the elderly to their families and communities.

The major findings of the report include:

  1. Many elderly immigrants are already engaged in a wide range of activities that provide benefits to their families and communities. The activities may be formal or informal in nature.
  2. Provision of care to family members, particularly their grandchildren, is one of the major contributions that the elderly immigrants make to their families.
  3. Some immigrant families and communities have retained some of their cultural norms of respecting their elders’ authority and power. In such families and communities, the elderly are normally given the responsibility of leading the community/family, for instance, by taking part in their families’/communities’ decision-making processes.
  4. The engagement of the elderly immigrants in their communities is often influenced by the communities’ cultural values and practices as well as the political systems of their native countries.


Brown, P.L. (2009). Invisible immigrants, old and left with nobody to talk to. The New York Times, Web.

Office of Inspector General (2005). Letter report: Citizenship test redesign. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Office of Inspector General.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2008). Fact sheet: New naturalization test. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009). A guide to naturalization. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (2009). Learn about the United States. Quick civics lessons for the new naturalization test. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Yoshida, H., Gordon, D., & Henkin. (2008). Community treasures: Recognizing the contributions of older immigrants and refugees. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Center for Intergenerational Learning.

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