US to Unveil New Citizenship Test
By Ben Arnoldy

Boston: To gain American citizenship, immigrants must be able to answer such questions as: What was the 49th state added to our Union What color are the stars on our flag? And who wrote the Star Spangled Banner?
Sound trivial? The US government thinks so, and plans to roll out a new pilot test this winter.
It will continue to be an oral test, conducted in English, and will have 10 questions. Six correct answers will earn a passing grade. But the content, which is tightly under wraps, is expected to shun simple historical facts about America that can be recounted in a few words for more explanation about the principles of American democracy, such as freedom.
The changes raise the bar - critics say too high - for immigrants to show not only that they care enough to study for a test, but also that they understand and share American values. Behind the shift is rising anxiety among Americans about high levels of immigration and European troubles with large, unassimilated communities, say observers.
"Whenever there is a large number of immigrants, people talk about having an assimilation policy," says John Fonte, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington. "We've always had an Americanization policy of some type [but] we haven't so much in the last 20, 30 years.... I'd see this as continuing that tradition, which Europe did not do."
Immigrant advocacy groups are wary of the changes, which coincide with a review at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) agency that is expected to call for a substantial hike in the $400 citizenship application fees.
"The administration is putting up [another] wall to citizenship for immigrants between a longer application process, higher fees, and what may very well be a more difficult test," says Ali Noorani, of the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition. "Immigration is a culture war today. Is the way to lessen the rhetoric in that war to administer a new test?"
Mr. Noorani is withholding final judgment on the changes until they become public Nov. 29.
The revisions are an effort, say officials, to make the test a more teachable moment - without making it more difficult. The questions and answers - which will be publicly available - are expected to draw on concepts in the nation's founding documents. The pilot will be rolled out on a trial basis in 10 cities across the country, including Boston . If participants fail, they can retake the regular test, a test that very few fail.
"Look at the Bill of Rights and some of the values and rights that are enshrined in [it]. Those could possibly be test question topics [as could] the meaning of democracy, the meaning of freedom," says Shawn Saucier, spokesman for the USCIS, adding that some immigrants "come from a culture, a government, a society that is completely removed from our concept of government…"
(Courtesy The Christian Science Monitor)


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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