English Requirements for Naturalization in the United States
English and Civics Testing
A. Educational Requirements
An officer administers a naturalization test to determine whether an applicant meets the English and civics requirements.
The naturalization test consists of two components:
English language proficiency, which is determined by the applicant’s ability to read, write, speak and understand English; and
Knowledge of U.S. history and government, which is determined by a civics test.
An applicant has two opportunities to pass the English and civics tests: the initial examination and the re–examination interview. USCIS will deny the naturalization application if the applicant fails to pass any portion of the tests after two attempts. In cases where an applicant requests a USCIS hearing on the denial, officers must administer any failed portion of the tests.
Unless excused by USCIS, the applicant’s failure to appear at the re-examination for testing or to take the tests at an examination or hearing counts as a failed attempt to pass the test.
An applicant may qualify for an exception from the English requirement, civics requirement, or both requirements. The table below serves as a quick reference guide on the exceptions to the English and civics requirements for naturalization.
1. Age and Residency Exceptions to English
An applicant is exempt from the English language requirement but is still required to meet the civics requirement if:
The applicant is age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as an lawful permanent resident (LPR) in the United States for at least 20 years; or
The applicant is age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and has lived as an LPR in the United States for at least 15 years.
- Medical Disability.
The applicant may take the civics test in his or her language of choicewith the use of an interpreter.
2. Special Consideration for Civics Test
An applicant receives special consideration in the civics test if, at the time of filing the application, the applicant is 65 years of age or older and has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least 20 years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence.An applicant who qualifies for special consideration is administered specific test forms.
3. Medical Disability Exception to English and Civics
An applicant who cannot meet the English and civics requirements because of a medical disability may be exempt from the English requirement, the civics requirement, or both requirements.
C. Meeting Requirements under IRCA 1986
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) mandated that persons legalized under INA 245A meet a basic citizenship skills requirement in order to be eligible for adjustment to LPR status. An applicant was permitted to demonstrate basic citizenship skills by:
Passing the English and civics tests administered by legacy Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS); or
Passing standardized English and civics tests administered by organizations then authorized by the INS.
At the time of the naturalization re–examination, the officer will only retest the applicant on any portion of the test that the applicant did not satisfy under IRCA. In all cases, the applicant must demonstrate the ability to speak English at the time of the naturalization examination, unless the applicant meets one of the age and time as resident exemptions of English or qualifies for a medical waiver.
D. English Portion of the Test
A naturalization applicant must only demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage.Ordinary usage means comprehensible and pertinent communication through simple vocabulary and grammar, which may include noticeable errors in pronouncing, constructing, spelling, and understanding completely certain words, phrases, and sentences.
An applicant may ask for words to be repeated or rephrased and may make some errors in pronunciation, spelling, and grammar and still meet the English requirement for naturalization. An officer should repeat and rephrase questions until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands the question or is unable to understand English.
1. Speaking Test
An officer determines an applicant’s ability to speak and understand English based on the applicant’s ability to respond to questions normally asked in the course of the naturalization examination. The officer’s questions relate to eligibility and include questions provided in the naturalization application. The officer should repeat and rephrase questions during the naturalization examination until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either understands the questions or does not understand English.
An applicant who does not qualify for a waiver of the English requirement must be able to communicate in English about his or her application and eligibility for naturalization. An applicant does not need to understand every word or phrase on the application.
Passing the Speaking Test
If the applicant generally understands and responds meaningfully to questions relevant to his or her naturalization eligibility, then he or she has sufficiently demonstrated the ability to speak English.
Failing the Speaking Test
An applicant fails the speaking test when he or she does not understand sufficient English to be placed under oath or to answer the eligibility questions on his or her naturalization application.
The officer must still administer all other parts of the naturalization test, including the portions on reading, writing, and civics.
An officer cannot offer or accept a withdrawal of a naturalization application from an applicant who does not speak English unless the applicant has an interpreter present who is able to clearly understand the consequences of withdrawing the application.
2. Reading Test
To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to read in English, applicants must read one sentence out of three sentences. The reading test is administered by the officer using standardized reading test forms. Once the applicant reads one of the three sentences correctly, the officer stops the reading test.
Passing the Reading Test
An applicant passes the reading test if the applicant reads one of the three sentences without extended pauses in a manner that the applicant is able to convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is able to understand the sentence. In general, the applicant must read all content words but may omit short words or make pronunciation or intonation errors that do not interfere with the meaning.
