Advocates for immigrants are fearful that a new citizenship test in the works from the Biden administration will be too hard.
The current test in use is from 2008, according to The Associated Press. The Trump administration revised the test in 2020, which advocates deplored as being too difficult. In 2021, the Biden administration tossed out the Trump-era test and went back to the one that had been replaced.
The new test is expected to be used next year. More than 1 million immigrants became U.S. citizens in fiscal year 2022, one of the highest levels since 1907.
Sara Goodman, a political science professor at the University of California, Irvine, told the AP the current test is easier than citizenship tests used by nations such as Germany, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
She said the test requires a “high beginner” level of English, and those taking it can have access to a question bank with answers before taking the test.
However, the new test would add a speaking section in which citizenship applicants would be shown a picture and have to describe it — in English.
“For me, I think it would be harder to look at pictures and explain them,” said Heaven Mehreta, who came to the U.S. from Ethiopia 10 years ago and passed the test last year, according to the AP.
“We should not create additional barriers to naturalization when there are already so many,” said Jennifer Anzardo Valdes, deputy director at Miami-based Americans for Immigrant Justice, according to Axios.
Helena Coric, the National Immigration Forum’s assistant vice president of Business Engagement & Inclusion Programs, said even the current English requirement is a barrier to citizenship, keeping immigrants with low proficiency levels from even applying for citizenship, according to Axios. A harder version will just make that worse.
She said the federal government should “have an implementation plan that allows vulnerable populations an option to take the current version of the test by request.”
The current version of the test also includes an oral, short-answer section about U.S. history and government. The new version would make that multiple-choice.
Some immigrant advocates questioned that change.
“Though multiple choice might sound easier to many people, it does mean that it’s going from an oral test to essentially a reading test,” Jessica Chicco, director of the New Americans Initiative at the Massachusetts Immigrant & Refugee Advocacy Coalition, said.
However, Elizabeth Jacobs, director of regulatory affairs and policy at the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, argued that the Biden test is actually easier than the current one, according to the AP.
She said a multiple-choice format reduces the need for immigrants to actually memorize information about the country they want to call home.
She said the test should include more material like American values such as religious freedom and freedom of speech.
In 2018, the Institute for Citizens & Scholars released a survey that said overall only 36 percent of Americans could pass a test made up of questions from the citizenship exam.
The group reported in 2019 that in 49 of 50 states, the majority of respondents failed the test. Vermont was the sole exception. No state had a double-digit share of respondents getting the equivalent of an A on the test.