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Expect new questions on the civics portion of the citizenship test. Photo: Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images
Expect new questions on the civics portion of the citizenship test. Photo: Matt Jonas/Digital First Media/Boulder Daily Camera via Getty Images

The new U.S. citizenship test will be trickier, unless Biden intervenes

The Trump administration just released a new civics test that all prospective U.S. citizens must pass if applying after Dec 1.

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Starting Dec. 1, applicants for U.S. citizenship will have to correctly answer at least 12 of 20 questions posed by immigration officials. It's a change that has not only garnered criticism for further politicizing the test, but also by making it harder for applicants to pass. 

The revised naturalization test announced last week by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) affects the civics portion of the test.  

Previously, the USCIS officer asked a total of 10 questions from a general bank of 100 civics questions. An applicant had to correctly answer six of those 10 questions to pass.

The new changes will not affect the percentage necessary to pass, still set at 60%, though candidates must now answer 12 answers correctly, out of 20 in order to pass. The threshold remains the same, but instead of studying 100 questions, they must now study 128, making the process more complicated for applicants. 

"There is no reason to make the citizenship test longer and more difficult. It is unnecessary and will lead to even greater backlogs and delays in the citizenship process,” Aaron Reichlin-Melnick, a policy counsel for the American Immigration Council, told CBS News.

Should the backlogs get worse, many applicants won’t be able to get an interview or test until months from now. That is, unless President-elect Joe Biden rescinds the changes as soon as he assumes office, which he has the authority to do. 

The shift in policy is yet another block in immigrants’ path to citizenship. Already, the Trump administration raised application fees, slashed the resettlement program, and battled the eligibility of asylum seekers. 

Not only does it make the process more difficult, but it’s another discouragement against its completion . In 2015, a Pew study estimated that only 42% of eligible Mexican immigrants applied for citizenship, citing language barriers and application costs.

The citizenship exam is a product of the Immigration in Acts of 1906 and 1952. They implemented an English language and civics requirement. Both laws were passed amid rising xenophobia during rising immigration rates.

“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.

He highlighted some of the key changes and omissions in the 2020 version of the USCIS civics test in a Twitter thread. 

For instance, test takers now only need to identify one of the amendments to the U.S. constitution above all others — the Tenth. Rand also noted the gaps within the new question, ‘Why is the Electoral College important?’ which leaves out its racist origins.

Such changes have some wondering the reason the citizenship test is kept running at all. But while Biden isn’t expected to abolish the process, in 50 days it will be within his power to revert to the 100 question exam should pressure mount. 

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