Failing the Reading Test
An applicant fails the reading test if he or she does not successfully read at least one of the three sentences. An applicant fails to read a sentence successfully when he or she:
Omits a content word or substitutes another word for a content word;
Pauses for extended periods of time while reading the sentence; or
Makes pronunciation or intonation errors to the extent that the applicant is not able to convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is not able to understand the sentence.
3. Writing Test
To sufficiently demonstrate the ability to write in English, the applicant must write one sentence out of three sentences in a manner that the officer understands. The officer dictates the sentence to the applicant using standardized writing test forms. An applicant must not abbreviate any of the words. Once the applicant writes one of the three sentences in a manner that the officer understands, the officer stops the writing test.
An applicant does not fail the writing test because of spelling, capitalization, or punctuation errors, unless the errors interfere with the meaning of the sentence and the officer is unable to understand the sentence.
Passing the Writing Test
The applicant passes the writing test if the applicant is able to convey the meaning of one of the three sentences to the officer. The applicant’s writing sample may have the following:
Some grammatical, spelling, or capitalization errors
Omitted short words that do not interfere with meaning
Numbers spelled out or written as digits
Failing the Writing Test
An applicant fails the writing test if he or she makes errors to a degree that the applicant does not convey the meaning of the sentence and the officer is not able to understand the sentence.
An applicant fails the writing test if he or she writes the following:
A different sentence or words;
An abbreviation for a dictated word;
Nothing or only one or two isolated words; or
A sentence that is completely illegible.
E. Civics Portion of the Test
A naturalization applicant must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, the principles, and the form of government of the United States (civics).
1. Civics Test
To sufficiently demonstrate knowledge of civics, the applicant must answer correctly at least six of ten questions from the standardized civics test form administered by an officer. The officer administers the test orally. Once the applicant answers six of the ten questions correctly, the officer stops the test.
Passing the Civics Test
An applicant passes the civics test if he or she provides a correct answer or provides an alternative phrasing of the correct answer for six of the ten questions.
Failing the Civics Test
An applicant fails the civics test if he or she provides an incorrect answer or fails to respond to six out of the ten questions from the standardized test form.
2. Special Consideration
An officer gives special consideration to an applicant who is 65 years of age or older and who has been living in the United States for periods totaling at least 20 years subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence. The age and time requirements must be met at the time of filing the naturalization application. An officer only asks questions from the three “65/20” test forms when administering the civics test to such applicants. The test forms only contain 20 specially designated civics questions from the usual list of 100 questions.
3. Due Consideration
An officer should exercise “due consideration” on a case-by-case basis in choosing subject matters, phrasing questions, and evaluating responses when administering the civics test. The officer’s decision to exercise due consideration should be based on a review of the applicant’s:
Level of education;
Length of residence in the United States;
Opportunities available and efforts made to acquire the requisite knowledge; and
Any other relevant factors relating to the applicant’s knowledge and understanding.
F. Failure to Meet the English or Civics Requirements
If an applicant fails any portion of the English test, the civics test, or all tests during the initial naturalization examination, USCIS will reschedule the applicant to appear for a second examination between 60 and 90 days after the initial examination.
In cases where the applicant appears for a re–examination, the reexamining officer must not administer the same English or civics test forms administered during the initial examination. The officer must only retest the applicant in those areas that the applicant previously failed. For example, if the applicant passed the English speaking, reading, and civics portions but failed the writing portion during the initial examination, the officer must only administer the English writing test during the re–examination.
If an applicant fails any portion of the naturalization test a second time, the officer must deny the application based upon the applicant’s failure to meet the educational requirements for naturalization. The officer also must address any other areas of ineligibility in the denial notice. An applicant who refuses to be tested or to respond to individual questions on the reading, writing, or civics test, or fails to respond to eligibility questions because he or she did not understand the questions as asked or rephrased, fails to meet to the educational requirements. An officer should treat an applicant’s refusal to be tested or to respond to test questions as a failure of the test.
G. Documenting Test Results
All officers administering the English and civics tests are required to record the test results in the applicant’s A-file. Officers are required to complete and provide to each applicant at the end of the naturalization examination the results of the examination and testing, unless the officer serves the applicant with a denial notice at that time. The results include the results of the English and civics tests.
Click here to read the requirements on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.