Guide to Naturalization in the United States

1. Introduction

This Guide summarizes the requirements and procedures to apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for naturalization. Naturalization is the manner in which a person not born in the U.S. voluntarily applies for citizenship.[1]

Contents

This Guide does not cover the special naturalization provisions for members of the U.S. Armed Forces and veterans. Please contact our firm for related information.

For information about whether naturalization in the U.S. would result in dual citizenship in the U.S. and your home country or loss of citizenship in your home country, see Country Profiles, Global Citizenship Observatory.

For other articles by Gary Chodorow on related topics, see:

2. Requirements for Naturalization

The requirements to apply for naturalization, discussed below, are that the applicant must: (1) be at least age 18; (2) have continuously resided in the U.S. for a specified period after becoming a lawful permanent resident (LPR); (3) have been physically present in the U.S. for a specified period; (4) have resided within a state or USCIS district for a specified period; (5) have good moral character; (6) have sufficient English language ability; (7) have knowledge of the U.S. government and history; (8) be attached to the Constitution; and (9) take the oath of allegiance.[2]

2.1 Age

Applicants must be at least 18 years old.[3]

2.2 Lawfully Admitted for Permanent Residence

The applicant must have been “lawfully admitted for permanent residence.”[4] A person granted lawful permanent resident (LPR) status illegally or by mistake does not qualify.[5]

Take, for example, a foreign national issued an immigrant visa on the basis of an approved labor certification and Form I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Relative, for a particular job. This person was admitted to the U.S. as an LPR by a U.S. Customs and Border Protection Officer. But if the person had no intent to perform the job described in the labor certification and Form I-140, they were not actually eligible to be admitted to the U.S. The officer made a mistake in admitting them, and they were not “lawfully” admitted for LPR status.[6]

2.3 Continuous Residence in the U.S. after Becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident

The General Rule

To be naturalized, an applicant must ordinarily prove a period of “continuous residence” in the United States:

immediately preceding the date of filing [their] application for naturalization [they have] resided continuously, after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, within the United States for at least five years … and [they have] resided continuously within the United States from the date of the application up to the time of admission to citizenship….[7]

Residency is defined as the applicant’s “principal, actual dwelling place in fact, without regard to intent.”[8] The purpose of the residence requirement is to establish a period of probation during which an applicant might be enabled to learn English, to be familiarized with U.S. customs and institutions, to shed foreign attachments, to acquire attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and government, to demonstrate law-abiding conduct, and generally to prove fitness to be accepted as a citizen of the U.S.[9]

The length of the continuous residence requirement is different than the normal 5 years under the following scenarios:

  • The continuous residence requirement is 3 years for an applicant who immediately preceding the date of filing the application has been married to and “living in marital union” with a U.S. citizen (who has been a U.S. citizen for all 3 years).[10] The term “living in marital union” means “actually resid[ing] with” one’s spouse,[11] so it can be lost through informal separation, although not through involuntarily separation.[12] While the couple must be “living in marital union” only up to the date of the filing, termination of the marriage at any time before the applicant takes the oath of allegiance makes the applicant ineligible under section 319(a).[13]
  • The continuous residence requirement is 3 years for a person who obtained LPR status by reason of their status as a spouse or child of a U.S. citizen who battered or subjected them to extreme cruelty, as long as the U.S. citizen has had citizen status during the entire 3-year period.[14]
  • Certain LPRs married to U.S. citizens stationed or employed abroad do not have any continuous residence requirement if the citizen spouse is employed by the U.S. Government (including the U.S. Armed Forces); an American research institution recognized by the Attorney General; recognized U.S. religious organizations; “an American firm or corporation engaged in whole or in part in the development of foreign trade and commerce of the United States, or a subsidiary thereof”; or certain public international organizations involving the U.S. (Ask our firm for further information). [15]

Early Filing

The statute allows an applicant to file their naturalization application as early as “3 months before the date the applicant” meets the continuous residence requirement,[16] so long as the requirement is met at the time of adjudication.[17] Oddly, USCIS regulations allow filing “90 days” early rather than “3 months early.”[18] Applicants should be sure to comply with the requirement of the regulations.

Caution: The early filing rule only applies to the continuous residence requirement. Applicants filing on the basis of having been married to and living in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse for the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the N-400 must still complete those requirements before filing. Specifically, before filing

  • the spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for all 3 years;
  • the couple must have been married for all 3 years; and
  • the couple must have lived in “marital union” for all 3 years.
  • the applicant must meet the physical presence requirement

Absence for a Continuous Period of One Year or More

Absences from the U.S. for a continuous period of 1 year or more absolutely shall disrupt the continuity of residence, except if USCIS has approved a Form N-470, Application to Preserve Naturalization for Naturalization Purposes, as discussed below.[19]

Absence for a Continuous Period of Between Six Months and One Year

According to statute, an absence of “more than six months but less than one year[20]” presumably “break[s] the continuity of residence, unless the applicant shall establish to the satisfaction of [USCIS] that he did not in fact” do so.[21] Further:

The types of documentation which may establish that the applicant did not disrupt the continuity of his or her residence in the United States during an extended absence include, but are not limited to, evidence that during the absence:

(A) The applicant did not terminate his or her employment in the United States;

(B) The applicant’s immediate family remained in the United States;

(C) The applicant retained full access to his or her United States abode; or

(D) The applicant did not obtain employment while abroad.[22]

I am not aware of any published cases interpreting this provision. But helpful analogies can be found in cases discussing whether residence has been established in the United States for other purposes under the Immigration and Nationality Act, such as INA § 301(c), 320(a)(3), 322(a)(4). Here are some examples:

  • Staying 2 weeks with one relative, then 2 weeks with another relative, then traveling for 2 weeks on vacation does not establish residence.[23]
  • Attending a 2-month camp for 3 summers in a row does not establish residence.[24]
  • Attending university for 3 years establishes residence, as does attending boarding school for 9 months,[25] or even living in a place as a high school foreign exchange student for 4 months.[26]
  • Working on a farm for 7 months except for several trips abroad of 1 week each or less during the summer does not establish residence.[27]

Besides the factors specified by USCIS, other factors which perhaps may be relevant include:

  • the specific length of your trip abroad;
  • the purpose of your trip abroad and the purpose of your return to the U.S.;
  • whether unforeseen circumstances caused an unavoidable delay in returning to the U.S.;
  • whether prior to departing the U.S. or while abroad you had specific plans you intended to return to the U.S. to carry out;
  • where your children attend school;
  • whether you have real estate or personal property in the U.S. or abroad;
  • whether you purchased or rented a residence abroad;
  • whether you have bank or other financial accounts in the U.S. or abroad;
  • whether you returned to the U.S. with a reentry permit;
  • where you have other relatives, including relatives who are not immediate family members.[28]
  • whether you applied for and were granted permanent resident status abroad;[29]
  • whether you filed U.S. income taxes during the period in question,[30] whether you filed as a nonresident alien, and whether your U.S. income taxes included a Form 2555 claimed a foreign-earned income exclusion under the “bona fide residence rule”; and
  • whether upon departing the U.S. you held a return ticket.

Absence for a Continuous Period Shorter Than Six Months

The USCIS Policy Manual instructs officers that absences of shorter than six months may break the continuous residence requirement:

An officer may also review whether an applicant with multiple absences of less than 6 months will be able to satisfy the continuous residence and physical presence requirements. In some cases, an applicant may not be able to establish that his or her principal actual dwelling place is in the United States or establish residence within the United States for the statutorily required period of time.[31]

Earlier instructions to officers in the Adjudicators Field Manual gave the following example[32]:

The applicant filed Form N-400 on September 8, 1999…. However, on June 15, 1999, he was sent overseas on an assignment by his employer, which is not an American corporation. He appeared for his interview on January 24, 2001. He informed the examining officer that he was on temporary work assignment in the U.K. and Russia. He acknowledged that he was at that time residing abroad with his spouse and children and gave his address in England. He was not gone for more than six months at any time, but his trips back to the U.S. from June 1999 to January 2001 were brief and sporadic.

The application should be denied for lack of continuous residence under Section 316 of the Act. He failed to reside continuously in the U.S. from the date of application for naturalization up to the time of admission to citizenship.

I understand the Policy Manual and Adjudicators Field Manual to be focusing on the word “residence,” which as mentioned above, is defined by the statute as one’s principal actual dwelling place.[33] If a person has clearly given up the U.S. as their principal actual dwelling place, it seems correct that merely visiting the U.S. once every several months is insufficient to “continuously reside” in the U.S. That was also the reasoning of an unpublished district court case.[34] There, the applicant visited the U.S. periodically, but had moved from the U.S. to Canada, after losing her U.S. job and selling her U.S. home. She transferred her cars and their registrations to Canada, canceled her U.S. phone and obtained a Canadian cell phone, canceled her U.S. health insurance, and filed U.S. tax returns as a nonresident. The court held that she did not “reside” in the U.S. and therefore did not meet the continuous residence requirement for naturalization.

