The law requires that every candidate for citizenship undergo an interview with an immigration officer. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will schedule the interview for you. At the interview, you take an oath to tell the truth and verify your identity by presenting your alien registration card, passport and visas or re-entry permits from your travels.
Everyone seeking U.S. citizenship must take a standardized test that measures knowledge of American history, government, geography and civics as well as the ability to speak, read and write in English. The purpose of the test is to promote patriotism and help the prospective citizen develop an identity as an American. The process of studying for the exam also raises candidates’ awareness of their rights and responsibilities in their new homeland. Some public schools, community colleges, churches and nonprofit organizations offer free or low-cost classes in English as a Second Language and citizenship test preparation.
Over the past decade, the naturalization exam received much scrutiny and criticism. The government began redesigning it in 2000 and established a fairer scoring system. In 2007, USCIS piloted the new exam in 10 cities. Officials have since continued improving the test, which now is offered to everyone.
The testing requirement is relaxed somewhat for older adults who have lived in the U.S. for a certain amount of time. If they have lived as permanent residents for at least 15 years and are older than age 55 or for at least 20 years and are older than age 50, they might be allowed to take the exam in their native language. Also, test-takers age 65 and over might be allowed to take a simplified civics test, and the entire exam may be waived for people with certain disabilities.
The test, which previously was a paper exam given to applicants at a testing site, is now given orally at an immigration office. An immigration officer reads the test questions to the applicant, who responds verbally. Usually, at the end of this interview and testing session, candidates are told if they will be granted citizenship. In some cities, the candidate is invited to attend a citizenship ceremony on the same day.
On the civics test, you must answer six of 10 multiple-choice questions correctly. The questions are taken from a list of civics questions that covers:
- The Constitution
- The government’s structure and the role of each branch
- Current government leaders
- The names of important states, rivers and national monuments
- The flag
- National holidays
- The obligations of a citizen
- History from the Colonial period to the present
You have three chances to read aloud specified material. To prepare for this portion of the test, you may study the government’s provided vocabulary list.
You have three chances to write a sentence read aloud by an immigration officer. You may study the writing vocabulary, which lists common words used in the dictated sentence.
After you are approved for citizenship, you are invited to a ceremony to formally accept your new title. A federal official, such as a judge or immigration officer, will preside over the ceremony. The program at each ceremony varies. Usually, the official speaks about the importance of becoming a citizen and the contributions you can make as a participant in a democracy. The name of each new citizen is announced. You are then asked to turn in your alien registration card as you receive a document identifying you as an American citizen.
Last update: Sept. 24, 2008