By Atty. Paul Choi

(Paul Choi is an immigration attorney practicing in Encino, California. As a public service, he will answer all questions regarding immigration and naturalization for free either by mail, email at, on the phone, or in person or you may contact his administrator, Philip Abramowitz at 818 714-2226, or The following is one such question and the answer by Mr. Choi.)
Question: My mother has been a greencard holder for over 20 years. She wants to spend more time in the Philippines and is worried that if she stays outside the U.S. for too long she may lose her permanent residence in the U.S. She is considering filing for naturalization as an American citizen but she has not filed yet because she does not speak English well. Can she file for naturalization? How hard is the exam? Can she pass?

Answer: For those who are not aware you don’t always have to speak English to become an American citizen. There are a number of rules that permit persons who cannot read, write or speak English to become American citizens through naturalization. These rules are not well known or publicized so I will discuss them here.

For many years U.S. Immigration Laws have provided for special privileges for persons seeking naturalization who have lived here for a long time. The four numbers to remember are 50/20 and 55/15. What do these figures mean? Firstly, persons who are more than 50 years old and who have been lawful permanent residents for more than 20 years can file for naturalization and not prove the ability to speak, read or understand English. Also, persons who are more than 55 years old and have lived here as permanent residents for more than 15 years can also file for naturalization without having to prove knowledge of the English language. For both of these classes of permanent residents seeking naturalization, there is still the requirement of knowledge of American government and civics.

However, when demonstrating a knowledge of American history or civics, the applicants may have the questions posed in their native dialect and may respond likewise through an interpreter. For example, persons who only speak and understand Tagalog, may have a Pilipino interpreter provided by the USCIS translate during the naturalization interview.

They may still have to answer the questions such as “Who is the present President?” But, they can have the question translated into Tagalog and likewise respond in their native language. This process lets persons who don’t understand English pass the naturalization exam. So, with these procedures in effect, there is no reason for a qualified person to miss out on American citizenship and the many benefits it brings.

Persons who don’t have the requisite 15 or 20 years of permanent residence and the advanced age, may still be able to waive the English language requirement if it can be proven that due to medical or psychological reasons, they are unable to comprehend or respond to the questions posed. Such an application will require the certification of a physician but persons who have dementia, Alzheimers, mental illness, blindness or other disability may be relieved from both the civics and English language requirement.

Likewise, persons with severe disabilities may also be relieved from the requirement that they take the oath of allegiance to the U.S. if it can be shown that they are unable to understand the oath. To date, thousands of applicants have been naturalized without having to pass the civics or English language examinations due to mental or physical disability.

American citizenship is the highest honor that can be bestowed on an immigrant. It provides many benefits such as eased travel restrictions, voting rights, the ability to petition spouses, parents, children and siblings for permanent residence, ability to serve on a jury, unlimited absences from the U.S. without risk of loss of citizenship, and the protection of the U.S. when traveling abroad.

To encourage naturalization, my law firm is offering our services to prepare and file for naturalization for most persons for the steeply discounted price of only $150. Take advantage of the privilege of American citizenship and file for naturalization today and let me welcome you as my fellow American.


Atty Paul Choi will answer all questions regarding immigration, naturalization and deportation defense for FREE. Contact him or Philip Abramowitz at HYPERLINK “” or at 818 714-2226. He is located at 16000 Ventura Blvd, Ste. 1201, Encino, California 91436.