Still, there is Supreme Court dicta that absences shorter than six months do not break continuous residence.[35]

The statute, INA § 316, is structured like this:

  • Paragraph (a) states the requirement that the applicant must have “resided continuously” within the U.S. for a specified period.
  • Paragraph (b) states that absence from the U.S. for more than six months but less than one year presumably breaks the continuity of residence.
  • Paragraph (c) states that absence from the U.S. for a continuous period of one year “shall break” the continuity of residence.

The statute is silent as to whether an absence from the U.S. shorter than six months can break the required period of continuous residence.

A number of scholars have concluded that since Congress explicitly listed in paragraphs (b) and (c) conditions breaking continuous residence, Congress did not intend for there to be another implicit condition that absences under six months may in certain situations break continuous residence.[36]

In any event, USCIS officers are required to follow the Policy Manual, so there may be further litigation on this issue.

After a Break in Continuous Residence, a New Period of Residence Is Required

Absence of 1 Year or More

USCIS regulations provide that if continuous residence is broken by an absence of 1 year or more, then:[37]

  • “An applicant … who must satisfy a five-year statutory residence period may file an application for naturalization four years and one day following the date of the applicant’s return to the United States to resume permanent residence.” And
  • “An applicant … who must satisfy a three-year statutory residence period may file an application for naturalization two years and one day following the date of the applicant’s return to the United States to resume permanent residence.

Updates to the Policy Manual seek to “clarify” that regulation.[38] The regulation focuses on when the N-400 may be filed, not when the applicant meets the statutory residence period. Take the example of an applicant who has been abroad for 1 year or more straight; they may “file” the N-400 4 years and 1 day after returning to the U.S. because then they will no longer have been abroad for 1 year straight during the new statutory residence period. But if they file on that day, they will still have been abroad for more than 6 months straight during the statutory residence period, meaning that the above presumption of a break still must be overcome. If the applicant waits until 4 year, 6 months, and 1 day after returning to the U.S. to file, then the applicant has not been abroad for 6 months straight during the new statutory residence period, so the presumption doesn’t apply.

USCIS summarizes the new period of residence requires in different scenarios:[39]

Statutory Residence Period

Absence During Statutory Residence Period

May Apply After…

5 years

More than 1 year

4 years and 6 months, or

4 years and 1 day (but must overcome presumption of break in continuity of residence)

3 years

More than 1 year

2 years and 6 months, or

2 years and 1 day (but must overcome presumption

of break in continuity of residence)

Absence of More than 6 Months (but Less than 1 Year)

Using similar reasoning, the Policy Manual states that the applicant who has interrupted their continuous residence by an absence of more than 6 months (but less than 1 year) abroad should wait to file the N-400 until he or she has met the new required statutory period of 3 or 5 years with no absence of more than 6 months. For example[40]:

An applicant who is subject to a 5-year statutory period for naturalization is absent from the United States for 8 months, returning on August 1, 2018. The applicant has been absent from the United States for more

than 6 months but less than 1 year. As such, the applicant must be able to rebut the presumption of a break in the continuity of residence in order to meet the continuous residence requirement for naturalization.

If the applicant is unable to rebut the presumption, he or she must wait until at least 6 months from reaching the 5-year anniversary of the newly established statutory period following the applicant’s return to the United States. In this example, the newly established statutory period began on August 1, 2018, when the applicant returned to the United States. Therefore, the earliest the applicant may re-apply for naturalization is February 1, 2023, which is at least 6 months from the 5-year anniversary of the pertinent statutory period.

Abandonment of Permanent Resident Status

Prolonged or frequent absences, even if shorter than 6 months at a time—especially absences without holding a reentry permit—may raise the issue of whether the applicant has abandoned their permanent residence, i.e., left the U.S. without the intent to return to remain permanently here. If USCIS believes that a naturalization applicant has abandoned their permanent residence, USCIS may place the applicant in removal proceedings, during which an Immigration Judge will determine whether the applicant should be deported. Persons with such absences should contact legal counsel to discuss this issue in detail.[41]

Tax Filings Can Impact Compliance with the Continuous Residence Requirement

Failure to file tax returns, filing as a non-resident, and certain use of the foreign-earned income exclusion (FEIE) may be factors in USCIS determining that an LPR has abandoned status or that absences from the U.S., regardless of length, have broken the required period of continuous residence.

Failure to File

LPRs are normally required to file tax returns indicating worldwide income, not just U.S. income.[42] It is very important that LPRs required by law to file U.S. income federal and state tax returns do so while abroad, even if they are not employed by U.S. companies, because failure to file returns may indicate abandonment[43] or a break in the required period of continuous residence for naturalization. Payment of back taxes later may not fix such problems.

Filing as a Nonresident Alien

It is important that LPRs identify themselves as U.S. residents on state and federal tax returns and not as nonresident aliens.[44] If an individual files U.S. tax returns identifying himself or herself as a nonresident alien, abandonment of LPR status or a break in the required period of continuous residence for naturalization may be presumed based on this “voluntary admission” of non-residency. According to regulations:

An applicant who is a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States, but who voluntarily claims nonresident alien status to qualify for special exemptions from income tax liability … raises a rebuttable presumption that the applicant has relinquished the privileges of permanent resident status in the United States.[45]

An INS memo explains the impact of this presumption in light of the rule[46] that the government bears the burden of demonstrating by clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence that she has abandoned her status as an LPR. According to be memo, the presumption imposes on the individual the burden of going forward with evidence to rebut or meet the presumption. But the “evidentiary burden on the alien is not great.” If “the alien presents credible evidence sufficient to make the question of [relinquishment] a genuine issue of fact” then the government again bears the burden of proof.[47]

Similarly, claiming on a state tax return to be “domiciled” abroad can be problematic.

Foreign-Earned Income Exclusion

Certain LPRs living abroad may qualify to exclude about $100,000 of foreign earnings from taxable income. The foreign-earned income exclusion (FEIE) is claimed by filing a U.S. income tax return including Form 2555, Foreign Earned Income.

To qualify, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. Your “tax home” must be in a foreign country. Your tax home is the general area of your main place of business, employment, or post of duty, regardless of where you maintain your family home. Your tax home is the place where you are permanently or indefinitely engaged to work as an employee or self-employed individual. (Generally, “indefinitely” means a tax home expected to last for more than 1 year). Having a “tax home” in a given location does not necessarily mean that the given location is your residence or domicile for tax purposes.
  2. You must have foreign-earned income. And
  3. You must be one of the following:
    • A citizen or national of a country with which the United States has an income tax treaty in effect and who is a “bona fide resident” of a foreign country or countries for an uninterrupted period that includes an entire tax year.[48] An entire tax year is from January 1 through December 31 for taxpayers who file their income tax returns on a calendar year basis. For this purpose, “bona fide resident” means staying in a foreign country on a basis that is “indefinite” as opposed to “definite, temporary.”[49]

Or

  • Physically present in a foreign country or countries for at least 330 full days during any period of 12 consecutive months.

Claiming the FEIE may be a red flag for purposes of determining whether you have abandoned LPR status[50] or broken the required period of continuous residence for narturalization. In particular, filing under the “bona fide resident” prong may be particularly problematic because “bona fide residence” turns on factors including lack of definite intention as to length and nature of stay in the foreign country.[51] According to USCIS[52]:

If the legal permanent resident declared himself or herself to be a bona fide resident of a foreign country on IRS Form 2555, that means the alien declared to the IRS that he or she went abroad for an indefinite or extended period. He or she intended to establish permanent quarters outside of the United States and he or she openly declared residence in a foreign country.

In contrast, filing under the “physical presence” test is not in itself problematic because it does not reflect the individual’s intent. Still, it confirms potentially negative facts, i.e., that you have been physically present abroad and have foreign-earned income.

In certain cases, an individual may choose to forego the “bona fide residence” FEIE and pay the tax in order to avoid a red flag indicating potential abandonment or break in the required period of continuous residence for naturalization.

Claiming Benefits under the U.S.-France Tax Treaty

Claiming certain benefits under the U.S.-France tax treaty may make a person ineligible to claim residence in the U.S. during the calendar year.[53]

Use of the Form N-470 to Preserve Continuous Residence

In narrow circumstances, absence from the U.S. will not break the continuity of residence required for naturalization if the applicant files with USCIS a Form N-470, Application to Preserve Residence for Naturalization Purposes, showing that they will be absent from the U.S. under the following circumstances[54]:

  • After lawful admission for LPR status, they have been physically present and residing in the U.S. for an uninterrupted period of at least 1 year.[55]
  • The applicant must be employed by or under contract with the U.S. government or an American institution or research recognized as such by the Attorney General, or be employed by an American firm or corporation engaged in whole or in part in the development of foreign trade and commerce of the U.S., or a subsidiary thereof more than 50% of whose stock is owned by an American firm or corporation, or be employed by a public international organization of which the U.S. is a member by treaty or statute. Or the applicant must be absent temporarily from the U.S. solely for the purpose of performing the ministerial or priestly functions of such religious denomination, or serving as a missionary, brother, nun, or sister.
  • Before the expiration of 1 year of continuous absence from the U.S., the person must file a Form N-470 proving to the USCIS that your absence from the U.S. is for the purpose of the specified employment.

