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English Language Requirements for Naturalization

We have previously discussed a proposed immigration law that would favor English speaking immigrants seeking to immigrate to the United States over those who do not. This proposal has been met with resistance because there are many immigrants to the United States who bring value, but who may not be able to communicate fluently in English.

How important is the English requirement to an immigrant seeking admission to the United States? Currently, temporary visitors to the United States are not required to be fluent English speakers. On the other hand, when an immigrant applies for naturalization, then there is an English requirement to be met as part of the naturalization test.

There are two tests that a person wishing to become a United States citizen has to pass as part of the naturalization test – an English test and a civics test. Although the English test is mandatory for applicants under the age of 50, there are special accommodations that can be made for applicants who cannot speak English because of medical reasons or a disability. A person claiming a medical condition or disability exception to the rule has to prove the medical condition and disability.

For certain applicants over the age of 50, the English test is not mandatory. If an applicant is 50 or more years of age, has lived in the United States for 20 years or more as a permanent resident; or, if 55 years old and has lived in the country for 15 years as a permanent resident, the English test is not mandatory.

Because the English language is waived in these circumstances, applicants may take the civics test using an interpreter provided by the applicant. The interpreter is required to be fluent in both English and the native language of the applicant. This is one more useful accommodation that is designed to assist immigrants in becoming citizens.

Even with the English requirement, the government does not require fluency in order for an applicant to become a citizen. The applicant has to read, write, and understand English words in their ordinary conversational use. The English test is relatively straight forward in this regard.

There is no requirement for a person who is applying for asylum or lawful permanent residency to fluently speak English or pass an English test. There are interviews involved with making these applications, but interpreters may be used.

While it is important to learn English while living in an English speaking country such as the United States, not being able to speak the language fluently is not a barrier to seeking lawful permanent residence status or applying for citizenship. Therefore, if you meet the other legal requirements for changing your immigration status, you should make the appropriate application.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you are an immigrant who is eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence or citizenship, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California. We can help you through the application process, especially if you have any potential immigration issues that may limit the success of your application.


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