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 On Dec. 1 2020, the USCIS unveiled a new version of the citizenship test, which was met with widespread criticism. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images
 On Dec. 1 2020, the USCIS unveiled a new version of the citizenship test, which was met with widespread criticism. Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

USCIS reverses last-minute citizenship test changes, back to 2008 version

After thousands of comments and criticisms on the implementation of the 2020 test, the USCIS is reverting back to the 2008 test version. 

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In a letter released Feb. 22, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) revised its guidelines on the U.S. citizenship test implemented just under three months ago. It announced that beginning March 1, it will revert to the 2008 version of the civics test, which had been altered in December 2020.

The initial changes were first announced in late November and implemented on Dec. 1, giving test-takers little time to account for the changes. 

The USCIS’s 2020 version of the citizenship test came with considerable changes. Previously, in the civics portion of the test, a USCIS officer asked a total of 10 questions from a general bank of 100 civics questions. An applicant needed to answer six of those 10 questions to pass. 

In the 2020 version, applicants must answer at least 12 out of 20 questions posed by immigration officials. It was a change that garnered criticism for further politicizing the test, but also by making it more difficult for applicants to pass. 

The threshold to pass remained the same, but instead of studying 100 questions, applicants had to study 128, making the process more complicated. Already riddled with backlogs, others predicted it would lead to further delays in the citizenship process. 

As the Partnership for New Americans (NPNA) wrote in a newsletter, it was “condemned by advocates as a ploy to keep citizenship out of reach for those with limited English Proficiency and was criticized for being formulated with limited community and expert input.”

“The new civics test isn't just more difficult for no apparent reason — it also contains straight-up errors,” wrote Doug Rand, co-founder of Boundless Immigration and former immigration advisor to President Obama in December, when the changes were announced. 

He highlighted some of the key changes and omissions to the civics test in a Twitter thread

Under the 2020 version the fear, considering already-present backlogs, was that many applicants wouldn't be able to  get an interview or test until months in the future — unless President Biden’s administration rescinded the changes as soon as he assumed office.

While the revert wasn’t immediate, it happened within his first 100 days. Tracy Renaud — yet to be confirmed — has been performing the duties of USCIS director since Jan. 20. 

Previously, the position was held by Francis Cissna since 2017 under the Trump Administration. 

In its letter, the USCIS responded to the concerns and criticism. 

“USCIS received approximately 2,500 comments from the public regarding the 2020 civics test and the policy. Multiple commenters noted that there was little advance notice before implementation of the 2020 civics test, which raised concerns about limited time for study and preparation of training materials and resources,” the USCIS wrote.

The agency announced it would revert to the 2008 test. 

In the meantime, it indicated there will be a brief period during which USCIS may offer both the 2008 and 2020 versions of the test to accommodate certain applicants who filed on or after Dec. 1, 2020, and before March 1, 2021, because these applicants had been studying for the new version. 

USCIS says it will provide notices for such applicants affected by the update. 

The 2020 test will be phased out on April 19, 2021, for initial test takers. Applicants filing on or after March 1, 2021, will take the 2008 civics test.

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