Contact our firm for further information.

2.4 Physical Presence Requirement

The “physical presence” requirement for naturalization is that “during the five years [or 3 years for applicants who need to prove only 3 years of continuous residence] immediately preceding the date of filing [the naturalization] application,” a person must have been “physically present” in the U.S. “for periods totaling at least half of that time.”[56]

Note that the approval of an N-470 or reentry permit does not relieve a person of the physical presence requirement, except in the case of a religious worker or person employed by, or under contract with, the U.S. government.[57]

2.5 Residence within a State or USCIS District

According to Congress, a naturalization applicant must show that “immediately preceding the filing of the application” they have “resided within the State or within the [USCIS District] in which the applicant filed the application for at least three months.”[58] Yet the rules also allow an application to be filed “90 days” before completion of that requirement.[59]

There are special provisions for military personnel, applicants who are currently students[60], commuter aliens, and persons who reside in multiple states.[61]

In cases where an applicant changes or plans to change his or her residence after filing the naturalization application, the applicant is required to report the change of address to USCIS. The applicant may file a request with the office where the application was originally filed to transfer the application to the office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s new place of residence. [62] Regardless of whether or not the applicant has requested that the application be transferred, USCIS may decide whether or not to transfer the application as a matter of discretion.[63]

Regulations also discuss the effect on state residence of absences abroad.[64] If the absence is less than 1 year, state residence continues to be where the applicant last resided. If the applicant returns to that state or district, the applicant can count from the date when he or she first established residence (including periods abroad) for purposes of meeting the state residence requirement. If the applicant establishes a residence in a new state or district, the applicant must reside there for three months before filing.

2.6 No Requirement to Intend to Reside in the United States

Naturalization applicants are not required to intend to reside permanently in the United States after becoming U.S. citizens.[65]

2.7 Good Moral Character

A person applying for naturalization must prove good moral character (GMC).

Permanent Bars

A person is permanently barred from establishing GMC if they have:[66]

  • Been convicted of murder at any time.
  • Been convicted of an “aggravated felony” after November 29, 1990.
  • Been involved in Nazi persecution, genocide, torture or extrajudicial killing, or particularly severe violations of religious freedom.

Conditional Bars

An applicant must show good moral character during the statutory period–typically 5 years immediately preceding the filing of the application (or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen or 1 year for Armed Forces expedite) and during the time the naturalization application is pending.

The regulations list the following conditional bars:[67]

  • Has committed and been convicted of one or more crimes involving moral turpitude, with certain exceptions
  • Has committed and been convicted of 2 or more offenses for which the total sentence imposed was 5 years or more
  • Has committed and been convicted of any controlled substance law, except for a single offense of simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana
  • Admits to any of the above criminal acts, even if there was never a formal charge, arrest, or conviction
  • Has been confined to a penal institution during the statutory period, as a result of a conviction, for an aggregate period of 180 days or more
  • Has given false testimony, under oath, in order to receive a benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act. One who has “given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any [immigration] benefit” is ineligible to prove good moral character during the required statutory period.[68] This applies only to oral testimony, not written statements.[69] This applies only to “willful” misrepresentations, meaning that the applicant knows the testimony is untrue.[70] There is no “materiality” requirement, so the misrepresentation may have been completely irrelevant to their case.[71] Still, since the misrepresentation must have been made “for the purpose of obtaining” an immigration benefit, “[w]illful misrepresentations made for other reasons, such as embarrassment, fear, or a desire for privacy,” are not done with subjective intent to obtain the immigration benefit, and are thus not covered by the false testimony bar.”[72]
  • Is or has been involved in prostitution or commercialized vice
  • Is or has been involved in smuggling illegal aliens into the U.S.
  • Is practicing or has practiced polygamy
  • Has committed and been convicted of two or more gambling offenses
  • Is or has earned his or her principle income from illegal gambling
  • Is or has been a habitual drunkard

The regulations also state that an applicant will be found to lack GMC if, absent extenuating circumstances (not including facts after commission of the unlawful act, such as reformation or rehabilitation), during the statutory period, the applicant:[73]

  • Willfully failed or refused to support dependents;
  • Had an extramarital affair which tended to destroy an existing marriage;
  • Committed acts in violation of criminal or civil law in the jurisdiction where it was committed, whether or not charged with or convicted of the offense. Examples include:[74]
    • Bail jumping
    • Bank fraud
    • Conspiracy to distribute a controlled substance
    • Failure to file tax returns or pay taxes: But an applicant who did not originally file tax returns or did not pay the appropriate taxes may be able to establish good moral character by submitting a letter from the tax authority indicating that: the applicant has filed the appropriate forms and returns; and the applicant has paid the required taxes, or has made arrangements for payment.[75]
    • False claim to U.S. citizenship
    • Forgery-uttering
    • Insurance fraud
    • Obstruction of justice
    • Sexual assault
    • Social Security fraud
    • Unlawful harassment
    • Unlawfully registering to vote
    • Violating a U.S. embargo
    • Knowing and willful failure to register with Selective Service

The Act allows USCIS to find lack of GMC for “other reasons,”[76] and examples of such reasons not listed in the regulations include: [77]

  • Two or more DUI convictions during the statutory period establish a rebuttable presumption of a lack of GMC.

When considering such “other reasons,” GMC determinations are made according to the facts of each case applying the standard of the average person in the community.[78] For example, mere technical or regulatory violations may not be against community standards.[79]

Events Outside the Statutory Period

Finally, USCIS is not absolutely limited to the statutory period in determining whether an applicant has established good moral character. USCIS may look into events that occurred outside the statutory period, “if the conduct of the applicant during the statutory period does not reflect that there has been reform of character from an earlier period or if the earlier conduct and acts appear relevant to a determination of the applicant’s present moral character.”[80]

An applicant must disclose all relevant facts to USCIS, including his or her entire criminal history, regardless of whether the criminal history disqualifies the applicant under the enumerated provisions.

2.8 English Language Ability

Applicants for naturalization must be able to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage in the English language. The naturalization interview includes a test of:

  • Reading: You may be asked to read out loud parts of the N-400; to read a set of civics questions and then answer them; or to read several simple sentences out loud. In order to pass, you must read one out of three sentences in a manner that a USCIS officer would be able to understand.
  • Writing: In order to test your writing skills, the USCIS officer will read three sentences to you and ask you to write them down. In order to pass, you will need to write at least one sentence in a manner that a USCIS officer would be able to understand.
  • Speaking: Your speaking ability will be tested when you answer questions about yourself and your application during your interview.[81]

USCIS has on their website helpful “Study Materials for the English Test.” We encourage clients to skim these materials and, if further study is needed, set an appropriate schedule to do so in advance of the interview.

Applicants exempt from this English language requirement are those who on the date of filing:

  • Have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 15 years and are over 55 years of age[82];
  • Have been residing in the U.S. subsequent to a lawful admission for permanent residence for at least 20 years and are over 50 years of age[83]; or
  • Have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant’s ability to learn English.

2.9 Knowledge of U.S. Civics

An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. civics, meaning the history and of the principles and form of government of the U.S. The civics is given orally.[84] It is not a “multiple-choice” test.

USCIS has announced changes to the test, which go into effect on Dec. 1, 2020, and apply prospectively to naturalization applications filed on or after that date[85]:

  • The bank of possible civics test questions is increased to 128 (from 100). The number of test questions chosen from the bank for each applicant is increased to 20 (from 10). The passing score remains 60% (now 12 of 20 questions).
  • USCIS will continue to administer 10 test questions (with required 6 correct answers) to applicants who qualify for special consideration because they are age 65 or older and have been lawful permanent residents for at least 20 years.[86]
  • Officers will ask all 20 test items (or 10 to special consideration applicants), even if the applicant achieves a passing score.

Please study enough that you are well prepared for the civics test. USCIS has on their website helpful “Study Materials for the Civics Test.” These materials include the bank of questions and answers for the civics test. Start by skimming these materials, then set an appropriate schedule to do so in advance of the interview.

Applicants exempt from the test are those who, on the date of filing, have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, where the impairment affects the applicant’s ability to learn about U.S. history and government.

