US making citizenship test tougher

The new citizenship test requires a better understanding of US' history.

india Updated: Dec 01, 2006 14:26 IST

The United States government is redesigning its citizenship test to make it more meaningful, requiring a better understanding of America's history and government institutions, but critics say it would only make it tough for immigrants.

Immigration advocates are wary that the new test may make becoming a citizen more difficult, while groups that want to control immigration want to ensure newcomers are not simply memorising information.

The government on Thursday unveiled 144 draft questions that it plans to try out on 5,000 immigrant applicants in 10 cities in 2007.

"When you raise your hand and swear allegiance to the United States, you really ought to know what you are swearing your allegiance to," said US Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Emilio Gonzalez.

For example, he said, rather than asking what are the three branches of US government -- executive, judicial and legislative -- the new test would ask why there are three branches of government.

"We found that the current naturalisation exam process lacks standardisation and encourages applicants to memorise facts just to pass a test, but that doesn't guarantee that they understand the meaning behind the question," said Gonzalez.

"Our goal is to inspire immigrants to learn about the civic values of this nation so that after they take the oath of citizenship they will participate fully in our great democracy," he said.

A variety of groups with varying ideologies about immigration have been working with Citizenship and Immigration Service, meeting with them monthly, to advice the agency on drafting the questions.

Beginning early next year, immigrants applying for citizenship will be able to volunteer as test pilots for the new questions in 10 cities: Albany, Boston, Charleston, Denver, El Paso, Kansas City, Miami, San Antonio, Tucson, and Yakima.

During the trial period, volunteer applicants who choose to take the pilot exam can switch back to the current exam if they get a pilot question wrong.

Gonzalez said the pilot programme would allow the agency to work out problems and hone down the questions to 100 before taking the test nationwide in 2008.

His agency said it added new questions that focus on the concept of democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship.

He said the agency worked with history and government professors along with citizenship instructors and teachers of English as a second language to develop the new questions.

Some examples of draft questions and acceptable answers to be tried out on volunteers in 10 cities, as provided by CIS:

Q: Why do we have three branches of government?

A: So no branch is too powerful.

Q: Name two ways that Americans can participate in their democracy.

A: They can vote, call senators or representatives, run for public office, write a letter to a newspaper, join a political party or other possible answers.

Q: Martin Luther King Jr had a dream for America. What was his dream?

A: Equality for all Americans, civil rights for all or other possible answers.

Q: Name one important idea found in the Declaration of Independence.

A: All people are created equal; the power of government comes from the people; the people can change their government if it hurts their natural rights or other possible answers.

First Published: Dec 01, 2006 12:24 IST