What's Happening in U.S. Citizenship Preparation?
by Jennifer Gagliardi
ESL/Citizenship teacher, Milpitas Adult School and OTAN Subject Matter Expert
posted May 2022
No new updates to the USCIS N-400 Application for Naturalization. No new updates to the USCIS 100 Questions. So, what's there to talk about in online U.S. Citizenship Prep? PLENTY!
To kick us off, in early 2022, CASAS launched two new YouTube channels to further support Citizenship and EL Civics instruction. The first channel, California CASAS Citizenship Preparation Support, currently has fifteen videos that address administration of CASAS citizenship assessments, particularly the Citizenship Interview Test (CIT 973/974) and best practices in Citizenship preparation courses. The second channel is California EL Civics Support, which includes Zoom recordings of the EL Civics meetings and topics such as the IELCE and WIOA funding. Expect regular addition of content to both channels.
Recent USCIS Developments
In January 2022, USCIS released a nineteen-minute video, Apply for Citizenship Online: How to File Your Application for Naturalization Online, which walks you through the online N-400 application process, including uploading evidence. This video is a much-needed corrective to non-USCIS demos which could not fully detail the process because of privacy concerns. Plus, this video includes N-400 section previews, so you can preview and pinpoint what you want your students to review. (Select Share, then click Start at mm:ss and select the start time of the section of the video to preview).
Please Note: before you show the Apply for Citizenship Online video, show your students the January 2019 video, How to Create a USCIS Online Account (which is also available in Spanish). Although this video is only two minutes, it reviews some challenging security features, notably two-step verification, strong passwords, and security questions. This is a perfect opportunity to review online safety and privacy.
On February 2, USCIS live-streamed a forum, USCIS Progress on Executive Orders, which announced the new USCIS mission statement:
USCIS upholds America's promise as a nation of welcome and possibility with fairness, integrity, and respect for all we serve.
USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou went on to introduce the leadership team members, who made brief comments about their departments' plans to address the Biden Administration's immigration-related executive orders. Their excitement about getting back to work was palpable. Wait times are a special concern to many applicants. On March 29, USCIS followed up their February 2 remarks with a detailed initiative to reduce backlogs and create new processing time targets.
And USCIS efforts are bearing fruit – applicants who have been waiting for over two years are finally being called in for their naturalization interviews! Furthermore, USCIS outreach teams have returned to the field. On March 30, Fresno Adult School hosted a teacher-training workshop led by officers from the USCIS Office of Citizenship, Washington D.C. It was so much fun to see my fellow Citizenship teachers again! And the USCIS team will be back for live workshops at the CASAS Summer Institute in San Diego from June 13 to 16.
New Resources for Citizenship
Besides the new set of "red flashcards" that the USCIS team handed out at the workshop was the introduction of A More Perfect Union: The USCIS Civics Test Guide to the Monuments and Memorials on the National Mall, a series of free downloadable pdfs which connects the monuments and memorials on the National Mall to the naturalization civics test. Each guide describes the monument or memorial and identifies the content that appears on the naturalization civics test. The guides also serve as a bridge between the USCIS low beginning and intermediate civics lessons. To extend the content, pair these guides with the memorials' NPS.gov National Mall homepage, download the official NPS Parks app, and watch videos from YouTube and TikTok.
Hint: Ninety-nine out of the one hundred USCIS are covered by the A More Perfect Union National Mall series – see if your students can find the one civics question that wasn't included and match this question with a monument or memorial near the National Mall. Look for a new series inspired by New York City in the near future.
Citizenship on Social Media
Although USCIS has always maintained a social media presence, their current #USCISAnswers and #FilingTips campaigns are particularly effective. These "FAQ gifs" pop up as Instagram/Facebook Stories or Twitter posts that match a Frequently Asked Question with a USCIS tool or resource that can provide quick relief. In the gifs' comments, USCIS provides a direct link to the appropriate resource. Although teachers must refrain from giving legal advice, we can inform ourselves and students about USCIS procedures and practices.
Since we are on the subject of social media, one of the funniest and most informative accounts is the TSA Transportation Security Administration on Instagram. This official government account describes itself as the source of "Travel Tips & Dad Joke Hits." Besides learning about basic safety and laws, these posts generate lively discussions about English (!) as students try to unpack pun after pun about crimes and smuggling. HINT: Check out the Year's Top Finds on the TSA YouTube channel—hysterical! Of further interest: A Day in the Life of TSA Employees videos . . . SECOND HINT: Jobs! TSA is hiring!
Citizenship Resources at USA Learns
Many adult education programs adopted and adapted the USALearns.org Citizenship course to their distance learning programs during the COVID-19 lockdown. Combining USA Learns Citizenship with weekly mock interviews via Zoom or Google Meet and CASAS civics assessments successfully yielded new citizens but proved to be time intensive. As citizenship courses return to in-person, USA Learns Citizenship can complement in-class instruction.
The USA Learns team is getting ready to launch a new course, Access America. This course is an updated, online version of the old USCIS publication, Welcome to the United States: A Guide for New Immigrants, and is available to download in 14 languages. This online course complements the standard intermediate Adult Education ESL civics curriculum, addresses immediate, real-life problems (such as finding a new home, a job, and childcare) and could be quite useful as an introduction to CASAS COAPPS instruction.
What to look forward to? LOWER CITIZENSHIP CASE PROCESSING TIMES! In addition, the further development and sharing to Canvas Commons of Citizenship Prep courses and modules. And new ways to use civics and citizenship curriculum to empower today's adult learners to become tomorrow's community leaders.