Immigrants with lower English proficiency are worried about the upcoming update to the US citizenship test.
The new version, expected to be released next year, proposes the addition of a speaking section to assess English skills. This has raised concerns about increased stress for those who struggle with English.
Heaven Mehreta, an Ethiopian immigrant who recently became a US citizen, expressed her concerns, stating that describing pictures would be harder for her and that pronunciation was a challenge when she learned English.
Shai Avny, who became a US citizen last year, also worries about the new speaking section. He believes that speaking with someone from the federal government can be intimidating, and this fear is heightened when English is not their first language. Avny is concerned about the potential difficulty of finding the right words to describe things and the high stakes of the test, as it determines citizenship status.
Apart from the speaking section, the proposed changes include making the civics section multiple-choice instead of oral short-answer. This modification could make the test more challenging for individuals with limited English literacy, such as refugees, elderly immigrants, and those with disabilities, according to Lynne Weintraub, a citizenship coordinator.
The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) defend the changes, stating that they reflect current best practices in test design and aim to standardize the citizenship test.
However, Elizabeth Jacobs from the Center for Immigration Studies believes these changes could actually make the test easier and prefers a stricter test to ensure better integration of new citizens into American society.
The proposed changes will undergo a nationwide trial in 2023, followed by a review of the results by an external group of experts. If approved, the changes could be implemented by late next year.
The debate surrounding the new changes has prompted discussions about the necessity of a civics test in the first place. Corleen Smith from the International Institute of Minnesota questions whether it is essential to know history and government facts to become a citizen, pointing out that many natural-born US citizens are not well-versed in these areas.
The concern is that the revised citizenship test may create obstacles for immigrants with limited English skills, making it more difficult for them to obtain US citizenship. Advocates and immigrants hope for a balanced approach that ensures a fair and accessible process for all as the USCIS moves forward with the changes.