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USCIS Citizenship Education: Resources and Initiatives

Promoting Civic Integration Among Permanent Residents

Introduction

The USCIS Office of Citizenship promotes instruction and training on citizenship rights and responsibilities and provides permanent residents with information and tools they need to successfully integrate into American civic culture. Mandated by the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the Office of Citizenship develops educational resources and initiatives for immigrants and immigrant-serving organizations, builds community capacity to prepare immigrants for citizenship, and promotes the importance of U.S. citizenship.

Background: Naturalization Process and Test

Since 2006, USCIS has naturalized more than 6 million new citizens. Most recently in fiscal year (FY) 2013, USCIS welcomed nearly 780,000 new Americans.

To become a naturalized citizen of the United States, an applicant must meet all eligibility requirements, including (with limited exceptions) the ability to read, write and speak words ordinarily used in the English language and demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government.

Applicants must meet these requirements by passing an English language and civics test. In keeping with USCIS’s commitment to ensure that the naturalization process and associated testing requirements are fair, meaningful and transparent for all applicants, USCIS redesigned the naturalization test to achieve two basic outcomes:

  • A uniform and consistent testing experience for all applicants; and
  • A civics test that can effectively assess an applicant’s knowledge of U.S. history and government.

The redesigned version of the naturalization test, mandatory for all citizenship applicants since Oct. 1, 2009, emphasizes the founding principles of American democracy and the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Along with this redesign, USCIS introduced new training requirements for officers. All new USCIS officers now receive training on test administration, and all officers who administer the test must successfully complete an annual refresher training on test administration and scoring guidelines.

Citizenship Preparation Resources and Public Education

The Office of Citizenship has developed a variety of educational initiatives to promote awareness of the naturalization process, the naturalization test, and the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship. All test study materials promote civic learning and build a strong foundation for successful citizenship.

These initiatives include:

  • Citizenship Resource Center: This centralized Web resource provides learning materials to help permanent residents prepare for the naturalization process. The site also contains tools for educators such as lesson plans, promising practices and supplemental classroom materials. USCIS offers interactive learning activities to prepare applicants for the English and civics portions of the naturalization test and translated versions of several preparation tools for those eligible to take the civics test in their native language.
  • Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship: In May 2012, USCIS and the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History (NMAH) released Preparing for the Oath: U.S. History and Civics for Citizenship, a Web-based learning tool designed to help immigrants prepare for the civics portion of the naturalization test. Based on the 100 civics questions and answers from which USCIS draws when administering the naturalization test, Preparing for the Oath is organized into themes related to U.S. history, government and civics, with a short video and self-test on the content of each civics question. Many questions prompt users to explore an artifact from the NMAH collection or include accompanying interactive learning activities. In addition to serving as a self-study tool for immigrants, a section for teachers provides materials and strategies to use Preparing for the Oath in a classroom setting.
  • America’s Literacy Directory: In 2010, USCIS partnered with the U.S. Department of Education to enhance the Web-based America’s Literacy Directory to include a prominent citizenship class search function and an expanded list of program offerings. Approximately 1,000 new citizenship programs have been added to this database which allows applicants to search for programs located in or around their own ZIP code.
  • Citizenship Public Education and Awareness Initiative: Launched in May 2011, this initiative raises awareness of the rights, responsibilities and importance of U.S. citizenship; encourages eligible permanent residents to consider the benefits of U.S. citizenship; and increases understanding of the naturalization process and its requirements. This multilingual initiative is designed to reach out directly to the estimated 8.8 million permanent residents eligible to apply for citizenship. These messaging tools direct individuals to the Citizenship Resource Center. Since the launch of the initiative, USCIS has seen a 33 percent increase in the number of visitors to this Web resource.
  • Naturalization Information Sessions: Since August 2009, USCIS field offices have opened their doors and partnered with local organizations to host free information sessions that provide an overview of the naturalization process, the naturalization test and free USCIS educational resources. More than 2,700 sessions have been held across the country so far, reaching approximately 126,000 attendees.

Building Community Capacity to Prepare Immigrants for Citizenship

Supporting immigrant-serving organizations that prepare immigrants for citizenship is critical to the mission of USCIS and the Office of Citizenship. Highlights in this area include:

  • Citizenship and Integration Grant Program: On Sept. 17, 2013, USCIS announced the award of approximately $9.9 million in grants designed to promote immigrant civic integration and prepare permanent residents for citizenship. Since the creation of the Citizenship and Integration Grant Program in FY 2009, USCIS has awarded approximately $33 million through 182 grants to immigrant-serving organizations. These organizations have provided citizenship preparation services to more than 86,000 permanent residents in 33 states and the District of Columbia.
  • Civics and Citizenship Toolkit: The Toolkit contains a collection of civics and citizenship resources for immigrants and the organizations that serve them. In May 2011, USCIS released a revised edition of this free resource. Since October 2007, USCIS has distributed more than 30,000 copies of the Toolkit to immigrant-serving organizations.
  • Training Seminars for Citizenship Instructors: USCIS continues to offer free training seminars for adult educators, volunteers and teachers. These seminars are designed to enhance the skills needed to teach U.S. history, civics and the naturalization process to immigrant students. Since October 2007, the Office of Citizenship has held citizenship education training seminars for more than 10,400 participants.
  • Technical Resources for Organizations that Serve Immigrants: In addition to onsite training events, USCIS offers several resources to help program managers enhance citizenship program quality and instructors better prepare students for citizenship and the naturalization process:
    • EL/Civics Online: A free four-part online training module to help educators incorporate English literacy and civics (EL/Civics) content into their adult English as a second language (ESL) classrooms.
    • Citizenship Foundation Skills and Knowledge Clusters: A short booklet highlighting the knowledge and skills needed for students to be successful on the naturalization interview and test. This content provides teachers with a context for instruction and a framework for organizing citizenship curriculum.
    • Expanding ESL, Civics, and Citizenship Education in Your Community—A Start-Up Guide: A "how-to" manual offering recommendations to help organizations design ESL and citizenship programs for immigrants.
    • Elements of Program Quality for Adult Citizenship Education: A document describing the key components of a high-quality English as a Second Language (ESL) and citizenship instruction program. Program administrators and teachers can use these Elements of Program Quality when designing, enhancing, or evaluating their adult citizenship education programs.
    • Adult Citizenship Education Strategies for Volunteers: Eight short modules teaching basic strategies for volunteers to help applicants prepare for the naturalization interview and test in adult citizenship education classrooms or other learning environments.
    • Interactive Practice Tests: Interactive practice tests to help students learn and practice commands, and focus on vocabulary that an applicant may hear during the naturalization interview. Teacher Guides accompany each of these interactive practice tests and can be found in the Teachers section of the Citizenship Resource Center.
    • The USCIS Naturalization Interview and Test Video: A short video providing an overview of the naturalization process and test. The Teacher Guide provides instructions and classroom activities for introducing five simulated dialogues between USCIS Officers and applicants.
    • Tip Sheets for Adult Citizenship Educators: Tip sheets providing instructors with basic educational strategies to prepare students for the naturalization test.

Naturalization Outcomes

As a final step in the test redesign process, USCIS conducted a series of records studies to evaluate applicant performance. 

The research analyzed pass rate data for the old naturalization test (from FY 2008) and new naturalization test (from FY 2010) as well as pass rate data from a previous records study (from FY 2003 and 2004). Based on the Records Study Comparison Report, applicant performance has improved with the introduction of the new test and is generally consistent with the pass rate reflected in USCIS’s ongoing analysis of internal case management data. Cumulative internal case management data show that 91% of all applicants who have taken the new test since Oct. 1, 2009 have passed.

Promoting the Importance of Citizenship

USCIS celebrates the achievements of those who have been successful in the naturalization process, the importance of citizenship, and the outstanding contributions of immigrants by:

  • Holding special naturalization ceremonies at historic landmarks;
  • Providing practical information to new citizens about the rights and responsibilities associated with citizenship; and
  • Recognizing the achievements of naturalized citizens.

Highlights in this area include:

  • Partnership with the National Park Service (NPS): On April 21, 2010, USCIS and NPS renewed their official partnership to enhance the meaning and stature of naturalization ceremonies. USCIS and NPS first signed the agreement in September 2006 to connect America’s newest citizens to national parks throughout the country. Since the partnership began, USCIS has coordinated special naturalization ceremonies at many of the 400 sites safeguarded by NPS around the country, including five events as part of the agency’s 2013 Constitution Week celebration.
  • U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet: In November 2010, USCIS began distributing the U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet to the more than 680,000 individuals who take the Oath of Allegiance each year. The packet provides useful information to help new citizens prepare to fully exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, along with practical tips on applying for a U.S. passport, updating Social Security records, registering to vote, and getting involved in the local community.
  • Outstanding American by Choice Initiative: Launched in February 2006, the Outstanding American by Choice initiative recognizes the significant contributions and achievements of naturalized citizens. More than 100 men and women from a variety of backgrounds and nearly all sectors of society have been recognized with this important honor. Notable recipients include:
    • Dr. Madeleine K. Albright, former Secretary of State;
    • Elie Wiesel, Author and Nobel Peace Prize Winner;
    • Franklin Chang Diaz, former NASA astronaut; and
    • Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of PepsiCo.

To learn more about the USCIS Office of Citizenship’s educational programs and initiatives, please visit the Citizenship Resource Center at www.uscis.gov/citizenship.

Last Reviewed/Updated: 07/17/2014