November 8, 2022

65/20 Rule Waiver exceptions

By Anish Parikh
Founding Partner, Parikh Law Group

Through our immigration practice, we often receive inquiries from existing or potential clients, family and friends about U.S. citizenship test requirements for their elderly parents. Many express fears in applying for citizenship for their parents because of the English language and civics exam requirements. In addition to having questions pertaining to indefinite permanent residency status vs. embarking on the path to citizenship, one of the most asked questions is “Will my parents have to take the citizenship tests, and if so, do they have to take them in English?”

The short answer is yes – all applicants for naturalization are required to take some version of these tests. However, there are some age-related exemptions available to elderly individuals and whether these exceptions apply depends on the number of years an elderly parent has resided within the Unites States, their age, and, in some cases, whether or not they have a disability.

After all other eligibility and application requirements are met, an applicant for citizenship will be requested to come in to a USCIS office for an interview. At the interview, the USCIS office will communicate in English, with the expectation that any applicant would be able to understand their questions and instructions. Also, interviewees will be asked to read a passage in English and write a sentence afterwards as dictated by the officer. During this phase of the interview, the officer will observe the applicant’s responses to the prompts and the conversation in general and make a recommendation for passing this part of the exam accordingly.

The second part of the meeting will consist of a civics exam, which is a test on American history. Applicants are asked to study from 100 questions provided on the USCIS website. The USCIS officer will ask a foreign national 10 of these questions, and applicants are required to answer 6 out of 10 questions correctly in order to receive a passing score.

For both exam requirements, exceptions may apply depending on an applicant’s age and number of years residing in the United States. For the English exam requirement, either the 50/20 waiver or the 55/15 waiver may be requested if conditions are met. The 50/20 waiver applies if a foreign national is at least 50 years of age and has held permanent residency status for at least 20 years. Similarly, the 55/15 waiver applies to applicants who are at least 55 years of age and have resided in the United States as permanent residents for at least 15 years. Under these waivers, an applicant may request that the interview and English language exam be conducted in their native language using a language interpreter of their choice, which may be a family member.

For the civics exam, there is one available waiver, called the 65/20 rule. Similar to the English exam exemptions discussed above, the 65/20 rule applies to applicants who are age 65 years or older and who have held legal permanent resident status in the U.S. for a minimum of 20 years. Under this exemption, due to the applicant’s advanced age or other reasons, the applicant will still be required to take the civics exam; however, the question pool will be reduced to just 20 questions. The interviewee will still be required to get 6 out of 10 of these questions correct in order to receive a passing score. Also, the applicant may take this portion of the test in their native language if they bring their own interpreter. For this test, if an applicant does not meet the 65/20 waiver requirements, they will be expected to take the test and study from the full 100 question pool. However, because the civics exam consists of memorizing facts and both the questions and answers are posted on the USCIS website, this component should be fairly easy to pass even for an applicant who meets the 50/20 or 55/15 English exam language waivers, as they can study in advance. USCIS views basic factual knowledge of American history and civics as fundamental to naturalization, and therefore limits the number of cases where waiver may be granted for this component.

It is also noteworthy that both the English and civics exams may be subject to complete waiver if the applicant is unable to learn English because of a physical, developmental, or mental disability. Under this exemption, they would need to submit a form N-648 with a statement from a medical doctor containing information about the condition and how it affects their ability to learn English. If approved, the entire meeting will be conducted in the foreign national’s native language through the assistance of a self-selected interpreter.

If you are thinking about applying for citizenship for an elderly family member, feel free to reach out to PLG with any questions you may have. Our immigration attorneys are happy and willing to assist with your case and have represented thousands of clients on their paths to citizenship.