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U.S. removes Trump-era barriers to citizenship-test waivers for disabled immigrants

In 2020, the Trump administration nearly doubled the length of the form that immigrants with disabilities can use to apply for a citizenship-test waiver. The government recently shortened and simplified the form. Here, a person holds an American flag while participating in a naturalization ceremony to become a U.S. citizen in Miami in 2018.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has rolled out several changes to make the naturalization process more accessible for applicants with disabilities.

After months of public feedback, the federal agency has shortened and simplified its disability waiver, which is used to exempt immigrants with physical, mental or learning disabilities from the English and civics test requirements.

The revisions largely undo efforts by the former Trump administration to expand requirements for disabled applicants seeking to naturalize.

"The recent policy change is a big step in the right direction and a major improvement over the old policy," Laura Burdick, who works on disability waiver policies with the Catholic Legal Immigration Network, told NPR.

"It takes a much more humane approach," she added.

In a statement last week, USCIS Director Ur Jaddo said the revisions were part of President Biden's executive order to restore faith in the U.S. immigration system.

Among the steps to become voting citizens, immigrants are tested on how well they read, write and understand English and how much they grasp U.S. history and government. Since 1994, the federal government has allowed immigrants with disabilities to receive waivers for such requirements.

In 2020, the Trump administration nearly doubled the length of the disability waiver and added unnecessary complexity, Burdick said. USCIS itself has described some parts of the application as "redundant" and has said they "no longer have practical utility."

Questions such as how the applicant's disability affects their daily life, a description of the severity of the disability and how frequently they are treated by medical professionals have since been eliminated.

Another policy change gives applicants who did not properly complete their waiver the option to simply resubmit their form with updated information, rather than fill out entirely new paperwork.

Burdick said these policy improvements will remove barriers and create a more efficient pathway to citizenship for people with disabilities.

But there's more work to do, she added. Among her organization's concerns are the limited types of medical professionals allowed to certify accommodations.

"Many of the immigrants that we serve receive their primary care from a nurse practitioner, since they are often more accessible than medical doctors, especially in low-income communities," she said.

In the three quarters from October 2021 through June 2022, about 45,000 immigrants had applied for a disability waiver.

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