Disabilities and Citizenship

Posted by on Nov 4, 2022 in Government, People and Culture

Do you know what it takes for an immigrant to become a U.S. citizen? Applying for citizenship is a rigorous ten-step process that includes filling out forms, paying fees, participating in interviews, taking an English test and a civics test, and more. People with disabilities face unique challenges when applying for U.S. citizenship. Now, the federal government is taking steps to make the process easier for people with disabilities. Here, btw takes a closer look at some of these changes and their potential impact. 

A Commitment to Change 

On February 2, 2021, President Biden issued Executive Order 14012, “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration Systems and Strengthening Integration and Inclusion Efforts for New Americans.” In this executive order, the president noted that the United States is a country built on immigration and that it is the role of the federal government to identify and reduce barriers for immigrants, promoting integration and inclusion in citizenship. The executive order initiated an evaluation of the current immigration process to identify and address concerns and to eliminate potential barriers. The goal of this process will be to make the naturalization process more accessible for anyone who is eligible, including people with disabilities. 

A More Accessible Approach 

One of the key parts of the citizenship application is a two-part test in English and civics (U.S. history and government). Since 1994, an immigrant with mental, physical, or learning disabilities can apply for a waiver of this test. But in 2020, the federal government nearly doubled the length of the form required for the waiver and made it more complex. The new form required an immigrant with disabilities to answer additional questions about the nature of their disability, how it affects their daily life, how frequently they see a doctor for their disability, and more. These are questions that even the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office (USCIS) admitted are unnecessary and redundant. On top of that, beginning in 2020, immigrants who filled out the form incorrectly had to start their paperwork all over again.  

The Biden administration has reversed many of these policy changes. It shortened the form and removed many unnecessary personal questions. Also, if someone makes a mistake while filling out the form, they can now go back and change the error, rather than having to start from the beginning. About 45,000 immigrants applied for a disability waiver in just the seven months from October 2021 to June 2022, so the changes have the potential to impact a lot of people.  

The Road Ahead 

Even though changes are happening to make things more inclusive, there is still more work to be done to make the citizenship process fairer and more equitable for people with disabilities. For example, currently, a person must have a statement from a medical doctor in order to qualify as a person with disability. But many immigrants, particularly those in low-income communities, often seek care from a nurse practitioner rather than a doctor, since nurse practitioners are usually more accessible and affordable.  

Dig Deeper Read the text of Executive Order 14012. Discuss the information with your classmates.