As of Dec. 1, the U.S. naturalization test got more challenging for legal residents looking to become citizens.
“I’m nervous because it’s very different, but I’m comfortable because I study with the class, with the teachers,” Paloma Martínez, an ESL student at Hope Community Center in Apopka said.
Martínez said she wants to apply for citizenship but first needs to improve her English. Spanish is her native tongue and with the new citizenship test, she’ll need to study a little harder.
“At the end of the day the interview is a lot of just English and knowing English and being able to answer that,” Marisela Zamora, citizenship program coordinator for Hope Community center said. “What we do is we civically engage our students and also prepare them for the citizenship interview by offering classes that cover ESL, Civics and the N-400 application.”
The nonprofit in Apopka is one of three organizations in Florida that received a grant from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services so they could provide resources to help people become U.S. citizens.
“There’s stuff that the new questions cover that we already cover in our classes sometimes, so it’s really looking at the new questions and seeing how we can incorporate the material into our already created lesson plans,” Zamora said.
The new naturalization test has 128 civics questions--compared to the prior version, the new test has fewer questions about geography and focuses more on questions about the constitution and rights U.S. citizens are entitled to.
“Before this change, people would have to memorize 100 questions and they had to get 6 questions out of 10 in order to pass,” Camila Pachón, an immigration attorney with Capella Immigration Law in Orlando said.
Pachón said the phrasing of some questions also makes it more difficult for immigrants and it’s a reflection of the White House’ stance on immigration issues.
“In my opinion, I think it’s yet another attempt of the current administration to limit legal immigration and to limit the ability to become citizens and eventually vote,” Pachón said. “The wording of the questions have changed as well with more nuanced answers. So, people have to really study in order to pass under the new test.”
Among the new questions is: Why did the United States enter the Vietnam war? According to USCIS, the accepted answer is to stop the spread of communism.
And although most of the test includes the same questions as the previous version, some of the answers to those questions are now different.
For example, who does a U.S. Senator represent? The only approved answer by USCIS is “citizens of their state”--rather than all the people which was an acceptable answer before.
“It does make it more difficult, especially for people, immigrants who are not from English speaking countries,” Pachón said. “Now they have to memorize 128 questions and they have to get 12 questions out of 20 in order to pass.”
The new test will still include a written and verbal exam, which starts with a casual conversation.
“The interview starts from the moment they call you into the office. So many times, the officer will ask you ‘oh, how did you get here? Did you have any issues finding the office?’ and what they’re doing is testing your ability to speak English,” she said.
Zamora suggested a few tips for those who are studying on their own to improve their English.
“Whether it’s watching movies in English, listening to the radio, listening to NPR, watching the news in English, and just being able to lose that fear of speaking English and getting comfortable with the language,” Zamora said.
Future citizens have two opportunities to take the test. If they fail on their second try, they’ll have to re-apply and pay the $725 application fee again.
For a look at the new citizenship questions and answers provided by USCIS, go to https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship-resource-center/the-2020-version-of-the-civics-test/128-civics-questions-and-answers-2020-version