Waivers and exemptions for the English and civcs tests
Becoming a U.S. citizen comes with a lot of perks. But when it comes to the naturalization process, there is a strict set of requirements that applicants must meet. One of these requirements is an understanding of the English language and an understanding of U.S. history and government.
This requirement is stated in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as "applicant must demonstrate an ability to read, write, and speak words in ordinary usage in the English language, and have a knowledge and understanding of the U.S. history and government (civics)." Some may be worried about these tests. As always, do not despair. There is a series of waivers and exemptions available to those who qualify.
Civics Test Exemption ("65/20" Exemption)The naturalization civics test consists of up to 10 questions and he or she must correctly answer 6 out of 10 questions to pass the test. These questions are drawn from a list of 100 possible questions that each applicant should be able to answer and which are available online.
Eligible applicants who are 65 years of age or older and have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for at least 20 years will be eligible to take an easier version of the civic test. The test for these applicants will only be drawn from a list of 20 questions instead of the usual 100. The applicant will still need to correctly answer 6 out of 10 randomly selected questions to pass the civic test. This waiver is typically referred to as the "65/20" exemption.
As mentioned above, to use the 65/20 exemption the applicant is required to have lived in the U.S. for 20 years as a permanent resident; however, this does not have to be continuous. To ensure that the length of time you have lived in the U.S. meets the requirements set by USCIS, please consult with an immigration attorney.
Language ExemptionTo meet the English language requirement, each applicant needs to show that they can speak, read, and write in English. The way this requirement is tested is that during the interview, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services ("USCIS") officer will speak to the applicant in English, ask the applicant to read an English text out loud, and ask the applicant to write a sentence which the officer will dictate in English.
There are two different exemptions which allow qualified applicants to skip the English language requirement and have their interview conducted in their native language and with the help of an interpreter. Do keep in mind that these exemptions do not allow the applicant to be excused from the civics test. But the applicant will be allowed to take the civics test in his or her native language, with the help of an interpreter. Also if qualified, the applicant can apply for both the language and civic test exemptions combined.
"50/20" ExemptionEligible applicants who are 50 years of age or older and have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for at least 20 years will be eligible to have their interview conducted in their native language. Similar to the civics test exemption, the 20 years residency requirement does not have to be continuous. To ensure that the length of time you have lived in the U.S. meets the requirements set by USCIS, please consult with an immigration attorney.
"55/15" ExemptionEligible applicants who are 55 years of age or older and have lived in the U.S. as permanent residents for at least 15 years will be eligible to have their interview conducted in their native language. Similar to the previous exemption, the 15 years residency requirement does not have to be continuous. To ensure that the length of time you have lived in the U.S. meets the requirements set by USCIS, please consult with an immigration attorney.
Medical WaiverFor those who might not be able to comply with the language and civics test requirements due to medical disability or mental impairment, there is a medical waiver available. The medical disability or mental impairment must be one that significantly affects the applicant's ability to learn and is likely to last 12 months or longer. Because every disability or impairment is different and can affect each applicant's cognitive abilities differently, there are no set rules as to which conditions can qualify for the medical exemption. Some of the common disabilities and impairments that may qualify for the medical waiver are Alzheimer's dementia, vascular dementia, and major depressive disorders.
How to Apply for a Medical WaiverTo request a medical waiver, unlike the other exemptions which you can mark on the naturalization application (N-400), the applicant needs to file a separate form, Form N-648. This form needs to be filed out by a medical doctor, osteopath, or clinical psychologist who is licensed to practice in the U.S. The form needs to be properly and fully completed and the doctor needs to provide a clear and detailed explanation which connects the applicant's medical condition to his or her inability to take the civics and/or language requirements.
A clear and detailed explanation is one of the most important aspects of form N-648. A simple statement such as "applicant suffers from Down Syndrome and qualifies for a medical waiver" will not be sufficient. The doctor should give a detailed diagnosis of the medical condition, connect it to the demands of the test(s), and provide a conclusion.
To avoid any delays in the naturalization process, it is strongly recommended that the medical waiver form be submitted along with the naturalization form (N-400). However, the applicant is allowed to file the form at a later time or even bring it along to the interview. A late filing of the medical waiver will not reflect negatively on the applicant, but could cause delays. The filing of the medical waiver is not a waiver of the interview. The applicant is still required to attend the interview and answer questions regarding his or her naturalization application. However, if the waiver is granted, the applicant will be able to bring and utilize the assistance of an interpreter.
Since there are a few different exemptions and waivers available, do not let your concerns regarding the quality of your English or your ability to learn keep you from applying for naturalization. Consult with an immigration attorney to evaluate your situation and find out if you qualify for any of the exemptions or waivers mentioned above.