2.10 Medical Disability Waiver

Persons who are physically or developmentally disabled or have a mental impairment are exempt from the English language and history and government requirements.[87] This may include elderly persons who suffer from Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, senile dementia or a related disease.[88] A medical doctor, osteopath, or clinical psychologist “experienced in diagnosing” these disabilities must complete a Form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions, to be filed with the N-400.[89] The applicant must still meet the oath requirement, described below, except that it may be waived if the applicant is unable to understand or communicate the meaning of it.[90] A designated representative of a person who is developmentally or physically disabled or suffering from a mental impairment may complete the N-400 examination (including the oath), by attesting orally and through affidavit and submission of documentary evidence that the person qualifies for naturalization. The representative may be a legal guardian or court recognized surrogate, or in the absence of these, a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, adult son or daughter or adult sibling. A licensed medical or osteopathic doctor or a licensed clinical psychologist must provide an evaluation attesting to the severity of the applicant’s impairment and how it affects his or her ability to take the oath.[91]

The N-648 must be certified by the physician or psychologist under penalty of perjury and must contain: (1) the clinical diagnosis and the appropriate code from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th Edition, better known as the DSM-IV; (2) a description of the disability or impairment; (3) the dates of examination; (4) a description of the doctor-patient relationship indicating whether the medical professional completing the form regularly treats the applicant for the conditions listed on the Form N-648, and if not, an explanation why he or she, as opposed to the regularly treating medical professional, is completing the form; (5) an assessment that the medical condition has lasted or is expected to last more than 12 months; (6) whether the medical condition is the result of illegal use of drugs; (7) and explanation of what caused the medical condition, if known; (8) a description of the clinical methods used to diagnose the applicant’s medical condition; (9) a description of the applicant’s medical condition and its effect on the applicant’s ability to comply with the educational requirements for naturalization (nexus); (10) the educational requirements with which the applicant cannot comply because of the medical condition; and (11) an indication whether an interpreter was used or a statement that the medical professional is fluent in the applicant’s language.[92] It is not the role of USCIS to evaluate or question the medical validity of the opinion as the officer’s responsibility extends to determining the completeness of the form.[93] The officer’s role is to ensure that the N-648 relates to the applicant, that it fully addresses the questions about the underlying medical condition and the nexus between the condition and the educational requirements.[94] The “absence of a reported medical condition on other immigration-related records … by themselves, does not form the basis to question the sufficiency of the Form N-648.”[95] The N-648 can be used to seek an exemption from some (e.g. English but not civics) or all of the education requirements but the officer should not infer anything about the applicant’s ability to comply because he can comply with some requirements.[96] The officer should also not infer ability to comply because the applicant works or does other activities that might imply certain abilities.[97] Moreover, the officer may not: (i) requirement the applicant complete specific medical, clinical or laboratory diagnostic test; (ii) develop and substitute his own diagnosis; (iii) use test to challenge the applicant’s diagnosed medical condition; (iv) refer the applicant to another authorized medical professional because the person sought the care and medical services of a professional who shares his language, culture or nationality; (v) request to the see the applicant’s medications; or (vi) request his medical records.[98] However, if there are facial misrepresentations on the form, the N-648 is incomplete, the interpreter’s certification is not complete or an indication that the person was not examined by the medical professional described on the N-648, the officer must first question the applicant. The officer may then refer the matter to FDNS and if she believes the N-648 is insufficient proceed with the N-400 interview including the educational requirements.[99]

2.11 Attachment to the Constitution

An applicant must show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States. One may declare attachment to the Constitution when you take the Oath of Allegiance. [100]

2.12 Taking the Oath of Allegiance


To become a citizen, one must take the oath of allegiance. By doing so, an applicant swears to:

  • support the Constitution and obey the laws of the U.S.;
  • renounce any foreign allegiance and/or foreign title; and
  • bear arms for the Armed Forces of the U.S. or perform services for the government of the U.S. when required. [101]

The specific language of the oath is as follows:

I hereby declare, on oath, that I absolutely and entirely renounce and abjure all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign prince, potentate, state, or sovereignty, of whom or which I have heretofore been a subject or citizen; that I will support and defend the Constitution and the laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States when required by the law; that I will perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law; and that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; so help me God. [102]

In certain instances, where the applicant establishes that he or she is opposed to any type of service in armed forces based on religious teaching or belief, USCIS will permit these applicants to take a modified oath.

3. Red Flag Situations

Be sure to alert our firm if any of the following situations may apply to you. Some of these situations may lead to denial of your naturalization application. Some of these situations may make you deportable from or inadmissible to the United States. You should not apply for naturalization if you are deportable from or inadmissible to the United States because USCIS may discover your situation and seek to deport you or block your entry to the country. Our firm can provide you with further advice once we are aware of the issue.

  1. After getting your green card, you made a trip out of the U.S. for more than 6 months or moved to another country.
  2. You have ever committed a crime, or have ever been arrested or convicted (even if charges were dismissed, you were found not guilty, or the record was expunged), or have ever been on probation, parole, or supervision.
  3. You committed fraud to get your green card or to get some other immigration benefit, or you have claimed to be a U.S. citizen or registered to vote or voted illegally in the U.S. in the past, or you weren’t originally eligible for your green card when you got it, or information on your naturalization application contradicts information you gave USCIS in the past.
  4. You have been involved in prostitution or procurement of prostitutes.
  5. You have advocated or practiced polygamy.
  6. You helped someone else enter the U.S. illegally, even if it was a relative.
  7. You have made a living by illegal gambling.
  8. You have been a habitual drunkard, a drug addict, or have ever used illegal drugs.
  9. You have been a member of the Communist party or a totalitarian party, an anarchist, or an advocate of sabotage or political assassination.
  10. You have persecuted others.
  11. You have willfully failed to support your spouse or children, including paying any child support ordered by a court.
  12. Since becoming a permanent resident, you failed to file filed your federal income tax return or failed to tell the truth in a tax return.
  13. You were required to but nonetheless failed to register with Selective Service. Males who lived in the U.S. at some point while 18 to 25 years old in any status besides lawful nonimmigrant status must register. (Lawful nonimmigrant status includes, e.g., F-1 students, H-1B temporary workers, J-1 exchange visitors).
  14. You have ever been charged with committing domestic violence, child abuse, or child neglect.
  15. You lied or committed fraud to receive or to continue to receive public benefits.
  16. You are in deportation or removal proceedings now or have been in the past.
  17. You were a J-1 exchange visitor to the U.S. subject to the 2-year foreign residence requirement but you never complied with that requirement or obtained a waiver of it.

4. Application Procedures

4.1 Coordinating the N-400 with a Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence

It’s possible to apply for naturalization while still a conditional resident. If the 90-day period to file the Form I-751, Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence, has not yet begun, such as in the case of an applicant for expeditious naturalization under section 319(b) of the Act, the N-400 can be filed first.[103] If you have already filed your I-751, notify the USCIS office handling your naturalization case so that the I-751 can be adjudicated at the same time as the naturalization application.[104]

4.1 Documents to Be Filed

Our firm will work with you to prepare the naturalization application. For a list of commonly required supporting documents, see the USCIS Form M-476, A Guide to Naturalization (rev. 2012-03). Our firm will prepare a customized list of documents needed according to your particular case. Typical documents to be filed are listed below. For the supporting documents, file copies and be prepared to bring the original document to your interview for inspection by the USCIS officer.

Forms, Fees, and Photos

  1. Filing fees: Effective Dec. 23, 2016, there are three levels of fees for naturalization applications[105]:
    1. Standard fee: The standard fee is $640. The additional biometrics fee (not applicable if you are age 75 or older or are filing under the military provisions[106]) remains at $85.
    2. Reduced fee: The fee is $320 for applicants with family income greater than 150% but not more than 200% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. The biometrics fee still applies as described above. File Form I-942, Request for Reduced Fee.
    3. Fee Waiver: For applicants with family income at or under 150% of the Federal Poverty Guidelines, the filing fee and biometrics fee are waived. File Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver.

You can pay by one of the following methods:

  • Credit card (Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover) using Form G-1450, Authorization for Credit Card Instructions; or
  • Write separate checks, money orders, or cashier’s checks in the above amounts. (Write you’re A# on the back.)
  1. Form G-28, Notice of Appearance as Attorney
  2. Form G-1145, E-Notification of Application or Petition Acceptance
  3. Form N-400
  4. If you reside overseas: two identical photos per USCIS instructions, with your name and A# written lightly in pencil on the back.[107]

Common Supporting Documents

  1. Copy of both sides of applicant’s Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card (if applicable)
  2. Your current marriage certificate. (If applicable, provide a copy of the marriage license/register too).[108]
  3. Proof of termination of all your prior marriages (divorce decrees; annulments; and death certificates)
  4. If your current legal name is different from the name on your Permanent Resident Card, send the document that legally changed your name (e.g., marriage certificate, divorce decree, or court document).

