ENGLISH IS NOT FOR EVERYONE
If you wish to become naturalized in the U.S. and become a citizen, you will have to prove that you can write, read and speak English. It is just not a matter of coming up with a certificate to show your English competence but when you attend the citizenship interview you will have to demonstrate your ability to use English. The USCIS officer allocated to interview you will speak in English and observe how well you answer questions and respond to instructions. You will be required to read out loud a piece of text that is quite short, and will be asked to write down a sentence that has been dictated to you by the officer.
There are two rules that allow people who are older the chance to omit the English requirement completely and have the interview completed in the presence of and with assistance from a foreign language interpreter. This does not apply to the civics test as this cannot be avoided but it can be taken in your native language with assistance from an interpreter. These are the 50/20 waiver and the 55/15 waiver.
If you have reached the age of 50 years or older and you have resided as a green card holder in the U.S. for no less than 20 years, you may take part in an interview for citizenship in your own language. This is known as the “50/20” waiver. The 20 year requirement of permanent residence does not have to be continuous. The waiver may still apply if you have lived out of the U.S. for short lengths of time up to 6 months at a time, but your time in the country makes up a total of 20 years.
The “55/15” waiver states that that those who are 55 years or more and have resided in the U. S. holding a green card for no less than 15 years, the citizenship exam and interview can take place in your native language. The 15 year residential requirement does not have to be continuous.
Requesting an exception
If you think you need an age-related exception, you must inform the USCIS in advance. This ensures that the interviewer is aware of your language ability and will refrain from speaking in English and will give you the more suitable citizenship exam.
There is now space on the Form N-400 to put in a request for these exceptions Be sure to mark the correct waiver you are asking for.
If you are asking for an exception for the English language requirement, you have to bring an interpreter along with you when asked to attend the interview. This doesn’t have to be a paid interpreter, but a friend or relative who is completely fluent in your language and English. Interpreting is not always easy and has to be accurate, otherwise citizenship could be denied.
If you or a loved one still does not qualify and cannot learn enough English to pass the citizenship test, there is a good chance an N-648 can provide a solution.
Learn more about common naturalization pitfalls, or return to the main Citizenship page.