This Insights article was contributed by Melanie Nelson, ESL Program Director for the Cape Fear Literacy Council.
The House of Representatives has how many voting members?
Uh, good question!
Who was president during World War I?
You know, I should know this one, but….
The above exchange resembles a game of Trivial Pursuit. However, these questions aren’t part of a game and the ability to answer correctly is not a trivial matter. The examples above come from the list of 100 civics questions that are part of the process for applying for naturalization.
To apply for citizenship, a person must have been living in the United States on a green card for five years, unless he or she is married to a U.S. citizen. In that case, the application may be submitted after three years. The cost of an application is $725. However, an applicant may be able to apply for a fee waiver or a fee reduction. Other requirements for citizenship may be found at www.uscis.gov.
The test actually begins once a candidate arrives for his appointment. Navigating small talk with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officers is the first chance for an applicant to demonstrate competence in the English language. English proficiency is a requirement for citizenship, unless the candidate meets certain age requirements, in which case he or she may use an interpreter to complete the process in a different language.
The interview begins with the civics test. Candidates must answer six out of 10 questions correctly. The next part of the test involves reading aloud and dictation. If the candidate is unable to complete any of these tests, he or she will be asked to try again on another day. This may happen up to two times for a given application.
After basic English proficiency has been established, the candidate will be interviewed on the information submitted in his or her application. This part of the process tests English language skills at a more advanced level. The interviewer will quiz the candidate randomly on responses to questions on the application, some of which involve very specialized vocabulary or specific sentence structures. Once the interview is over, the candidate may be recommended for citizenship. If so, a naturalization ceremony will be scheduled. At the ceremony, the candidate will say the oath of naturalization and will henceforward be a citizen of the United States.
At the Cape Fear Literacy Council, we assist people who wish to apply for citizenship in a variety of ways. First, we seek to help people become proficient in the English language through our English as a Second Language (ESL) program. Second, we offer a class in civics that covers all the topics on the list of 100 questions, giving students a background in U.S. history. Finally, we offer help in preparing the application for citizenship, applying for reduced fees and fee waivers, and practicing the interview.
Preparation is key, and our students are highly motivated to go through this process. Our volunteer tutors understand that this is not an experience to be taken lightly, and they are dedicated to helping our students prepare for what is assuredly not a trivial matter for our students or for our community.
Melanie Nelson is the ESL Program Director. She began volunteering at CFLC as a tutor for the Adult Literacy and ESL programs in 2014, and she is very excited to have the opportunity to serve CFLC as a staff member. Melanie holds a B .A. in Russian from the University of South Carolina. After college, she served on active duty in the United States Navy for five years. Upon leaving the military, she became involved with non-profits through AmeriCorps. She is currently pursuing a M.Ed. in L ifelong Learning and Adult Education through Penn State University’s World Campus. Melanie enjoys baking, Harry Potter and ballroom dancing... but not all at the same time.
Yasmin Tomkinson came to the Cape Fear Literacy Council as a volunteer tutor in 2002. It was a great experience, and she was very pleased to join the staff in 2004. She is now the Executive Director and enjoys working with adult learners and the volunteers who help them reach their goals. Yasmin studied Education and American History at Vassar College and got an MBA with a concentration in Non-Profit Management from Boston University. She worked for education-focused non-profits in rural Utah, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Boston before moving to Wilmington.