New Citizenship Test Takes Toll on Immigrants, Advocates

By Noel Rabinowitz Oct 01, 2008

by nrabinowitz Beginning October 1, 2008, immigrants who apply to become U.S. citizens must take a redesigned Naturalization Test given by the US Citizenship Immigration Services (USCIS), a division of the Department of Homeland Security. The new test is longer, tests at a higher English language skill level, and therefore needs more preparation time. The USCIS says it’s no harder than the previous test, but immigrant rights groups are concerned. A article today had this from Flavia Jimenez of the New Americans Initiative, a citizenship program of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights :

She said some new questions put people with lower levels of education and English skills at a disadvantage. Community groups that help immigrants prepare may need to explain certain concepts in their native languages and then work on English to express the answer, she said.

In a phone interview with Racewire today, Flavia Jiminez said, "community organizations that teach citizenship are struggling financially and will be overstretched further to give more training time needed for the new test." The USCIS argument that the new test isn’t harder is based on their pilot program where volunteer test-takers scored better than on average than the current exam results. Jiminez said the pilot volunteers were self-selected thus more eager and educated participants than the average takers of the old test. Applicants for citizenship who applied before today had the choice of which exam to take, and Jiminez belives that most people would not have chosen the new test. "There’s more difficult English on the new test. And USCIS is way behind the ball. New training materials should have been put into the hands of grassroots groups a year ago so teachers could make the transition in their classes." A recent report "Is US Citizenship only a privilege for the rich" noted that the fee to take the exam, now $675, has risen by over 600% in the past 10 years — another barrier to applicants with lower education and lower earning power. Compare the old and new exam question for yourself: New test questions and Old test questions