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Can I Apply to be a Citizen of the United States Without Knowing English?

By the Staff of Immigration Law Associates

 
You (or your relative) have been a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) for several years. You have kids, grandkids, a home, and a life in the United States. You plan to live here for the rest of your life, so why have you not yet become a United States citizen? Being a citizen of the United States has many advantages including the right to: vote, hold office, travel abroad for as long as you want, get a passport, and apply for your immediate relatives to come to the U.S. Why then do so many people choose not to apply for citizenship? The reason is very simple: they are intimidated by the English language requirement of the Naturalization test.

What you may not know is that you may be exempt from the English language requirement. This means that you may be allowed to take the Civics test - the other portion of the Naturalization test which consists of questions about basic knowledge and understanding of US history and government - in your native language as long as you bring a qualified interpreter on the day of your interview.

Currently, there are two grounds under which you may be exempt from the English language requirement for Naturalization. The first is dependent on your age and length of time in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident and the second is dependent on whether you have a qualified health disability:

  1. Your age plus length of time in the U.S. as a legal Permanent Resident:

    1. If you are currently over 50 years old and have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years, you do not have to take the English test. You do have to take the Civics test in the language of your choice. For the Civics test you will need to study a list of 100 questions. During the Naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will ask you 10 questions. You must answer 6 questions correctly in order to pass this part of the test.
    2. If you are over 55 years old and have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for at least 15 years, you do not have to take the English test. You do have to take the Civics test in the language of your choice. For the Civics test you will need to study a list of 100 questions. During the Naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will ask you 10 questions. You must answer 6 questions correctly in order to pass this part of the test.
    3. If you are over 65 years old and have lived in the United States as a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years, you do not have to take the English test. You do have to take the Civics test in the language of your choice. However, instead of a list of 100 questions to study, you will only need to study from a list of 20 questions. During the Naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will ask you 10 questions. You must answer 6 questions correctly in order to pass this part of the test.

    To better understand the rules above please review the following examples:

    Example 1: Maria Gonzalez is 57 years old and became an LPR in 2001. It is now 2013 and Maria would like to apply for citizenship but she does not speak English. Is she exempt from the English language requirement? No. Although Maria is 57 years old, she has only been an LPR for 12 years. She now has two options, she can either study to learn English and take the test in English or she can wait three more years and then apply for Naturalization without having to take the English test.

    Example 2: Annia Nowak is 51 years old and became an LPR in 1993. She never learned English. It is now 2013 and she wants to apply for citizenship. Is she exempt from the English language requirement? Yes. Annia is exempt because she is over 50 years old and has been an LPR for 20 years. She qualifies for the 50/20 exemption show in letter “a.” above.

    Example 3: Penelope Cruz is 54 years old and became an LPR in 1998. She does not speak English. It is now 2013 and she wants to apply for citizenship. Is she exempt from the English language requirement? No. Although Penelope has been an LPR for 15 years, she is only 54 years old and one year short to qualify for the 55/15 exemption shown in letter “b.” above. In this example, Penelope will need to wait one year before she can apply for Naturalization without the English language requirement.

    Example 4: Carla Hernandez is 66 years old and became an LPR in 1991. She never learned English. It is now 2013 and she wants to apply for citizenship. Is she exempt from the English language requirement? Yes. Carla is exempt because she is 65 years old and has been a LPR for 22 years. She qualifies for the 60/20 exemption shown in letter “c” above. In this example, Carla will only need to study from a list of 20 questions for the Civics test and she will be allowed to take the Civics test and have her Naturalization interview in the language of her choice.

  2. Qualified Health Disability:

    If you [or your applying relative] has a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment so severe that it prevents you from acquiring or demonstrating the required knowledge of English and Civics, you may be eligible for an exemption to these requirements. To request an exemption, you must file a “Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions” form. If you believe that you qualify, you will need to contact a licensed medical or osteopathic physician or licensed clinical psychologist who will then have to complete and sign the form referenced above.

    The medical professional must establish that you have a “medically determinable” physical or developmental disability or mental impairment in order for you to qualify for the disability exemption. In simple terms, the medical professional must establish and certify that you have a physical or mental abnormality that has impaired your functioning so severely that you are unable to learn or demonstrate knowledge of English and/or U.S. history and government.

    To apply for a disability exemption, the disability:
    1. Must be at least 1 year old (or be expected to last 1 year); and
    2. Must not have been caused by illegal drug use.

    Unfortunately there is not a list of conditions, symptoms, or complications that will always be caused by or linked to certain disabilities or impairments that may qualify you for this exemption. Rather, a District Adjudicator Officer (DAO) will evaluate your case and determine, based on all the information presented, whether you have met the burden of showing that the anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormality described has so impaired your functioning that you are unable to learn or demonstrate knowledge of English and/or U.S. history and government.

    If you qualify for this exemption, an interpreter, who is proficient in English and the language of your choice, must accompany you to the interview.

We strongly recommend that you consider the specifics of your particular case. If you have been in the United States as an LPR for several years, chances are that you qualify for one of the exemptions listed above. If you do and are ready to take the last step of your journey to become a United States citizen, we are here to help to you with your case.

 

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