Supporting Documents for Naturalization Based on Marriage

  1. Evidence that your spouse has been a U.S. citizen for the last 3 years (birth certificate, certificate of naturalization, certificate of citizenship, or inside front cover and signature page of U.S. passport; or Form FS-240, Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America)
  2. Proof of termination of all your spouse’s prior marriages (divorce decrees; annulments; and death certificates)
  3. Tax returns for you both for the last 3 years
  4. Birth certificates of children
  5. Any of the following which are available and refer to you and your spouse:
    1. Bank accounts
    2. Leases
    3. Mortgages

Supporting Documents for Expeditious Naturalization under Section 319(b)

  1. A cover letter directed to the USCIS office where the case will be filed advising them that:
    1. You are applying for expeditious naturalization under INA § 319(b).
    2. If you are residing overseas, say so;
    3. Specify the USCIS office where you wish to be interviewed and naturalized.
    4. The dates you will be available and unavailable for interview, including the date you plan to depart from the U.S.
  2. A declaration or affidavit from an officer of citizen’s employer who has access to relevant company records and states:
    1. the name of the employer and nature of the employer’s business;
    2. whether the employing entity is owned in whole or in part by United States interests (e.g., date and state of incorporation, that the corporation is currently in good standing);
    3. whether the employing entity is engaged in whole or in part in the development of the foreign trade and commerce of the United States;
    4. the nature of the activity in which the citizen spouse is engaged. (It may also be helpful to explain the type of employment, such as contract employment or regular employment); and
    5. the anticipated period of employment abroad.
  3. A statement from the applicant regarding whether the applicant intends to reside abroad with the citizen spouse and whether the applicant intends to take up residence within the U.S. immediately upon the termination of the spouse’s employment abroad.[109] (At the time of the interview, it can also be helpful for an applicant not already living abroad to have ready a flight itinerary to move there).
  4. Travel itinerary reflecting a departure from the U.S. within 45 days from the date of the interview.
  5. Birth certificate[110]

Miscellaneous Supporting Documents

  1. If you have taken any trip outside the United States that lasted 6 months or more since becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident, send evidence that you (and your family) continued to live, work and keep ties to the United States, such as:
    1. An IRS tax return “transcript” or an IRS-certified tax return listing tax information for the last 5 years (or for the last 3 years if you are applying on the basis of marriage to a U.S. citizen).
    2. Rent or mortgage payments and pay stubs.
  2. For any arrest or conviction in or outside the U.S., provide certified arrest report(s), court disposition(s), sentencing report(s), and any other relevant documents. If you were placed on probation, you must provide evidence that you completed your probationary period. You do not need to bring documentation for traffic fines and incidents (unless alcohol- or drug-related) that did not involve an actual arrest if the penalty was only a fine of less than $500 or points on your driver’s license
  3. Any other applicable documents listed in the USCIS Form M-476, A Guide to Naturalization (Nov. 2016) (related to U.S. military service, dependent spouse or children who do not live with you, tax violations, disability, Selective Service registration)

Additional documents to bring to the interview include:

  1. State-issued driver’s license or other State-issued ID.
  2. Current and prior passports and travel documents (reentry permits or refugee travel documents)
  3. All Federal and state tax returns or transcripts for the required period of continuous residence

4.2 Filing through the Lockbox, Issuance of the Receipt Notice

Applicants who “reside” in western states file by mail with the USCIS Lockbox in Phoenix, Arizona. Applicants who “reside” in eastern states instead file with the USCIS Lockbox in Lewisville, TX.[111]

The USCIS Naturalization Guide states, “What if I live outside the United States? If you are outside the United States and filing Form N-400, you should send your application to the USCIS Lockbox Facility that serves the USCIS office where you want to be interviewed.”[112] Similarly, the Form N-400 states, “If your residential address is outside the United States and you are filing under Section 319(b),” then you can choose the USCIS domestic field office where you want to be interviewed.

  • Tip: The USCIS offices in Washington, DC, and Honolulu, Hawaii, routinely handle expeditious naturalization cases, but you can choose to file in any office. That includes Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Some factors in choosing include: the convenience of attending an interview there; the normal wait between the interview and the naturalization ceremony; whether the ceremony will be presided over by a court (in which case the applicant can change his name as part of the ceremony) or the USCIS (in which case there is no opportunity for name change); and that offices with larger expeditious naturalization caseload tend to have a more predictable process and policy in such cases.

The Lockbox decides whether to accept your application for processing or reject it for being incomplete (e.g., missing signature or check). If the application is accepted, the Lockbox deposits your check or money order, scans your application, issues receipt notices to the applicant and attorney, and forwards the application to the USCIS National Benefits Center[113] or the Harrisonburg Storage Facility.

The receipt notice is issued 1-2 weeks of filing. The notice, Form I-797, will show your receipt number. You can track the status of your application at www.uscis.gov by entering that number. Processing times typically hover around 6-8 months.

4.3 Role of the National Benefits Center or Harrisonburg Storage Facility

The National Benefits Center or Harrisonburg Storage Facility performs pre-interview processing to get the case ready for interview and adjudication. Background checks are initiated and completed. Your USCIS file (A-file) will be requested and received. A complete file review will be performed on cases and this office will issue a notice to the applicant if the applicant needs to bring additional evidence to the interview at the local USCIS Field Office. The file is then forwarded to the Field Office for the interview.

4.4 Biometrics Appointment

USCIS will collect biometrics data, including fingerprints, for applicants of all ages.[114] They are used for purposes of a background check, including an FBI criminal history check.

For applicants “residing” in the U.S., once your application has been filed, the USCIS National Benefits Center will mail you a notice telling you to report to a USCIS Application Support Service at a specified time to have your fingerprints and photos taken.[115] If the applicant hasn’t received an appointment notice within 30 days of filing, an inquiry can be filed with the National Benefits Center.[116] USCIS can make special arrangements to accommodate the needs of applicants with disabilities and homebound or hospitalized applicants.[117] Dress appropriately for your biometrics appointment because this photo may later be displayed on your Certificate of Naturalization.

For naturalization applicants who “reside” abroad, the current procedure is that the National Benefits Center will mail you a notice called a “Request for Original Document: Overseas N-400” telling you to report to a USCIS International Office, U.S. Embassy or Consulate, or U.S. military installation abroad.[118] Each of these offices has its own procedures for scheduling fingerprints. For example, the USCIS Beijing Field Office schedules appointments for 9am on the last Friday of each month.[119]

4.5 Place of Interview and Interview Logistics

Appointment notice

Following the fingerprinting appointment, you will receive a notice in the mail telling you when and where to appear for an interview. Generally, the notice arrives two to six weeks before the interview. The interview will take place at an USCIS District Office near where you live, except that applicants for expeditious naturalization under section 319(b) can choose when they file the application the office where they prefer to be interviewed.

Rescheduling

It is possible to reschedule the interview if you are unable to attend at the specified time.[120] However, if you fail to appear for your interview without notifying USCIS in advance, your application will be deemed abandoned.[121]

Documents to Bring

Our firm will help you prepare a list of documents to bring with the interview.

Make sure your documents are organized so you can find them easily when the officer requests them. You might want to put them in separate folders and label them.

Dressing for the Interview

You should wear clothes that are clean and pressed (not wrinkled). This shows respect for the USCIS officer. Men can wear a shirt and pants. A coat and tie is optional. Women, a blouse or sweater with a skirt or pants.

Transportation to the Interview

Arrive early. Know the exact location in advance to avoid getting lost. If you are driving, remember to plan extra time for rush hour traffic, the possibility of road construction, and difficulty finding a parking space.

Waiting Room

USCIS asks that you not enter the waiting room more than 30 minutes before your appointment. Be prepared to be at USCIS for about two hours.

There may be a wait before you are called for your interview, so you may want to bring something to read (for example, the questions for the civics test).

Interpreter

You can bring your own interpreter with you only if you qualify for the exemption that allows you to use your native language at the interview.

Your interpreter can be someone from a community agency, a friend, or a family member. Or our firm can arrange an interpreter for you. USCIS may accept your interpreter, provide a different interpreter, or use a telephone interpreter service. You can also request in advance to use your own interpreter as an accommodation for a disability. This will ensure that the interpreter is someone you feel comfortable with or who speaks your dialect.

You may want to talk with your interpreter ahead of time to agree on how certain difficult words will be translated. For example: permanent resident, Bill of Rights, and judiciary.

Both the applicant and the interpreter take the oath to tell the truth at the beginning of the interview. This is an oath under the law and must be respected.

If the USCIS officer suspects that the interpreter is breaking any rules, he or she will be asked to leave and USCIS will provide another interpreter. Your interview may be rescheduled.

Advice to interpreters:

  • Translate exactly what the USCIS officer or applicant says. Do not coach, add anything, or explain. Do not give helpful hints to the applicant during the interview.
  • Speak only when interpreting. When not interpreting, sit quietly. Do not ask questions or interfere with the interview in any way.

