Biden Reverts Naturalization Test to 2008 Version

Biden Reverts Naturalization Test to 2008 Version

Written by Taher Kameli & Chathan Vemuri

In another reversal of Trump-era immigration policy, the Biden administration struck down the revised naturalization civic test implemented on December 1, 2020, replacing it with the older 2008 version of the test that had been in force up till that time.[1] This was done as part of President Biden’s February 2 Executive Order on “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration System.”[2] The USCIS will go back to the 2008 test as of March 1, 2021, although there will also be an interim period during which both tests will be offered for the convenience of those studying for the December 2020 Trump version of the test.[3] The USCIS has said that given the short notice for the new test that was initiated on December 1, 2021, “it will offer some immigrants who filed their naturalization applications between then and March 1 the option to take either test in case they had already preparing for the 2020 version of the exam.”[4]

Regardless of when applicants filed their naturalization applications, “[a]ll citizenship applicants who have their first naturalization interviews after April 19…will be given the 2008 exam.” Making this change helps to dismantle the hardline immigration policies implemented by the Trump administration to make it harder for foreign nationals to immigrate to the US and acquire US citizenship.[5] By restoring the 2008 test. President Biden hopes to “move toward a less stringent immigration system.”[6]

The naturalization civics test is a key step to becoming a U.S. citizen[7], requiring much study to demonstrate fitness for naturalization. Any applicant for citizenship taking the test must achieve a score of at least 60% in order to pass and be sworn in.[8] However, the 2008 and 2020 versions of the test differ in level of difficulty due in part to the number of questions once must answer.[9] For the 2008 version, one had to study for 100 possible questions whereas for the 2020 version, one had to study for 128 possible questions.[10]  The actual exam is an oral exam where a USCIS officer would ask the applicant a select number of questions from the list of eligible questions, out of which the applicant is required to answer 60% correctly in order to pass, no matter how many.[11] However, for the Trump-issued 2020 test, an applicant had to answer 60% of 20 questions whereas for the revived 2008 test, an applicant has to answer 60% of 10 questions.[12]

In addition to being longer, the 2020 test approved by the Trump administration was tougher in terms of questions which, combined with the increased number of questions to study and questions to answer, evinced a test designed to make it tougher for applicants to pass and complete the pathway to citizenship.[13] Furthermore, the insufficient level of advance notice before its implementation and the potentially limited study time and preparation afforded to applicants taking it, including lack of adequate training and study materials, made the new test more restrictive of the number of people who could be sworn in as U.S. citizens.[14] The answers to many of the questions were even altered so as to reflect a conservative bias and the pressure of additional information one had to study for under the new test demonstrated its intent to filter out immigrants with less experience or stamina to pass the test, demonstrating the Trump administration’s goal to limit immigration to the United States.[15] Not to mention shape permitted immigration in a way as to fit Trump’s right wing agenda.[16]

By scrapping this test and reverting to the relatively more lenient 2008 version, the Biden administration demonstrates its continued commitment to doing away with the Trump-era overhaul of the Immigration system meant to keep more people away from the pathway to admission and/or citizenship.[17] By bringing back the previous test, the toxic and exclusionary legacy of the Trump administration’s immigration policies is dismantled by another notch.

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[1] Fu, Minnie, Naturalization Test Returning to 2008 Version in March, Nat’l Law. Rev.  (Feb. 22, 2021) available at https://www.natlawreview.com/article/naturalizuation-test-returning-to-2008-version-march

[2] Id.

[3] Sands, Geneva, Biden Administration Rolls Back Trump-Era Citizenship Civics Test, CNN (Feb. 22, 2021, Upd. 2:39 PM ET) available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/biden-roll-back-trump-citizenship-test/index.html

[4] Hansen. Claire, Biden DHS Scraps Trump Administration’s Longer, More Difficult Citizenship Test, USNews (Feb. 22, 2021, 11:48 AM) available at https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2021-02-22/biden-dhs-scraps-trump-administrations-longer-more-difficult-citizenship-test

[5] Sands, Geneva, Biden Administration Rolls Back Trump-Era Citizenship Civics Test, CNN (Feb. 22, 2021, Upd. 2:39 PM ET) available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/biden-roll-back-trump-citizenship-test/index.html

[6] Kelley, Alexandra, Biden Rolls Back Trump’s Tougher Citizenship Test, The Hill (Feb. 22, 2021) available at https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/539997-biden-rolls-back-trumps-tougher-citizenship-test

[7] Sands, Geneva, Biden Administration Rolls Back Trump-Era Citizenship Civics Test, CNN (Feb. 22, 2021, Upd. 2:39 PM ET) available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/biden-roll-back-trump-citizenship-test/index.html

[8] Kelley, Alexandra, Biden Rolls Back Trump’s Tougher Citizenship Test, The Hill (Feb. 22, 2021) available at https://thehill.com/changing-america/respect/diversity-inclusion/539997-biden-rolls-back-trumps-tougher-citizenship-test

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Sands, Geneva, Biden Administration Rolls Back Trump-Era Citizenship Civics Test, CNN (Feb. 22, 2021, Upd. 2:39 PM ET) available at https://www.cnn.com/2021/02/22/politics/biden-roll-back-trump-citizenship-test/index.html

[14] Id.

[15] Hansen. Claire, Biden DHS Scraps Trump Administration’s Longer, More Difficult Citizenship Test, USNews (Feb. 22, 2021, 11:48 AM) available at https://www.usnews.com/news/national-news/articles/2021-02-22/biden-dhs-scraps-trump-administrations-longer-more-difficult-citizenship-test

[16] Id. (One may assume this from the fact that many answers were written to reflect a conservative bias).

[17] Id.

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