English Literacy and Knowledge of History

By Reuben Seguritan

One of the requirements for naturalization is passing the test for English literacy and knowledge of history and government of the US.

Immigrants are tested on their ability to read, write and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language. The US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiner will determine the English speaking-ability of the immigrant-applicant. The immigrant must be able to read one out of three sentences without extended pauses, omitting or substituting a content word, or making a pronunciation or intonation error that would interfere with the meaning of the sentence. To pass the writing test, the immigrant must be able to write out one of three sentences that is understandable and readable to the USCIS officer as written. Minor grammatical errors, including misspelling, improper punctuation, or capitalization or short word omissions are not reasons to fail the immigrant, unless the errors would prevent understanding of the meaning of the sentence.

Some immigrants are exempt from the English-language literacy and basic knowledge of US history and government requirements. They are immigrants who are physically unable to comply due to permanent disability. The disability must be the kind which would prevent the immigrant from learning to speak, read or write or understand the English language and/ or fundamentals and principles of US history and government and not merely because of advanced age or general incapacity to learn. Examples of immigrants under this exemption are those who are blind or deaf or those with developmental disability or permanent mental impairment.

Exempt immigrants must submit with the N-400 application an attestation from a licensed medical doctor or osteopath or licensed clinical psychologist to support their claim of disability. The doctor or psychologist completes Form N-648 Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions and this is submitted with the N-400 form. The medical report must show how the medical professional arrived at the diagnosis of the anatomical, physiological or psychological impairment and explain how the condition affects the immigrant’s ability to function and conclude that the immigrant’s condition severely impairs his ability to learn or demonstrate knowledge of English and / or history and government. The report must also state that the disability has lasted or is expected to last a year or more and that the disability was not due to illegal drug use.

Immigrants who are more than 50 years of age and who have resided in the US for more than 20 years as LPRs as of the date of filing the application may be examined in their native language instead of English. If the immigrant is more than 55 years of age and has lived in the US for 15 years as LPR as of the date of filing the application he may be examined in his native language as well.

Immigrants are also required to pass an oral history and government examination, even if exempt from the requirement of speaking English. This test is conducted during the scheduled interview of the immigrant. The immigrant must answer 6 out of the 10 questions correctly on US history and government that would be asked. An interpreter may be used to administer the test if the person is exempt from the English language requirement. The USCIS examiner is instructed to phrase the questions and subject matter that is apt for the immigrant’s education, background, age, length of residence in the US, opportunities available and efforts made to acquire the requisite knowledge and any other factors.

Some immigrants are likewise exempt from taking the knowledge of history and government test. These are immigrants who are physically or developmentally disabled or have mental impairments which prevent them from learning and answering questions on US history and government. Immigrants who are over 65 years old and have been LPRs for more than 20 years can receive “special consideration” concerning the exam.

If the immigrant fails the exam, he will be given a second opportunity to pass the tests within 90 days after the first examination. The immigrant may request an extension for good cause. However, if the extension is granted, the USCIS will no longer be required to render a decision on the naturalization application within 120 days from the initial interview.