Citizenship Test May Require English Proficiency

Most immigrants to the United States come from countries where English is not the spoken language.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants to require that immigrants must show they can speak English proficiently to become an American citizen, according to the Associated Press.

A proposal would add a section to the test to become an American citizen that would involve asking an applicant to describe photos of everyday scenes such as weather or food.

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In the current test, an officer evaluates speaking ability during the naturalization interview by asking personal questions the applicant has already answered in the naturalization paperwork, the AP reported.

Should immigrants to American be required to speak English to get citizenship?

“For me, I think it would be harder to look at pictures and explain them,” said Heaven Mehreta, who immigrated from Ethiopia 10 years ago, passed the naturalization test in May and became a U.S. citizen in Minnesota in June.

Mehreta, 32, said she learned English as an adult after moving to the U.S. and found pronunciation to be very difficult, the AP reported. 

Another proposed change to the citizenship test would be to make the U.S. history and government civics section multiple-choice format instead of a short oral answer. 

Bill Bliss, a citizenship textbook author in Massachusetts, said that would require a “significantly higher level of language proficiency and test-taking skill.”

Advocates say the proposed changes would be difficult for people struggling with English literacy.

“We have a lot of students that are refugees, and they’re coming from war-torn countries where maybe they didn’t have a chance to complete school or even go to school,” Mechelle Perrott, a citizenship coordinator at San Diego Community College District’s College of Continuing Education in California, told the AP.

“It’s more difficult learning to read and write if you don’t know how to do that in your first language. That’s my main concern about the multiple-choice test; it’s a lot of reading,” Perrott said.

Becoming a U.S. citizen is a long process. The immigrant needs to be a permanent resident first (green-card holder) and then apply for citizenship.

The U.S. citizenship test is the easiest when compared to tests in other Western nations, including Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom, noted Sara Goodman, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine.

In December, U.S. authorities said the test was due for an update after 15 years, the AP reported. The new version is expected late next year.

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