Lawyer

The attorney’s role during the interview is to ensure that the clients’ legal rights are protected,[122] to advise clients on points of law, and to make to the USCIS officer any legal argument (in writing or orally) essential to the case.

For a client with disabilities, the lawyer will explain the client’s accommodation needs to the officer at the beginning of the interview.

The lawyer may not respond to questions the interviewing officer has directed to the client, although the lawyer may ask the officer to clarify questions or object to inappropriate questions,[123] such as questions that are “overbearing or abusive” or “complex” or filled with “government jargon.”[124]

If an attorney feels that additional evidence or testimony by the interviewee(s) may be helpful, the attorney may present documents or ask additional questions at the conclusion of the interview by the officer.[125]

The lawyer also has a role to play if an officer takes a sworn statement from an applicant. A sworn statement is a written declaration given under an oath (or affirmation). The sworn statement becomes part of a permanent, official record and may be used in a subsequent proceeding such as appeals, removal (deportation) proceedings, or criminal prosecution. The lawyer’s role may include:

    • Asking the officer to clarify questions or objecting to inappropriate questions, as mentioned above.
    • Asking the client additional questions so that those questions and the answers are included in the sworn statement.
    • Requesting corrections if the written statement does not capture the client’s exact words.
    • Requesting a copy of the finalized sworn statement.[126]

If an issue cannot be resolved through discussion with the officer, the attorney may ask to speak with a supervisor, and a supervisor must be made available within a reasonable amount of time. The supervisor should attempt to resolve the issue prior to the interviewee(s) leaving the office, if possible.[127]

They attorney will also keep detailed notes of the interview so that in the event of an unfavorable decision the applicant has a record with which to respond.

(If you are not represented by a lawyer, you should prepare to take on these advocacy tasks yourself.)

Family Member or Agency Staff Person

USCIS generally discourages family members from accompanying you because the waiting room is too small to accommodate large numbers of people.

In a case under section 319(b) (expeditious naturalization) or based on living in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse, the spouse’s attendance of the interview is optional. In most cases, the officer will be able to adjudicate the case without interviewing the spouse. In those few cases where the officer believes that an interview of the spouse is required, a separate interview can be arranged.

If you have a disability, you may request an accommodation to bring a family member, legal guardian, or community agency staff person with you. The person can support your special physical or emotional needs.

4.6 Interview Tips

Know Your USCIS Officer by Name and Badge Number

It is important to always ask the officer for his or her name and badge number. Write this down and take it home with you. This will allow you to follow up with any specific problems or complaints.

Eye Contact

Look into the eyes of the USCIS officer when you talk to show you are honest. Direct eye contact is generally expected in the United States.

How to Speak

Talk clearly so that the USCIS officer can understand you. Do not speak very soft or very loud. Likewise, do not speak too fast or too slow.

How to Answer Questions

Answer only the questions asked of you. Answer the questions briefly, honestly, and directly.

Your Posture

Sit up straight and proud during the interview. This shows the USCIS officer you are confident. It can also help you feel more confident about yourself.

What to Say if You Do Not Understand a Question

Please, can you repeat that?

Please, can you speak louder?

Please, can you speak slowly?

Please, can you repeat that in different words?

What You Should Expect of the USCIS Officer;
When Your USCIS Officer is Not Friendly

You should expect the officer to be professional and courteous, to be fair and consistent, and to follow standard procedures and the law. If asked, your officer should tell you his or her name and badge number, repeat questions, and allow you to speak to a supervisor.

Sometimes a USCIS officer will appear rude or unfriendly. Sometimes this is his or her way to be professional. Do not let the attitude of the officer get in the way of your doing well.

In any case, it is in your best interest to treat the officer with courtesy and respect, be prepared for your test, have your documents available, and follow the officer’s instructions. If your case is denied or continued, be polite and ask for details of what you should do next.

What to Say if You Cannot Remember the Answer to a Test Question

Let me think about it for a moment. I’m sure I can answer that question.

I studied a lot, but I can’t remember the answer to that question now. Can you ask me another one?

When to Respond to Questions

Wait until the USCIS officer has finished asking you a question to respond. Do not interrupt the officer. However, do not wait too long because the officer may think you do not speak English or know the answer. Let the officer know if you need time to think about it.

Self-Confidence

Everyone is nervous at the citizenship interview. It is an important day in your life. People do better when they are relaxed. Believe in your abilities by remembering what you have accomplished since arriving in the U.S. and what you have contributed to the country.

4.7 Sequence of the Interview

Truth Oath

The interview generally begins when the USCIS officer calls your name. The officer or adjudicator will call you to his or her office. You may be asked to remain standing or to stand up and raise your right hand. The USCIS officer asks you to take an oath that you will tell the truth during your interview.

USCIS: Please remain standing and raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

You: Yes, I do.

USCIS: Do you swear that all the information on your application, the documents you submitted and the information you give today is the truth?

You: Yes, I do.

Understanding the Oath

The officer may want to check that you understood the oath. It is a legal agreement to tell the truth. If you lie after taking the oath, you may not be able to be a citizen at this time.

USCIS: Do you understand what an oath means?

You: Yes, it is a promise to tell the truth.

ID Check

The officer will check your identity by asking for your green card, your native country passport, travel document, or another ID (driver’s license or state ID).

USCIS: Can I see your resident alien card, passport, and other types of photo identification?

Small Talk

The officer may spend a minute to talk with you about everyday life. This is called “small talk.” The purpose is to see if you understand basic English. Sometimes if you cannot answer basic “small talk” questions, the USCIS officer will end the interview. For example, the officer may ask:

How’s the weather outside?

Is it still raining?

Did you have any problems getting here?

How was the traffic?

How did you get here?

Did you have any problems finding parking?

Have you been waiting a long time to talk to me today?

How are you feeling today?

Form Corrections or Updates

If you have any corrections or updates to your application form, tell the officer. The officer will make changes in red ink and ask you to sign the form once more at the end of the interview.[128]

Changing Your Name

In your naturalization application, you can ask to change your legal name from the one appearing on your green card. The officer may verify this at the time of your interview.

Please note that your request can’t necessarily be granted. Your name can be changed if your naturalization oath ceremony is held in court, but can’t be changed if USCIS conducts the ceremony. Note that certain USCIS field offices, such as the Washington Field Office, conduct naturalization oath ceremonies on the same day of the interview, but that won’t be possible if you have requested a name change since that will need to be granted by the court. USCIS has no control over the courts’ schedules and no way to expedite court oath ceremonies, so a court ceremony may take place a month or more after your interview.

Please note that if you have previously changed your name in court, or if you want to use your married name[129] or change back to your maiden name after a divorce, you can do so by (a) showing the desired name on your Form N-400 and (b) presenting evidence of the previous name change, such as the court order, marriage certificate, or divorce decree. This is possible even if your green card was issued in a different name.[130]

Sample Interview

USCIS: Hi, how are you today?

You:

USCIS: I’m Officer Jones.

You:

USCIS: Is it still raining outside?

You:

USCIS: OK, let’s begin the interview. Please stand up and raise your right hand. Do you promise to tell the truth and nothing but the truth, so help you God?

You:

USCIS: You may sit down.

You:

USCIS: Do you know what an oath is?

You:

USCIS: Do you understand why you are here today?

You:

USCIS: Why do you want to be an American citizen?

You:

USCIS: What is your name?

You:

USCIS: Have you used any other names?

You:

USCIS: Do you want to legally change your name?

You:

USCIS: I need to see your lawful permanent resident card, your passports, and your state-issued identification, please.

You:

USCIS: What is your date of birth?

You:

USCIS: Where were you born?

You:

USCIS: Are either of your parents U.S. citizens?

You:

USCIS: Where are you currently living?

You:

USCIS: Where are you working?

You:

USCIS: Are you currently married, single, divorced, or widowed?

You:

USCIS: How many children do you have?

You:

USCIS: When was your last trip outside the U.S.?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever claimed to be a U.S. citizen?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever failed to file your income taxes?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever been arrested, cited, or detained by a law enforcement officer for any reason?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever helped someone try to enter the U.S. illegally?

You:

USCIS: Have you ever been deported or ordered deported?

You:

USCIS: Do you believe in the Constitution and form of government of the U.S.?

You:

USCIS: Are you willing to take the full Oath of Allegiance to the United States?

You:

USCIS: Are you willing to bear arms for the United States?

You:

USCIS: Now, I’ll need you to sign your photos, here and here. I’ll need you to sign your application here.

You:

USCIS: Now we’re going to move to the civics and reading and writing tests. Who was the first president?

You:

USCIS: How many U.S. Senators are there?

You:

USCIS: Where is the Statue of Liberty?

You:

USCIS: What is the capital of the United States?

You:

USCIS: What is the name of the national anthem?

