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Good Moral Character, English And Civics

by Gregory Siskind, Esq.

Previously we discussed the residency and physical presence requirements that naturalization applicants must meet.  This week we discuss the remaining requirements.

What are the English requirements for naturalization?

Naturalization applicants must be able to read, write and speak ordinary English.  There is no specific test for this, and the applicant’s ability with regard to English is determined in the course of the naturalization interview. 

Are there any exemptions for the English requirement?

A few limited groups of applicants are exempt from this requirement.  Those exempt are people who, because of a physical disability are unable to learn English, those with a mental handicap that makes it impossible to learn English, people over age fifty who have lived in the US as permanent residents for at least twenty years, and people over age fifty-five who have been permanent residents for at least fifteen years.

In the past few years, the USCIS has adopted definitions of physical and mental disabilities that are similar to the definitions used by federal agencies that run disability programs.  The impairment must be "medically determinable," which means that it must be based on an anatomical, physiological or psychological condition that can be shown by accepted medical techniques to render the person unable to learn English.  If reasonable steps could be taken to learn English, for example, a blind person using Braille, or a deaf person using sign language, the disability waiver is not available.  Even if the disability waiver is granted, most applicants must still demonstrate that they understand and agree with the oath of allegiance.  Under a law passed late last year, however, a waiver of the oath is provided for people who cannot understand it because of a disability.

What must I know about the United States before I am naturalized?

Naturalization applicants must also demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the history and government of the
US .  This is done by asking the applicant a number of questions from a standard list of 100 questions.  Generally, people who are exempt from the English language requirement are not exempt from this requirement.  They can use an interpreter during the examination.  Those exempt from the civics requirement include those who are physically or mentally unable to comply.  Also, applicants who are over age sixty-five and have been permanent residents for at least 20 years are given an easier test, having to answer only six questions correctly from a list of 25.

What additional requirements must I fulfill before being naturalized?
Naturalization applicants must also demonstrate good moral character.  The five years immediately preceding the application are closely examined, and certain criminal offenses during this period will automatically preclude a finding of good moral character.  The applicant’s entire life can also be examined.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind, Esq. is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.