Becoming a citizen of the U.S. is a major milestone for many immigrants. After all, citizenship affords rights and responsibilities that are not available to legal permanent residents. Naturalization is the process by which one becomes a U.S. citizen.
Before acquiring citizenship, most naturalization applicants must demonstrate English language proficiency. These individuals do so by performing a few speaking and writing tasks at the naturalization interview.
Who does not have to take an English exam?
Even if a person has some fluency, speaking and writing English in front of an officer for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services can be intimidating. Fortunately, the USCIS Policy Manual for Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance exempts two groups from the English language component.
If a an individual is at least 55 and has lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for 15 years, he or she does not have to demonstrate English competency. The same is true for a person who is 50 and has lived in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for 20 years.
Does everyone have to take the civics exam?
USCIS officers also ask naturalization applicants a series of questions to gauge their knowledge of U.S. history, government and politics. Regardless of whether an English language exemption applies, everyone typically must take the civics exam.
Nevertheless, if a person is at least 65 and has been in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident for 20 years or more, a USCIS officer may allow for some flexibility with the civics component. English-exempt individuals may answer civics questions in their native languages.
While most naturalization applicants must demonstrate English and civics competency, there are ways around the English language requirement. Ultimately, those who prefer not to wait to apply for naturalization may have some options for gaining English proficiency before their interviews.