A study conducted at Michigan State University has found possible flaws in the citizenship test administered to immigrants applying for naturalization. While the study’s sample size is very small, the main author, Paula Winke, has argued that the standards used to determine whether or not to grant citizenship to a particular applicant may in fact be random.
The citizenship test used by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) was introduced in 2006 as a pilot program and has been mandatory nationwide since October 2009. It was designed to test an applicant’s knowledge of core American values more than just facts about American government and history. The test consists of four parts. Three parts test the applicant’s English language proficiency in reading, writing, and speaking. The fourth part of the test, commonly known as the “civics test,” consists of ten questions chosen from a set of 100 questions in three broad categories: American Government, Integrated Civics, and American History.
“American Government” questions cover the system and structure of the federal government, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and the “principles of American democracy.” “Integrated Civics” addresses questions of American geography, holidays, and symbols. “American History” covers all periods from the Colonial era to modern day.
The civics test is conducted verbally, and applicants must answer six of the ten questions correctly to pass. If an applicant does not pass any part of the citizenship exam, they can re-take that part within ninety days. According to USCIS, ninety-three percent of applicants who have taken the exam since October 2009 passed on the first try.
The MSU study administered two versions of the test to 414 participants, some of whom were citizens and some of whom were non-citizens. Of the total group, 136 participants failed both tests, and 181 passed both. The remaining 97 individuals, who passed one test and failed the other, caused concern for Winke.
Based on the participants’ results, Winke concluded that seventy-seven of the questions were equally difficult for both the citizens and non-citizens. Ten questions were easier for the citizen participants, and thirteen were easier for the non-citizens. She described those thirteen as “counterintuitive” and said they did not appear to address the core issues the test is intended to cover. She recommends phasing those questions out. An example of one of the thirteen questions, according to the Detroit Free Press, is “Who is the governor of your state now?”
The group of 97 participants who only passed one of the two tests comprised nearly a quarter of the total group. Based on these results, Winke concluded that, for as many as one in four applicants, the results of the test could be based as much on what version of the test the applicant receives as on the applicant’s actual knowledge of the subject matter. This is a significant enough percentage to be concerning.
The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. To schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys today, contact us online or at (212) 380-8117.
Components of the Naturalization Test (PDF file), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
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