Posted on: January 12th, 2013
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In our Ask section of the SIB, attorney Ari Sauer answers immigration law questions sent in by our readers. If you enjoy reading this section, we encourage you to visit Ari’s blog, The Immigration Answer Man, where he provides more answers to your immigration questions. You can also follow The Immigration Answer Man on Facebook and Twitter.

If you have a question on immigration matters, write We can’t answer every question, but if you ask a short question that can be answered concisely, we’ll consider it for publication. Remember, these questions are only intended to provide general information. You should consult with your own attorney before acting on information you see here.


1) QUESTION: My mom is a green card holder. She is 73. She has been a resident since 2002. Does she have to be able to read and write English in order to apply for US citizenship? She cannot read or write even in her native language.

ANSWER: As a general rule, applicants for US citizenship through naturalization must be able to demonstrate a basic ability to read, write and understand English. Applicants for naturalization must also be able to pass a civics exam in English, where the person is asked questions about US history and government.

There are some limited exceptions to these requirements:

  • Age Exception: The ability to read and write English is waived for 1) someone who is over 50 years old and has lived in the US as a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years or 2) someone who is over 55 and has lived in the US as a Permanent Resident for at least 15 years. These applicants do not have to be able to read or write English. They still have to pass the civics exam, but the exam can be given in their native language.
    • Someone who is over 65 and has been living in the US as a Permanent Resident for at least 20 years is eligible to take an easier version of the civics exam, where they are only asked 10 questions from a list of 25 questions (the normal civics exam is 10 questions out of 100 available questions).
  • Medical Waiver: Someone who has a physical, developmental, or mental disability or impairment that causes the person to be unable to learn English or to learn the information necessary to pass the civics exam can receive a waiver from the English or civics exam requirement. However it is not easy to obtain such a waiver due to the very strict requirements for such a waiver. An experienced immigration lawyer should be retained to assist in the preparation of such a waiver.

So in the situation presented by the author of this question, his mother would not be eligible for an age-based exception. Although she is over 55, she has not been a US Permanent Resident for more than 15 years. She is also not eligible for the easier version of the civics exam, since she has not been a US Permanent Resident for more than 20 years.

So she must be able to speak, read and write in English and take the civics examination unless she has a medical or psychological disability that makes her unable to learn English or unable to learn the information needed for the civics exam. The fact that she is illiterate in her own language does not remove these requirements, unless there is a medical reason for her illiteracy.

2) QUESTION: I am working in the U.S. on an H-1B visa. I have traveled abroad several times. I was looking at my I-94 card recently and saw that even though I came into the U.S. in May of this year, the expiration date on my I-94 says it expires in 2008. How do I have this corrected?

ANSWER: With the large number of I-94 Entry Exit Documents issued each year, sometimes Customs and Border Protection officers do write down the wrong expiration date on an I-94. It is important to correct these errors, as the I-94 is the document that controls a person’s status within the U.S.

Luckily, it is fairly simple to have an error corrected on an I-94 card issued at a port of entry. You can do this at your local CBP office. You do not have to go back to the port of entry that issued the I-94. Any CBP office can make the correction. I recommend that you call the CBP office first as most offices will only allow you to come on certain days or by appointment only. You can find you local CBP office at



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