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US CIS Plans More Difficult English Test for Propective Citizens

August 2004
US CIS Plans More Difficult English Test for Propective Citizens

The U.S. government plans to introduce by late 2006 more rigorous testing in English language, U.S. history and civics for immigrants hoping to become citizens, the program director said on July 13th. Gerri Ratliff, director for the naturalization redesign project at US CIS, told a press briefing that current tests for prospective new citizens varied widely from office to office.

"We want a test that is more meaningful, reliable and fair, focusing on concepts that will ensure that applicants will be able to function as new citizens," she said at the briefing organized by the Center for Immigration Studies, a think-tank that argues for a slowing of immigration to the United States.

Her office, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security, plans to run a pilot program in several cities next year and begin nationwide implementation by the end of 2006, Ratliff said. "We are trying to see if there's a way to revise the English test, not to make it harder, but to make it more of a defensible test of a person's comprehension skills," she said.

On history, the idea is to make applicants gain a deeper appreciation of the most important political principles underlying the United States as well as knowledge of key events such as the founding of the state, the Civil War and the civil rights movement.

In 2002, almost 574,000 people acquired U.S. citizenship. The three leading countries of origin were Mexico, with 77,000, Vietnam with 37,000 and India with 34,000. Since 1950, the United States has required new citizens to prove their ability to speak, read and write English and to demonstrate knowledge of U.S. history and government. In practice, most merely have to write one sentence in English and answer one or two questions from a list of 100 on key facts about the U.S. government.

The new English standards, which are still being developed, would include having applicants participate in a conversation, give simple directions, express needs and preferences, respond to warnings, read and comprehend simple material, describe in writing a person, object, place or situation and fill out forms such as a job application or driver's license form. Ratliff said those who failed the test could take it once more for the same fee. If they failed again, they would have to pay a new fee and wait several months for another chance.

Social Security Administration Releases Fact Sheets on SSI Benefits for Non-Citizens

On July 7, 2004, US CIS published a Fact Sheet: Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Benefits for Non-Citizens. SSI is a monthly benefit, paid through the Social Security Administration (SSA), to individuals who are blind, disabled or elderly AND who qualify as low-income. Typically, only U.S. citizens are eligible to receive SSI. There are certain special conditions which may allow non-citizens to qualify to receive SSI benefits:

An adult who is elderly, blind or has a disability who entered the U.S. as a refugee or was granted asylum may be able to receive SSI for up to 7 years - beginning on the date he/she entered the U.S. or was granted asylum.

The individual may continue to receive SSI benefits AFTER the seven year period (without a time limit) if:

* He/she becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen; OR

* Meets one of the other SSI rules for aliens under the Welfare Reform law:

* Had been receiving SSI benefits on August 22, 1996;

* Was lawfully residing in the U.S. on August 22, 1996 and are now disabled or blind at any age;

* Now a U.S. Permanent Resident who has 40 qualifying quarters of work. (Certain restrictions may apply).

To learn more about Social Security and SSI benefits, see the SSA website at:

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