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Citizenship: English Language Exemptions

Age Exemptions to the English Exam

Request for Accommodations

Medical Accommodations

Sufficient Form N-648

One of the requirements for U.S. citizenship is that you pass an English exam as part of the N-400 Application for Naturalization process. After submitting a Form N-400 Application for Naturalization, you will be scheduled for an interview at your local USCIS Field Office, where the English exam will be administered as part of the interview process. You will be required to read a sentence written in English and then the USCIS officer will read a sentence in English that you must write out by hand (spelling doesn’t count, so you can write words phonetically).

There are exceptions and modifications to the naturalization requirements that are available to those who qualify for U.S. citizenship. USCIS also provides accommodations for individuals with disabilities. The general exemptions to the English requirement based on age are described below.

English Language Exemptions

You are exempt from the English language requirement, but are still required to take the civics test if you are1:

  • Age 50 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident (Green Card holder) in the United States for 20 years (commonly referred to as the “50/20” exception).
    OR
  • Age 55 or older at the time of filing for naturalization and have lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years (commonly referred to as the “55/15” exception).
NOTE:
  • Even if you qualify for the “50/20” or “55/15” English language exceptions listed above, you must still take the civics test.
  • You will be permitted to take the civics test in your native language.
  • If you take the test in your native language, you must bring an interpreter with you to your interview.
  • Your interpreter must be fluent in both English and your native language.
  • If you are age 65 or older and have been a permanent resident for at least 20 years at the time of filing for naturalization, you will be given special consideration regarding the civics requirement.

For more information, see the USCIS Policy Manual Citizenship and Naturalization Guidance.

Requesting Accommodations

USCIS has established policies and procedures for handling and processing accommodation requests, which include:

  • Providing information locally as needed on how to request accommodations;
  • Designating a point-of-contact to handle accommodation requests whenever possible;
  • Responding to inquiries and reviewing accommodation requests timely;
  • Establishing internal processes for receiving and for properly filing requests; and
  • Processing requests and providing accommodations whenever appropriate.

Submitting the Request

It is the applicant’s responsibility to request an accommodation in advance, each time an accommodation is needed. Generally, the applicant, his or her attorney or accredited representative, or legal guardian should request an accommodation concurrently with the filing of the naturalization application. However, an applicant may also call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY: 1-800-767-1833), use the online accommodations request form in order to request an accommodation, or request an accommodation with the field office at any time during the naturalization process.

Timeliness of Request

The field office’s ability to provide an accommodation on the date that it is needed may be affected by the timeliness of the accommodation request. Some types of accommodations do not require advance notice and can be immediately provided. This may include a USCIS employee speaking loudly or slowly to an applicant, or allowing additional time for an applicant to answer during the examination. Other types of accommodations may be difficult to provide without advance planning. This may include providing a sign language interpreter, additional time for the examination, or scheduling an applicant for an off-site examination.

Documentation and Evidence

USCIS evaluates each request for an accommodation on a case-by-case basis. While an applicant is not required to include documentation of his or her medical condition, there may be rare cases where documentation is needed to evaluate the request.

Providing Accommodations as Requested

If an accommodation is warranted, a field office should provide the accommodation on the date and time the applicant is scheduled for his or her appearance. The field office should aim to provide the requested accommodation without having to reschedule the applicant’s appointment. If an accommodation cannot be provided for the scheduled appointment, the applicant and his or her attorney or accredited representative should be notified as soon as possible. The applicant’s appointment should be rescheduled within a reasonable period of time.2

Medical Disability Exceptions to English and Civics

You may be eligible for an exception to the English and civics naturalization requirements if you are unable to comply with these requirements because of a physical or developmental disability or a mental impairment.

In 1994, Congress enacted legislation providing an exception to the English and civics requirements for naturalization applicants who cannot meet the requirements3 because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.4

The English and civics requirements do not apply to naturalization applicants who are unable to comply due to a “medically determinable” physical or developmental disability or mental impairment that has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months. The regulations define medically determinable as an impairment that results from abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnostic techniques.5

The applicant must demonstrate that the applicant has a disability or impairment that affects functioning such that the applicant is unable to meet the English and civics requirements for naturalization, even with reasonable accommodations6.

A licensed medical professional7 must complete a Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648) and certify, under penalty of perjury, that the applicant’s physical or developmental disability or mental impairment prevents the applicant from meeting the English requirement, the civics requirement, or both requirements.

To request this exception, submit Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions8. This form must be completed by a licensed medical or osteopathic doctor, or licensed clinical psychologist.

