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Do I Need to Speak English to Become a U.S. Citizen?

Speak English to Become U.S. CitizenIf you've come to the United States from a non-English speaking country and want to become a citizen, you have probably heard that you must pass an English test. The good news is that the test is not complicated, and there are free resources available to help you prepare. With a little help, you should be able to master the requirements of the English test. And under some circumstances, you may be exempt from this requirement for citizenship.

What is the English Test for U.S. Citizenship?

The English test will take place after you have submitted your application for naturalization (Form N-400), during the in-person interview. It's a basic test of how well you understand, speak, read and write English.

The examiner for U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Services will speak to you in English. He or she will be paying attention to how well you are able to respond to simple questions, including questions about the information you gave in your citizenship application. The USCIS officer will also present you with one or a few sentences in English, and ask you to read them out loud. He or she will also read one to three sentences aloud in English, and will ask you to write those down.

The USCIS officer will not try to trick you or require you to be perfectly fluent. The goal of this test is to make sure that you have enough English to be able to function as a citizen.

Are There Exemptions From the English Test?

In some cases, as mentioned above, the requirement of the English test for U.S. Citizenship is waived. These are the so-called "50/20" and "55/15" waivers. If you have been a lawful permanent resident (LPR, or green card holder) for a total of at least 20 years, and you are over the age of 50, you are not required to take the English test and can have your citizenship interview conducted in your native language. While the 20 years need not have been continuous, it's best if any absences from the United States were relatively brief. Similarly, the "55/15" waiver applies if you're a green card holder, aged 55 or older, who has been in the United States for at least 15 years in total.

There is also a waiver if you have some sort of physical or mental disability that prevents you from learning English. In order to qualify for this exemption, a doctor would have to sign Form N-648, explaining your disability, on your behalf. Be aware that the requirements for this waiver are quite strict, and your immigration attorney should be involved in its preparation if it applies.

What if I Don't Pass the English Test for U.S. Citizenship?

If you don't pass on the first try, you will receive a second opportunity to be interviewed within 90 days of the original interview. There are study materials available through the USCIS website. You may also ask your immigration attorney for the best way to prepare; he or she has dealt with many people in your situation and will be a good resource.

To learn more about requirements for becoming a U.S. citizen, including the requirement of good moral character, contact an experienced immigration attorney. To learn more about what to expect from your interview with a USCIS officer and how to prepare for it, contact Howard County, MD immigration lawyer Van T. Doan.

Categories: Immigration Law