By Priscilla Alvarez, CNN
The Biden administration plans to conduct a trial for portions of the naturalization exam, which immigrants must pass to become US citizens, next year, to try to make the test more accessible, US Citizenship and Immigration Services will announce Wednesday.
The naturalization exam is a crucial step to an immigrant’s path toward US citizenship, potentially impacting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who seek citizenship annually. President Joe Biden signed an executive order at the start of his administration that included a directive to review the English and civics tests for naturalization. Wednesday’s announcement is a result of that order.
The trial will include changes to the English-speaking component of the test, which is not standardized, and the civics component following a review by USCIS subject matter experts, according to the agency. The two other parts of the exam — reading and writing — are already standardized and will remain unchanged.
“One thing we heard a lot — and agreed with — is we need a standardized speaking portion to the same extent we standardized reading and writing,” a USCIS official told CNN, noting that otherwise that part of the exam can be subjective and vary depending on the interviewing officer.
The hope, the official added, is to encourage a conversation that reflects what people are likely to talk about when gauging their English-speaking skills.
The trial civics portion is expected to be redesigned in a multiple-choice format, instead of it being fill in the blank. Currently, applicants study 100 civics test items and are required to answer six of 10 civics questions correctly to pass.
“Primarily, this is about responding to suggestions from the wider community that we’ve received over the past couple years and making it more fair,” the official said.
US Citizenship and Immigration Services, which administers the test, will run a trial for a five-month period in 2023 with about 1,500 participants enrolled in citizenship class who have volunteered to take the pilot exam. Their scores on the pilot will not affect their naturalization.
The citizenship test was a target of the Trump administration, which tried to curtail legal immigration and doubled down on citizenship. During his time in office, former President Donald Trump teased an end to birthright citizenship and attempted to include a citizenship question on the census.
Last year, the Biden administration rolled back the controversial Trump-era naturalization civics test, reverting to a prior version of the exam.
The upcoming trial will be published in the Federal Register to explain the methodology and open it up to comment from stakeholders.
“The naturalization test is a key step in becoming a U.S. citizen. We welcome input from — and the participation of — stakeholders who are familiar with this important process, as we continue to improve and update our naturalization test, ensuring that it is consistent with industry testing standards,” USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou said in a statement.
USCIS has boasted about the number of people it naturalizes on a yearly basis. In fiscal year 2022, USCIS naturalized more than 1 million new US citizens, marking the highest number of naturalizations in roughly 15 years.
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