USCIS Civics Test Act

Federal Legislation to Strengthen the USCIS Civics Test


The Civics Education Initiative (CEI) worked since ca. 2015 to pass state laws requiring high school students, as a condition of graduation, to pass the U.S. Civics Test, administered by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to immigrants who wish to be naturalized. The CEI wished to base civics education on a core of factual knowledge and to prevent state education bureaucrats from using their powers to draft curricula and standards to eliminate factual knowledge from public K-12 curricula and replace it with social justice propaganda and/or action civics. The CEI relied on the already-extant U.S. Civics Test as the basis of that factual knowledge rather than ask state legislators to draft their own core knowledge list—which practically would result in state legislators delegating the task of assembling that core knowledge list to state education bureaucrats.

The CEI had remarkable success: 5 states have passed into law a rigorous version of the CEI model bill, 20 states have passed laws that incorporate elements of the CEI model bill, and bills to pass CEI model legislation, or elements thereof, have been introduced in a further 22 states. The CEI itself appears to be moribund as an active political force, but state bills based on the CEI continue to be introduced in state legislatures.

Civics education in the states therefore depends on which Civics Test the USCIS uses. The Trump administration briefly replaced the 100-question 2008 Civics Test with a more rigorous 128-question 2020 Civics Test, before the Biden administration reverted to the 2008 Civics Test. These rapid changes make it clear that the Civics Test is now susceptible to partisan change. Given that radical advocates have attempted to substitute radical propaganda for civics education in a remarkably wide sphere of American life, it is reasonable to worry that they will attempt to degrade the Civics Test as well, both to propagandize immigrants directly and to worsen civics education in the states.

We therefore propose a model bill to revise 8 CFR § 312.2 – Knowledge of history and government of the United States. Our model bill adds two subsections to 8 CFR § 312.2—the two subsections in red text in our Model Legislative Text below. The first subsection directs the USCIS to use the more rigorous 128-question 2020 Civics Test. The second subsection stipulates that in the future a revised Civics Test will only be implemented if it receives the approval of the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President. This subsection will prevent the federal bureaucracy from enacting changes on its own authority that will, as a result of state laws, change the civics curriculum in half the nation.


8 CFR § 312.2 – Knowledge of history and government of the United States.

§ 312.2 Knowledge of history and government of the United States.

(a) General. No person shall be naturalized as a citizen of the United States upon his or her own application unless that person can demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government, of the United States. A person who is exempt from the literacy requirement under § 312.1(b) (1) and (2) must still satisfy this requirement.

(b) Exceptions.

(1) The requirements of paragraph (a) of this section shall not apply to any person who is unable to demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of the history, and of the principles and form of government of the United States because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, that already has or is expected to last at least 12 months. The loss of any cognitive skills based on the direct effects of the illegal use of drugs will not be considered in determining whether an individual may be exempted. For the purposes of this paragraph the term medically determinable means an impairment that results from anatomical, physiological, or psychological abnormalities which can be shown by medically acceptable clinical or laboratory diagnosis techniques to have resulted in functioning so impaired as to render an individual to be unable to demonstrate the knowledge required by this section or that renders the individuals unable to participate in the testing procedures for naturalization, even with reasonable modifications.

(2) Medical certification. All persons applying for naturalization and seeking an exception from the requirements of § 312.1(a) and paragraph (a) of this section based on the disability exceptions must submit  Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, to be completed by a medical or osteopathic doctor licensed to  practice medicine in the  United States or a clinical psychologist licensed to  practice psychology in the  United States (including the  United States territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands).  Form N-648 must be submitted as an attachment to the applicant’s Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. These medical professionals shall be experienced in diagnosing those with physical or mental medically determinable impairments and shall be able to attest to the origin, nature, and extent of the medical condition as it relates to the disability exceptions noted under § 312.1(b)(3) and paragraph (b)(1) of this section. In addition, the medical professionals making the disability determination must sign a statement on the Form N-648 that they have answered all the questions in a complete and truthful manner, that they (and the applicant) agree to the release of all medical records relating to the applicant that may be requested by the Service and that they attest that any knowingly false or misleading statements may subject the medical professional to the penalties for perjury pursuant to title 18, United States Code, Section 1546 and to civil penalties under section 274C of the Act. The Service also reserves the right to refer the applicant to another authorized medical source for a supplemental disability determination. This option shall be invoked when the Service has credible doubts about the veracity of a medical certification that has been presented by the applicant. An affidavit or attestation by the applicant, his or her relatives, or guardian on his or her medical condition is not a sufficient medical attestation for purposes of satisfying this requirement. 

(c) History and government examination – 

(1) Procedure. The examination of an applicant’s knowledge of the history and form of government of the United States must be given orally in English by a designated immigration officer, except:

(i) If the applicant is exempt from the English literacy requirement under 8 CFR 312.1(b), the examination may be conducted in the applicant’s native language with the assistance of an interpreter selected in accordance with 8 CFR 312.4 but only if the applicant’s command of spoken English is insufficient to conduct a valid examination in English;

(ii) The examination may be conducted in the applicant’s native language, with the assistance of an interpreter selected in accordance with 8 CFR 312.4, if the applicant is required to satisfy and has satisfied the English literacy requirement under 8 CFR 312.1(a), but the officer conducting the examination determines that an inaccurate or incomplete record of the examination would result if the examination on technical or complex issues were conducted in English, or

(iii) The applicant has met the requirements of 8 CFR 312.3.

(2) Scope and substance. The scope of the examination will be limited to subject matters prescribed by USCIS. In choosing the subject matters, in phrasing questions and in evaluating responses, due consideration must be given to the applicant’s:

(i) Education,

(ii) Background,

(iii) Age,

(iv) Length of residence in the United States,

(v) Opportunities available and efforts made to acquire the requisite knowledge, and

(vi) Any other elements or factors relevant to an appraisal of the adequacy of the applicant’s knowledge and understanding.

(3) Examination to be used.  The USCIS will use the 128-question 2020 Version of the Civics Test as the examination.

(4) Legislative review.  Future USCIS revisions to the Civics Test shall be subject to legislative review as set forth in this section. Revisions to the Civics Test shall not be implemented by the USCIS until the legislative review process is completed as provided for in this section:

(i) Upon adoption of a revised Civics Test, the USCIS shall submit the revised Civics Test to the Speaker of the House of Representatives or a designee, the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives or a designee, the Presiding Officer of the Senate or a designee, the Majority Leader of the Senate or a designee, and the Minority Leader of the Senate or a designee, prior to the last thirty (30) days of the legislative session;

(ii) The revised Civics Test shall not be implemented unless it is approved within the legislative session by the House of Representatives, the Senate, and the President.

The National Association of Scholars, in consultation with other supporters and friends of the Civics Alliance, drafted these model bills to translate into legislative language the principles in the Civics Alliance’s Civics Curriculum Statement & Open Letter. Just as these bills have been drafted with the expectation that different states will modify them as they see fit, they also have been drafted with the expectation that not every supporter of the Civics Alliance will endorse these bills or every part of them. Individual Civics Alliance signatories and supporters should not be assumed to have endorsed these bills, unless they say so explicitly.