Failed the English Exam for Citizenship: At Second Interview, Will I Have to Retake Civics Exam, Too?

What to expect upon re-examination by USCIS after failing to pass the English exam portion of the naturalization interview.

By , J.D., University of Washington School of Law

After submitting your Form N-400 to apply for U.S. citizenship, you're likely to wait many months for the interview at a USCIS office. Knowing this, some green card holders take a chance and submit the N-400 application even before they're really ready to prove their ability in speaking, reading, and writing English (one of the naturalization requirements). They hope to study hard before the interview. But if that strategy doesn't work, and the USCIS officer does not approve you for U.S. citizenship, it's not your last hope. You should (assuming that's the only reason your citizenship couldn't be granted) receive a letter for another date to go to USCIS and try again.

Of course, you will be studying English before the next interview. But some common and reasonable questions for people in this situation are:

  • "What will I need to do to pass the English exam at the second interview?"
  • "Do I also need to study the list of questions about U.S. history and government again?"
  • "What if I fail the English exam at the second interview?"

We'll answer those here.

What Happens at a Second Interview for U.S. Citizenship

This second naturalization interview at an office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is your final opportunity (within this part of the application process, at least) to pass the English exam that's required in order to be approved as a naturalized U.S. citizen. So you will definitely want to spend the time in between the two interviews (probably around 60 to 90 days) working hard on your knowledge of spoken and written English.

The USCIS officer will not use the same text passages to test your English this next time. In other words, you will be asked to read aloud a different portion of text than before, and to write down a different sentence in English.

If You Passed the Civics Exam Before, You Need Not Retake It at the Second Naturalization Interview

The good news is, the English exam is likely all you need to prepare for. Assuming you passed the civics exam portion of your naturalization interview, the next USCIS officer who examines you will not administer that particular test a second time. (This policy is stated in the USCIS Policy Manual.)

You can double check the reason you weren't approved. The USCIS officer should have given you a "results sheet" at the end of your first interview, clarifying the reasons. Take another look at that. Hopefully it will indicate that the English exam was the one and only factor in the officer's decision.

If the reason you've had difficulty learning English can be traced to age or disability, you might also look into whether you can ask for an exception to or waiver of the English language requirement.

If You Fail the English Exam at the Second Naturalization Interview

Best wishes at your upcoming interview! If for some reason it doesn't go well, and you are denied naturalization, you have two options.

You can, according to USCIS policy, appeal the decision by asking for a hearing. File Form N-336 within 30 days in order to make this request. This will give you one last chance to pass the English exam.

Or, you can submit a new N-400 to USCIS as soon as you feel ready to. There is no waiting period to refile if the only reason for denial was failure to pass one of the exams. Of course, you'll need to pass all the exams and go through a full interview at that time.

Getting Legal Help

Although an attorney can't help you learn English, it's worth consulting an experienced one if any legal issues arise in your naturalization case, or if you don't understand why your naturalization application was denied.

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