As published in the Immigration Daily on July 29, 2019
Anything that U.S.C.I.S. changes at this time generally is tougher to pass or to obtain, and so our advice to people who are or will soon become eligible to naturalize is to do it ASAP. The agency announced on July 19, 2019, that it will be changing the naturalization civics test with an implementation date in December 2020 or early 2021. That gives applicants approximately 16+ months to get to the point of the naturalization interview and testing if they file now. The rules on naturalization filing are that most everyone can file 90 days before either the three-year eligibility mark (if qualifying through marriage to a U. S. citizen) or the five-year eligibility mark for others.
Why the concern? The presumption is that in the age of Republican politics and President Trump where the Party and the President are fighting over every vote, and in which the Administration’s immigration policy is seen as anti-immigrant, the vast majority of those who naturalize will vote Democrat and the president and his party would like to lessen the number of recently naturalized eligible voters.
A look at the May 3, 2019 U.S.C.I.S. memorandum, “Revision of the Naturalization Civics Test,” ringingly promotes the concern. It is replete with phrases and sentences that would make one shudder if one was not completely fluent in the English language. A prime example is “In addition, the working group will also assess potential changes to the speaking test.” What that means is that regardless of how many classes a naturalization applicant goes to, that will not help where the naturalization examiner starts to converse with the applicant at the interview on subjects related only tangentially to history and government to test the ability of the person to have a good understanding of English. The foreboding tone can be seen in at least two other sentences in the memorandum that “The civics test was instituted to ensure that applicants for naturalization understand American civics and can exercise their rights and responsibilities as new citizens” and “Standardized tests are revised regularly to ensure accuracy and timeliness of content, as well as to counter ways that test takers may engage in fraud or nefarious actions that attack the integrity of the exam .” One wonders how test takers would engage in fraud or nefarious actions attacking the integrity of the exam unless there is complicity on the part of U.S.C.I.S. examiners, and if that was the case, such would not be solved by a test revision. Finally the memorandum’s summary sentence contains buzzwords that the test will be more difficult in stating, “The purpose of this test redesign is to create a meaningful, comprehensive, uniform, and efficient test that will assess applicant’s knowledge and understanding of U. S. history, government, principles, and values.” Both “meaningful” and “comprehensive” cry out that U.S.C.I.S. will want a level of understanding of the country’s history and government structure that beggars what is required today. What that sentence and the others means is – expect a harder test!
The memorandum was written by the former director of U.S.C.I.S., L. Francis Cissna, who was recently forced out by Mr. Trump for not coming out with restrictive regulations faster. Under his successor, Ken Cuchinelli, one can only expect that the future change to the test will either continue as planned or that he will make the contemplated degree of difficulty harder or the implementation faster. Upon his installation as the acting director of U.S.C.I.S. last month, he stated that he sees it as his job to treat access as a privilege and not a right, and that, “We are not a benefit agency, we are a vetting agency.”
For readers who are eligible for and are thinking to naturalize, the watchword is “Don’t wait!” The future does not look as bright for those who choose to wait and are not very good at English, but hope to get better through naturalization classes.