You:

USCIS: Name one problem that led to the Civil War.

You:

USCIS: Good, that’s six. You passed that portion. Next is the reading and writing portion. Please read line #1 out loud for me.

You:

USCIS: Now I need you to write here, “Canada is north of the United States.”

You:

USCIS: Congratulations! I’m recommending your application for approval. If my recommendation is accepted, you will be sent a notice in the mail of when to come in for your oath ceremony.

Do you have any questions?

You:

4.8 Decision

Towards the end of the interview, the officer will often ask you to sign the front of your two naturalization photos. (One will go on the front of your naturalization certificate.)

The officer will tell you the results of your interview. The officer will give you a written notice called a Form N-652, Naturalization Interview Result Form. This will tell you the results of the English/civics test and the current status of the application.

If the status of the application is not approved, the N-652 will explain:

  • Re-test: If you failed, you will be tested at least 30 days later only on the sections you failed, not the whole test.
  • Additional documents needed: Sometimes USCIS will tell you to you need to provide additional documents. USCIS will give you Form N-14, Form Letter for Deficient Application, telling you what additional information you need. You may be asked to mail the papers or to bring them to your next interview. Our firm can help you prepare that evidence.
  • Application withdrawn: Sometimes USCIS will ask you if you want to withdraw your application. Usually this is because you do not meet one of the requirements. For example, your English is too limited or you do not meet the residency requirement. You should not agree to withdraw your case without first speaking with your lawyer.
  • Decision cannot be made yet: USCIS has up to 120 days from the date of your interview to make a decision. If no decision is made by then, you may apply to the U.S. district court for a hearing. The court may decide your case or remand the case to USCIS to decide.[131]
  • Case denied, right to appeal: You will receive a written notice in the mail explaining why you were denied. In this case you will have to appeal (or file a motion to reconsider or reopen) within 30 days.[132] If, after an appeal hearing with USCIS, you still believe that you have been wrongly denied naturalization, you may file a petition for review with a U.S. District Court. You may also have the option of reapplying.

4.9 Naturalization Oath Ceremony and Certificate of Naturalization

You are not a citizen until you have taken an Oath of Allegiance. USCIS normally mails the Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, to tell you when and where to appear for this purpose. The oath ceremony may be conducted by an immigration officer or by a court.[133]

According to USCIS, you can expect to be scheduled for an oath ceremony within 45 days of receiving your recommended approval.[134] In some cases, the ceremony is the same day as the same day as your interview. For example, the USCIS Washington DC Field Office “will do so for military N-400 filings, Section 319(b) N-400 filings, as well as on most N-400 re-examination days (second interview to pass the naturalization test).”[135] And as of 2019 the Seattle Field Office conducts the oath ceremony for most applicants on the date of their interview, if the case can be approved.

After you pass your interview, you need to stay eligible for citizenship until your oath ceremony. If you do anything that causes you to lose your eligibility between the interview and oath, you cannot be sworn in as a citizen.

On the back of the Form N-445, there is a questionnaire about your activities since the interview. Most of the questions are repeated from the N-400. The answers help USCIS to know if you are still eligible to become a citizen. If you answer “yes” to any question, a USCIS officer will ask additional questions to determine if there is an eligibility problem. You cannot take the oath until the problem is resolved. If there is a problem, your name will be removed from the oath ceremony list. USCIS will notify you in writing of the specific problem. You will have 15 days to respond. If USCIS decides that you are still eligible after reviewing your response, your application will be approved and you will be rescheduled for an oath.

Here are the procedures for the oath ceremony:

  • Rescheduling: If you need to reschedule your ceremony, let our firm know as early as possible. If you fail to attend more than one oath ceremony and you do not notify USCIS with a good reason, USCIS will begin procedures to deny your application. You may have to start the application process over again.
  • Expediting the Ceremony: USCIS will expedite your ceremony if there are serious or humanitarian reasons. Some reasons for an expedited oath are serious illness of the applicant or a member of the applicant’s family, advanced age, or emergency travel outside the United States. If you need an expedited oath, ask our firm about submitting a written request to the court or the District Director of your local USCIS office.
  • Location: Many oath ceremonies are held at a federal or state courthouse. They may also be at the USCIS district office, a university, concert hall, or other public location.
  • Dress: Proper attire should be worn to the ceremony. This means that you should wear clothes that reflect the event’s importance.
  • Documents to bring: Completed Form N-445; Form I-551, Permanent Resident Card (green card); any reentry permit or refugee travel document.
  • Family or friends: You can bring family or friends to the ceremony. Sometimes the notice says you can only bring a limited number of people. Otherwise, you can bring as many people as you want.
  • When to arrive: It’s important to arrive on time.
  • Check-in: When you arrive, you will check in to hand in your completed Form N-445 and register you as eligible for the oath. The officer will have you sign your name on the naturalization certificate to authorize the certificate and to reconfirm your identity. The certificate is not valid until you sign it. Your signature must match your name as it is printed on the certificate. Do not use initials. It is important that new citizens review their naturalization certificates carefully for errors and report them immediately. It’s easiest to fix errors on the spot than to do it later.
  • Oath: During the ceremony, an official will ask the naturalization applicants to stand. The official may read each part of the Oath and ask you to repeat his or her words. Or the official may ask you to accept the Oath by saying, “I do.” Once you have taken the Oath, you will receive your Certificate of Naturalization.
  • Speech: Often a court or USCIS official will speak about the rights and responsibilities of new citizens. Other topics covered may include registering to vote, getting a United States passport, filing permanent resident petitions for close family members, and protecting the naturalization certificate.
  • Distribution of Naturalization Certificates: At the end of the ceremony, certificates are distributed to the new citizens by name or by row. If you applied for a name change, a copy of the court order changing your name should be attached to your naturalization certificate as evidence. You will need this evidence when you apply for documents such as a driver’s license or passport with your new name. If it is missing, tell the USCIS officer and ask how you can get it. Review your certificate for errors immediately after you receive it and report any errors to the USCIS officer. The officer will tell you how to get it corrected.

5. Rights and Obligations
as a U.S. Citizen

You take on the rights and obligations of U.S. citizenship immediately upon completion of the naturalization ceremony. These include:

5.1 Register to Vote

Mail in your voter registration form or register with a certified voter registrar, often found at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

5.2 Apply for a U.S. Passport

Without a green card, the United States passport is an important document to prove your identity and citizenship.

You may use your naturalization certificate as proof that you are a citizen for purposes of applying for a U.S. passport. For information about applying for a U.S. passport after your oath ceremony, see the National Passport Information Center’s website[136] or call them at 1-877-487-2778.

Please note that under law, a U.S. citizen must use a U.S. passport when departing or reentering the United States.

5.3 Enter and Exit with a U.S. Passport

All citizens of the U.S. must enter and exit the country with a U.S. passport,[137] with a few minor exceptions, such as for Armed Forces members and cruise ship passengers.[138]

5.4 Apply for Foreign Visas in Your U.S. Passport

You may need a foreign visa stamped into your U.S. passport if you seek to travel abroad. For example, a PRC citizen who naturalizes in the U.S. will usually automatically lose Chinese nationality,[139] requiring a PRC visa to travel to China. Also, upon return to China with the visa, before the Public Security Bureau Exit-Entry Administration will issue a residence permit, you will normally be required to cancel your household registration (hukou).

5.5 File Permanent Resident Petitions for Family Members

As a U.S. citizen, you can petition for immediate family members

as a priority above the relatives of lawful permanent residents. You can contact our firm for assistance in preparing the petitions even before your naturalization ceremony.

5.6 If You Changed Your Name, Update Your Documents

If you’ve changed your name, you should change your old documents and personal accounts to show your new name. You may want to first get a government document, such as a driver’s license or state ID, and use it to change your name on any bank accounts, credit card accounts, employment records, or other documents.

5.7 Update Your Social Security Record

You will need to visit Social Security so they can update your Social Security record. Wait at least 10 days after your ceremony before doing so, and be prepared to show them (a) your Certificate of Naturalization or your U.S. passport and (b) a second form of identification, such as a state driver’s license or ID card. You will be required to complete a Form SS-5, Application for a Social Security Card, beforehand or at Social Security office. The new card will be mailed to the address you provide on the application form.

It is important that your Social Security record is accurate because you will need your Social Security Number (SSN) to get a job, collect Social Security benefits, and receive other government services. When you are hired for a job, your employer can enter your SSN into a U.S. Department of Homeland Security Internet program, E-Verify, to determine your eligibility to work in the United States. If your record has not been updated, this may impact your work eligibility. To find your Social Security office, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit www.ssa.gov.

5.8 Obtain a Certificate of Citizenship for Your Child

If you have a child who is a lawful permanent resident under the age of 18 on the day you naturalize, he or she may have automatically acquired U.S. citizenship. To obtain evidence of your child’s acquired U.S. citizenship status, you may apply for a U.S. passport from the U.S. Department of State and/or for a Certificate of Citizenship using Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, from USCIS. For more information, contact our law firm.

