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U.S. Naturalization Test – Not As Scary As You May Think

While I was preparing this article, I was reminded of one particular episode of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno I saw a while back. The episode featured Jay Leno during his famous "Jaywalking" escapades - on this occasion Jay stopped random people on the street and asked them a number of questions from the U.S. naturalization test. Most of the "test subjects" questioned by Jay were absolutely clueless and could not give right answers. In fact, I learned that night that Oklahoma was a country, the United States fought Korea and Vietnam during the World War II, the Declaration of Independence was a "paper with rules," which was adopted in 1890s, and the U.S. National Anthem is called "Stars and Stripes."

Why do I bring up this particular Jay Leno episode? Because I want to pay tribute to all green card holders who have to study and learn about the U.S. history and government in order to become United States citizens. By doing so, they usually know more about America's amazing heritage than most citizens will ever learn. However, in my practice as an immigration attorney, I have discovered that many lawful permanent residents are hesitant to apply for naturalization because they fear the "naturalization test." The naturalization test is not scary - especially if you know what to expect.

The immigrant law requires that most applicants for naturalization demonstrate an understanding of the English language and a knowledge of U.S. history and government. The English language part includes reading, writing, and speaking. The applicant has to read one sentence out loud and write one sentence in order to pass. The speaking ability is usually satisfied by answering questions asked by the officer during the interview. The civics test (history and government) consists of 10 random questions out of the 100 possible civic questions. The applicant has to answer minimum 6 questions to pass. If the applicant fails either or both English and civics exams, he or she will be given a second opportunity to come back and take the test.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) have recently redesigned the naturalization test. The newly revised test, according to the government, focuses "on the fundamental concepts of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship."

USCIS hope that the new test will promote "the basic values we all share as Americans." The new naturalization test will become effective on October 1, 2008.

For all applicants who will file their citizenship applications after October 1, 2008, the new test will be the norm. For those applicants who filed their applications before October 1, 2008 and had their initial citizenship exam before October 1, 2008, the current or old test will be administered. Applicants with currently pending citizenship applications who will have their initial examination after October 1, 2008 will have a choice of tests - they can proceed under the current test or the new test. Interestingly, those applicants who filed any time before October 1, 2008, but will not have their initial interview until October 2009, the new redesigned test will apply.

A few words about the new history and government test. Similarly to the current or "old" test, the redesigned test also contains 100 questions. The questions are grouped into three sections: American Government, American History, and Integrated Civics. Some of the questions are identical to those used in the current version of the test. However, there are many new questions, not previously tested. For example, the applicants who fall under the scope of the new test will be required to name one American Indian tribe, identify one of the U.S. states bordering Canada, and list two Cabinet-level positions like Secretary of State and Secretary of Labor.

The information about the new redesigned test is available on the USCIS website found at www.uscis.gov. The redesigned naturalization tests, including the reading and writing tests, as well as history and government questions, are available on the website as well. Additionally, the USCIS has come up with the U.S. Civics and Citizenship Online: Resource Center for Instructors, which is a web-based program for teachers and volunteers who work with adult immigrant population. The program will provide lesson plans, teacher assessments, and materials on civics and citizenship that can be used by English as a Second Language (ESL) teachers.

Good luck to all of you embarking on the quest to become U.S. citizens. Please remember that a reputable and knowledgeable attorney can help you through this process, including the testing. In our office, we guide our clients through the entire naturalization experience, starting with the preparation of their application for filing all the way to the citizenship oath ceremony. We also spend a considerable amount of time getting clients ready for their interview, which we attend. Don't hesitate to contact our office if you are not sure how to proceed and are interested in our help. We will be glad to assist you.

Aggie Dolinska is an associate attorney with Wilner & O'Reilly, APLC. Ms. Dolinska's immigration practice involves all areas of Immigration and Nationality Law, including family and employment-based immigration, non-immigrant visas, deportation defense, litigation, and asylum law. Ms. Dolinska is currently the head of the litigation and deportation department at Wilner & O'Reilly. Her removal defense practice includes representing clients in proceedings before the Immigration Court, and on appeal with the Board of Immigration Appeals and the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Ms. Dolinska graduated magna cum laude from Boise State University with a Bachelor's of Arts degree in Criminal Justice Administration and earned her Juris Doctor degree for Brigham Young University, where she served as a senior editor of the Journal of Education of Law and a member of the International Moot Court. Ms. Dolinska is admitted to both the State Bar of California and the State Bar of Utah. She is also admitted to practice law before the United States District Court for the Central District of California and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit.

Aggie can be reached at Wilner & O'Reilly's main office number 800-352-7034 or aggie@wilneroreilly.com.

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