Citizenship Test Exceptions

When applying for U.S. citizenship, applicants, must meet the strict eligibility requirements, pass a English and Civics test, interview, and finally take the Oath of Allegiance. These are all steps in the naturalization process. However, there are some exceptions. Some people are exempt from taking the English language test, depending on age, the length of time residing in the U.S., and/or disability. This article focuses on citizenship test waiver, exceptions and limited accommodations to the Citizenship Test requirements, including continuous residence exceptions, and disability accommodations.

The government makes the appropriate accommodations for applicants with disabilities who need modifications to the naturalization process to demonstrate their eligibility. For example, if an applicant uses a wheelchair, USCIS will make sure that he can attend his biometrics appointment, interview, and be sworn in at a location that is wheelchair accessible. The Application for U.S. Citizenship Form N-400 provides a space for applicants to list their needs related to the application process.

If an applicant needs accommodation, such as the use of a guide dog or service animal, they can write a letter explaining what they will need and send it to the USCIS district office that will interview them after having received the interview notice.

English Language Exemptions

Some applicants are exempt from the English language requirements when applying for U.S. Citizenship. If an applicant is over the age of 50, has a valid Green Card, and has lived in the U.S. for 20 years, at the time of the application, he/she is exempt from the English test requirement. However, must still take the civics test. This is commonly called the "50/20" exception. This is also true for applicants over the age of 55, with a valid Green Card, and who have lived in the U.S. for 15 years. Also known as the "55/15" exception. Applicants who fit any of the two profiles may take the civics test in their native language only if they do not understand spoken English well enough to take the exam in English and must bring an interpreter to the interview. Those applicants who are over the age of 65 with at least 20 years of legal permanent residence at the time of filing will be afforded special consideration about the civics requirement.

Citizenship test for seniors in Spanish

Senior applicants whose understanding of spoken English is not enough to allow a valid interview in English may also be allowed to take the civics test in their native languages. Similar to those who fall under the "50/20" exception and the "55/15" exception, they must also bring interpreters who are fluent in both English and their native language to their civics test. For example, a Spanish speaking applicant aged 59, who has a valid green card and has lived in the U.S. for over 15 years, can request an exemption from the English test. If he or she is granted the exemption, then he or she will be allowed to take the civics test in Spanish. Applicants over the age of 65, who have lived for over 20 years in the U.S. can also request an exemption from the English test, and may also take the civics test in their native languages. They will also be allowed to take an easier version of the civics test.

Disability Accommodations

The U.S. government also accommodates applicants who have a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment so severe that they cannot acquire or demonstrate the required knowledge of English and/or civics requirements. In such cases, these requirements may also be waived. To request this exemption, applicants are required to submit Form N-648 - Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, along with Form N-400 - Application for U.S. Citizenship. All parts of this form, except the “Applicant Attestation,” and “Interpreter’s Certification,” must be certified by a licensed medical professional. USCIS will then make the appropriate accommodations and/or modifications for these, so it does not affect their naturalization process.

How to Request One of These Exceptions

Applicants who require any of these age-related exceptions, and/o disability exceptions, must let the USCIS know in advance. Otherwise, this may affect their interview and civics and English exam, and may even result in a more complicated version of the citizenship exam. The best way to request these exemptions and present your case is to write a cover letter to USCIS, and include it with your application package, to alert the agency of the request. You must also write the name of the appropriate exception in red letters on the top of Form N-400, e.g.: “65/20,” “55/15, or “50/20;” or a combination of these if you are applying for both an exam exception and an English-language exception. If you are requesting an English-language exception, you must bring an interpreter with you to the interview. While in this case it does not necessarily need to be a paid professional and can be a friend or relative, what you need to make sure is that this person is truly fluent in both your native language as well as English. As this is such an important part of the citizenship process, it is paramount that the interpreter is fluent in both languages, precise and be able to get your answers across in the best possible way. If the interpreter causes confusion, it may result in your citizenship being denied.

Request for Fee Waiver

You may also be eligible to request a fee waiver if you are unable to pay the filing fees or biometric services fee. When you request a fee waiver, you must provide proof that you are unable to pay the fees and complete and submit Form I-912 - Request for a Fee Waiver. It is paramount that you provide all the relevant information to request that your fee be waived. If you do not provide enough information and documents to support your request, there will be a considerable delay in processing your request.

You are eligible to file Form I-912 if:

  • You, your spouse, or the head of household living with you, are currently receiving a means-tested benefit;
  • Your household income is at or below 150 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines at the time you file;
  • You are currently experiencing financial hardship that prevents you from paying the filing fee, including unexpected medical bills or emergencies.

Biometric Services Fee Exceptions:

Some applicants are exempt from paying the biometrics fee. Applicants over the age of 75, and applicants filing under military provisions, Section 328 or 329 of the INA, are not required to pay the biometrics fee. If these applicants submit payment for the biometrics fee, it will be returned and will delay the application process.

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