The Form N-648 should be submitted with your Form N-400 Application. If you did not submit the Form N-648 with your N-400 then you can submit it at a later date, but you should bring a copy of the form to your interview and a letter from

For more information see USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 3 – Medical Disability Exception

Authorized Medical Professionals

USCIS only authorizes the following licensed medical professionals to certify the disability exception form:

  • Medical doctors;
  • Doctors of osteopathy; and
  • Clinical psychologists.9

These medical professionals must be licensed to practice in any state of the United States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands of the United States, or the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. 

 Sufficient Form N-648

A request for a medical disability exception is sufficient if it contains the following information:​

  • Clinical diagnosis of the applicant’s physical or developmental disability or mental impairment;[20]
  • Indication as to whether the physical or developmental disability or mental impairment has lasted, or is expected to last, at least 12 months;
  • Statement that the physical or developmental disability or mental impairment is not the result of the illegal use of drugs;
  • Description of the clinical methods used to diagnose the physical or developmental disability or mental impairment;
  • Date that the medical professional last examined the applicant for the physical or developmental disability or mental impairment;[21] and
  • A sufficient explanation of how the applicant’s physical or developmental disability or mental impairment prevents the applicant from meeting the English requirement, the civics requirement, or both requirements.

In addition the Form N-648 is completed, certified, and signed by all appropriate parties[22] and no significant discrepancies, or fraud indicators exist, based on the totality of evidence in the record, that call into question a finding of eligibility under a preponderance of the evidence standard.

The table below provides the general procedures for cases where an applicant qualifies for a medical disability exception. The procedures apply to any phase of the naturalization examination, including the initial examination, re-examination, or hearing on a denial.

If the Form N-648 is insufficient at the naturalization examination or hearing:

  • The officer must explain why they found the form insufficient in the applicant’s preferred language, using an interpreter if needed. 
  • USCIS proceeds with the initial examination, re-examination, or hearing on a denial as if the applicant had not submitted a Form N-648.
  • USCIS must provide the applicant with an opportunity to complete all portions of the English and civics requirements.
  • An applicant has a total of two opportunities to pass the English and civics requirements before the application for naturalization is adjudicated: once during the initial examination and then again during a re-examination, which is scheduled if the requirements are not passed at the initial examination. 
  • An applicant may decline to attempt to complete the English and civics requirements. However, declining to continue the interview or attempt to complete the requirements counts as a failed attempt to pass the English and civics requirements.[26]
  • An applicant’s failure to appear at the re-examination or hearing on a denial, or to complete the English or civics requirements for any reason, results in a denial, unless excused by USCIS for good cause.

If USCIS identifies deficiencies in a Form N-648, which the applicant is unable to sufficiently explain at the interview, an applicant does not have to submit a new Form N-648. USCIS will accept a previously submitted Form N-648 which contains updated or additional information. However, the resubmitted form must be re-signed and dated by the same medical professional who signed the original Form N-648. USCIS will accept a resubmitted Form N-648 under these circumstances even if a new edition of Form N-648 has been published since the Form N-648 was initially submitted, and the resubmitted form now has an expired edition date. USCIS will also accept a letter or other medical documentation addressing the Form N-648 deficiencies, if it is signed and dated by the same medical professional who signed the Form N-648.


Relevant Statutes:
8 USC 1443, 8 CFR 312.2(b)(2), INA 312(b)(1), INA 312(b), 8 CFR 312.1(b)(3), 8 CFR 312.2(b).

Footnotes

  1. https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/exceptions-and-accommodations ↩︎
  2. https://www.uscis.gov/policy-manual/volume-12-part-c-chapter-2 ↩︎
  3. The term “English and civics requirements” refers to demonstrating English language proficiency, which is determined by an ability to read, write, speak, and understand English, as well as knowledge of U.S. history and government, which is determined by a civics test. See Chapter 2, English and Civics Testing, Section A, Educational Requirements [12 USCIS-PM E.2(A)] ↩︎
  4. See INA 312(b)(1). See Section 108 of the Immigration and Nationality Technical Corrections Act of 1994, Pub. L. 103-416 (PDF), 108 Stat. 4305, 4309 (October 25, 1994) (adding INA 312(b)). ↩︎
  5. See INA 312(b). See 8 CFR 312.1(b)(3) and 8 CFR 312.2(b). ↩︎
  6. [^ 4] The applicant has the burden of proof by the preponderance of the evidence standard. ↩︎
  7. See Section on Authorized Medical Professionals or USCIS Policy Manual [12 USCIS-PM E.3(D)]. ↩︎
  8. Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions ↩︎
  9. See 8 CFR 312.2(b)(2). ↩︎

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