For many people, September conjures up happy memories of heading back to school, new backpack and supplies in tow. For new and aspiring citizens, September has additional significance: It’s when the federal government celebrates Constitution Week, a weeklong observance commemorating the adoption of the U.S. Constitution.
Observed Sept. 17–23, Constitution Week is a time devoted to promoting the study of our nation’s supreme law and recognizing new citizens. Sept. 17 marked Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, which provides a time for folks to reflect on the rights and responsibilities that come along with U.S. citizenship. It’s also a great time for aspiring citizens to learn more about the naturalization process.
To help promote Constitution Week, we teamed up with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to create new resources to complement existing citizenship-focused content as part of a national, multilingual public awareness campaign that launched this summer. Since last year, 18F has been working with USCIS to develop my.uscis.gov, a customer-facing site to help users navigate their relationship with the agency. The team included contractors, USCIS, and 18F employees. The resources that were just announced are only the most recent effort we’ve undertaken together.
Without further ado, here’s a quick rundown of the new and updated resources just announced by USCIS.
A new page with general information about naturalization
One of the main insights we took away from our user interviews is that USCIS customers would like more high-level information about the naturalization process: What it involves, how long it takes, what expectations USCIS has of the customer, and so on.
Our goal was to provide a single, easy-to-read reference for customers who are still deciding whether to apply for citizenship. It was our hope that, by seeing the steps of the naturalization process outlined, aspiring citizens might feel more optimistic about the process and more quickly get started with their applications.
To meet this user need, we created a What to expect page. Using clear, straightforward language, the page describes the main steps in the naturalization process, offering customers a comprehensive view of what they’re about to get into.
A new page that better communicates the rights and responsibilities of citizenship
Another of our goals was to provide USCIS customers with a quick reference to the rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens. The Citizenship Resource Center (CRC) already provides some great in-depth materials, and we drew on these as we built out a new marketing page.
If the CRC’s goal is to provide a comprehensive account of all the rights and responsibilities new citizens should know about, our goal was to translate that information into a fun, engaging page that would capture new customers’ attention. Our new, highly visual page links out to the existing CRC resources, making it easy for customers to quickly access more detailed information.
The new USCIS rights and responsibilities page.
More study resources for the civics test
If you’re not familiar with the naturalization process, you might not know that all would-be citizens are required to take a civics test as part of their application process. The test covers basics of U.S. history and government, and some of the questions can be difficult for test takers who haven’t spent time preparing.
To help customers hone their civics knowledge, the CRC provides practice civics tests in multiple formats and languages. These practice exams feature questions from the actual test; customers who study using these practice exams tend to perform better on the actual exam than those who don’t.
Our updates to the practice test make it even easier for customers to boost their civics knowledge. Some of these updates include:
Clearer, more concise questions — we rewrote as much material as possible in plain language.
Personalization — we now refer to the customer as “you,” which we hope mimics actual, face-to-face conversation.
More and higher-quality images to accompany the test questions to help visual learners solidify their knowledge.
An audio component that allows customers to hear recordings of all the test questions.
We built and tested these (and all other) features for mobile, so customers can practice the civics test whenever it’s most convenient for them — when they’re waiting in line, on the bus, on lunch break, or during other spans of spare time. And we’ll continue collecting user feedback as we develop new features, too, to ensure we’re best meeting our customers’ needs.
English or citizenship prep class locator
Last but not least, we introduced a new tool that will help customers find community-based English as a Second Language (ESL) resources. Just as aspiring citizens need to take a civics test, they also have to pass a brief English test to demonstrate their knowledge.
The class locator makes it easy for customers to find ESL classes and study groups near them. What’s more, the tool distinguishes between accredited and non-accredited classes, allowing customers to make the most informed decision possible. Customers can also use the locator to find nearby citizenship preparation classes, which will help them navigate the naturalization process.
The English and citizenship preparation class locator provides location and contact information.
Although participation in ESL classes is by no means required, many customers take the classes regardless. They’re a great way to practice conversational English, meet fellow aspiring citizens, and get involved in the community. Our hope is that, by making it easier for folks to find these classes, we’re encouraging increased community participation and inspiring more civic pride.
There’s more to come
We’re really excited to announce these new resources, and we’re just as excited for what’s to come. In all of our undertakings with USCIS, our goal is to create tools, features, and content that’s as informative as it is engaging, and that’s accessible to the broadest possible customer base. To achieve this goal, we’ll keep interviewing customers and using their feedback to help us help them.
Members of the 18F USCIS project team, including Erica Deahl and Jen Ehlers, also contributed to this blog post.