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Can someone who doesn’t speak English become a citizen?

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2024 | Citizenship & Naturalization

Becoming an American citizen is a lengthy process. People usually need to remain in the country for years before they even qualify to naturalize. Then, they have to undergo a thorough background check, followed by an immigration interview and test.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) typically administers two different tests during the naturalization interview. The first is an English language test, and the second is a test in United States civics. People have to prove that they understand the history and government of the United States and show that they are proficient in English by writing, reading, speaking and demonstrating listening comprehension.

English is one of the most difficult languages for people to learn. Many immigrants decide not to naturalize because they worry that they will never master the English language. Must someone fluently speak English to become a United States citizen?

Older immigrants may qualify for an exemption

It is easiest to learn a new language earlier in life. The older someone becomes, the harder it can be to truly a new language. The USCIS recognizes this limitation by allowing certain older immigrants exemption from English language test requirements.

Specifically, the USCIS sometimes allows those who are age 50 or older to naturalize without performing an English test first. Someone who is 50 years of age and who has been in the United States legally for at least 20 years may qualify for an exemption from the English language test. They can also take the Civics test in the language of their choosing with an interpreter.

Someone who is 55 years of age or older and who has been in the country lawfully for 15 years or more may qualify for an exemption as well. There are also supports available for those with disabilities. They can request accommodations or modifications but cannot exempt themselves from testing unless they qualify on the age-based rules.

Someone who has been in the United States for years and would like to become a citizen can potentially achieve that dream by remaining in the country for long enough and either learning English or requesting an exemption during the naturalization testing process. Ultimately, learning and making use of the special rules for immigrants in unusual situations may help people overcome barriers to citizenship.