Aspiring US citizens to face new set of questions

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Washington, Sep 28 (UNI) The United States immigration authorities have come up with 100 new queries in the question bank of the citizenship test, which is compulsory for all those immigrants who want to become naturalised citizens.

Now, the ''aspiring'' Americans need not know who wrote what and who said what, but be knowledgeable about the structure of the government and history and geography of the country.

The new test, to be used after October 1, 2008, has been designed and administered by an agency-- Citizenship and Immigration Services.

''The test is not intended to be punitive and we do not seek to fail anyone, '' senior official of the agency and one of the architects of the test, Alfonso Aguilar was quoted by the New York Times as saying.

Talking to mediapersons here yesterday, Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services Emilio Gonzalez said ''This test genuinely talks about what makes an American citizen.'' The immigration officials said that they sought ''to move away from civics trivia to emphasise basic concepts about the structure of government and American history and geography.'' The previous test could be passed without any study but the new one required a thorough knowledge.

The new test has been designed after a prolonged discussion of over six years with historians, immigrant organisations and liberal and conservative research groups.

''The new test is part of our effort to move forward on the hotly disputed issue of immigration by focusing on the assimilation of legal immigrants who have played by the rules, leaving aside the situation of some 12 million illegal immigrants here,'' the officials added.

On the pilot runs of the latest test, being conducted for four months, Mr Aguilar said, ''The pass rates improves over the current tests, with 92 per cent of participants passing on the first try, as opposed to 84 per cent now.'' ''At least 15 questions have been eliminated as a result of the pilot because they proved too difficult. For example, a question about the minimum wage was dropped because test takers were confused between federal and state rates,'' he added.

The test was not intended to be a comprehensive review, but rather to include landmark moments of American history that apply to every single citizen, he mentioned.

Replacement of Pilgrim fathers by 'colonists' and 'slavery and the civil rights movement' are the main areas of study in the test.

A question has been added about the 9/11 attacks.

There are neither any questions about the 49th and 50th states nor about the White House, but there are queries about the political affiliation of the president and the Statue of Liberty.

The revised test saw a mixed set of reactions. While the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights called it ''the final brick in the second wall'', historian Gary Gerstlels termed it a ''fair test''.

The citizenship test was created in 1986 as a standardised examination and since then it has been criticised by all.

Conservatives termed the test too easy while the immigrant advocates found it ''too hard.'' With the addition of new queries, the conservatives seemed satisfied. However, the immigrant groups felt the test would become more ''daunting''.

Favouring the new set of queries, historians said the new questions had successfully incorporated more ideas about the working of American democracy and better touched upon the diversity of the groups including women, American Indians and African-Americans, who had influenced the country's history.

In the US, immigrants are eligible to become citizens if they have been legal permanent residents for at least five years (or three years if they are married to a citizen) and have 'good moral character' with no criminal record.

With no changes in the overall format, the legal immigrants have to pass the civics exam, a test of English proficiency in reading and writing and a personal interview by the immigration officer.


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