5.9 Protecting Your Naturalization Certificate

Keep your certificate in a safe place at home or use a safety deposit box. This is a box in a bank that is kept under very tight security. Do not fold your certificate because it will become difficult to read over time. Only carry your certificate when you need it.

5.10 Replacing or Changing Your Certificate

If your certificate is lost, damaged, or destroyed, contact our firm for help applying for a replacement.

If you change your name after naturalization, contact our firm for help applying for a new certificate in your new name.

5.11 Denaturalization

Loss of citizenship through denaturalization is very rare. Generally, people facing denaturalization by USCIS have lied about their eligibility or good moral character. The lie may occur on the application, at the interview, or at the ceremony.

When you are denaturalized your certificate of naturalization is canceled. The date of denaturalization is retroactive to the date you received your certificate. If your spouse, parents, or children got citizenship or permanent residence through your naturalization, they may also lose it.

If you ever receive a denaturalization notice from USCIS, it is important to contact our firm as soon as possible.

5.12 Expatriation

U.S. citizenship is not easily lost. However, naturalized citizens and citizens by birth can lose their citizenship automatically through expatriation. You must show that you intend to give up your United States citizenship and that you do so voluntarily. There must be evidence in both your words and

your actions.

According to the law, you may lose your citizenship by committing one of the actions listed below if you do so voluntarily with the intention of giving up your citizenship. But the law is complex and there are exceptions to these actions, especially if you were under age 18 at the time. Additionally, in all but the last two actions listed, an expatriating act committed inside the United States or its possessions is not effective until you take up residence elsewhere.

  • You become naturalized in another country after age 18 by application.
  • You take an oath or give allegiance to another country after age 18.
  • You become a member of the armed forces of another country that is at war with or hostile to the United States.
  • You become an officer in the armed forces of another country.
  • You serve in a government job for another country after age 18 if you are naturalized in that country.
  • You serve in a government job for another country and you are required to give allegiance to that country in order to have the job.
  • You formally give up your United States citizenship before a United States diplomatic or consular officer in another country.
  • You make a formal written statement that you want to give up your United States citizenship before an authorized government official when the United States is at war and the Attorney General gives approval.
  • You are convicted of treason against the United States or trying to overthrow the government of the United States by force.

5.13 Other Rights and Obligations

  • Right to apply for federal employment requiring U.S. citizenship
  • Right to run for elected office
  • Obligation to serve on a jury when called upon

6. Conclusion

Don’t hesitate to contact our firm with any related question or concern.

Appendix A. Sample N-652,
Naturalization Interview Results

Appendix B. Sample Form N-445, Notice of
Naturalization Oath Ceremony

Appendix C. Sample Certificate of Naturalization

  1. For information about other ways to become a citizen, including acquisition of citizenship by children born abroad to U.S. citizens, see Gary Chodorow, Chodorow Law Offices, Quick Reference to Citizenship (Dec. 22, 2012).

  2. See generally INA §§ 310—348.

  3. INA § 334(b).

  4. INA § 316(a).

  5. Matter of Longstaff, 716 F.2d 1439 (5th Cir. 1983), cert. den’d, 467 U.S. 1219 (1984).

  6. Spyropoulos v. Immigration & Naturalization Service, 590 F.2d 1 (1st Cir. 1978)

  7. INA § 316(a).

  8. INA § 101(a)(33). See 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(a) (similar regulatory definition); 12 USCIS-PM D (3)(A).

  9. See Immigration Law and Procedure § 95.02(3) (2019).

  10. INA § 319(a). The statute counts the 3 years “immediately preceding the date of filing” the N-400, but the regulations at 8 C.F.R. § 319.1(a)(3) count the three years “preceding the date of examination” on the N-400. USCIS admits that the regulations are void where they conflict with the statute. See 12 USCIS-PM G(3)(B).

  11. 8 C.F.R. § 319.1(b)(1).

  12. 8 C.F.R. § 319.1(b)(2).

  13. 12 USCIS-PM G(2)(D).

  14. INA §319(a).

  15. INA § 319(b)(1). Such LPRs also are exempt from the physical presence and state or district residence requirements described below. 8 C.F.R. § 319.2(a)(6).

  16. INA §334(a).

  17. 8 C.F.R. § 310.2.

  18. 8 C.F.R. § 334.2(b). But see 8 C.F.R. § 310.2 (“three months”).

  19. INA § 316(b); 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(ii).

  20. 12 USCIS-PM D.3(C)(1). USCIS interprets “more than six months but less than one year” to mean “more than 181 days but less than 365 days”

  21. INA § 316(b).

  22. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(i).

  23. 12 USCIS-PM H.2(F)(1); 8 FAM 301.7-4(B).

  24. 12 USCIS-PM H.2(F)(1); 8 FAM 301.7-4(B).

  25. Matter of M-, 7 I. & N. Dec. 643 (decided by Reg. Comm’r, approved by Ass’t Comm’r 1958), citing to Matter of V— V—, A-8943750, Int. Dec. No. 770 (BIA 1956) (student at boarding school for 9 months established residence).

  26. 8 FAM 301.7-4(B).

  27. Matter of M-, 4 I. & N. Dec. 418 (BIA 1951).

  28. Li v. Chertoff, 490 F.Supp.2d 130, 133 (D. Mass 2007).

  29. But see id. (finding residence status in Canada to be irrelevant).

  30. Id.

  31. 12 USCIS-PM D.3(C).

  32. AFM ch. 74.2(b)(10)(B).

  33. INA § 101(a)(33). See 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(a).

  34. McElhaney v US Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2010 WL 4365819 (D. Conn. 2010)

  35. “Section 316 of the 1952 Act, 66 Stat. 242-243, 8 U.S.C. s 1427, which liberalized previous law in some respects, provides that an alien who wishes to seek naturalization does not begin to endanger the five years of ‘continuous residence’ in this country which must precede his application until he remains outside the country for six months” Rosenberg v. Fleuti, 374 U.S. 449, 459 (1963).

  36. This is basically the canon of interpretation known as “expressio unius est exclusio alterius” (the expression of one thing implies the exclusion of others). 7 Charles Gordon, et al., Immigration Law and Procedure, § 95.02[4][a](2004) (“[a]bsence from the United States of six months or less does not affect the continuity of residence. The statute does not mention such absences, but manifestly sanctions them in the light of the specific directives” regarding six-month and one-year absences.) See Dhillon v. Regents of the Univ. of Calif., OCAHO Case No. 92B00097 (Mar. 10, 1993) (citing Gordon). See also Daniel Levy, U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Handbook § 7.5 (Sept. 2008) (“[T]he statute by implication provides that absences of less than six months are unimportant for purposes of the five years of continuous residence prior to naturalization.”). The canon of “generalia specialibus non derogant” (the general does not detract from the specific) also appears to apply here: the general statutory definition of “residence” at § 101(a)(33) shouldn’t be used to modify the meaning of the specific definition of continuous residence at § 316(b).

  37. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(1)(ii).

  38. USCIS Policy Alert, Effect of Breaks in Continuity of Residence on Eligibility for Naturalization (Feb. 26, 2020), amending 12 USCIS-PM D.3.

  39. 12 USCIS-PM D.3(C).

  40. 12 USCIS PM D.3(C)(1).

  41. For more on the topic of abandonment, see Gary Chodorow, Green Card Holders Staying Abroad Over 6 Months Risk Abandonment (Jan. 31, 2017).

  42. See Internal Revenue Service Publication 519, U.S. Tax Guide for Aliens.

  43. 8 CFR 316.5(c)(2) (“An applicant [for naturalization] who is a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the United States, but who voluntarily claims nonresident alien status… or fails to file either federal or state income tax returns… raises a rebuttable presumption that [he or she] has relinquished the privileges of permanent resident status in the United States”); 9 FAM 42.22 N1.3 (May 17, 2001).

  44. Matter of Guiot, 14 I. & N. 393, 395 (Dist. Dir. 1973) (“The alien’s actions, such as claiming nonresident alien status for Federal income tax purposes, knowing such a claim is inconsistent with status as a lawful permanent resident for immigration purposes, may be a consideration in determining intent”).

  45. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(c)(2); INS Interp. 318.4.

  46. Matter of Rivens, 25 I. & N. Dec. 623 (BIA 2011). See Singh v. Reno, 113 F.3d 1152 (9th Cir. 1997), citing Woodby v. INS, 385 U.S. 276, 277 (1966); Matter of Huang, 19 I&N Dec. 749, 754 (BIA 1988).

  47. Memo, David A. Martin, General Counsel, INS, The Effect of Filing Nonresident Income Tax Returns on an Alien’s Status as a Lawful Permanent Resident, HQ 70/11-P, 70/33-P (May 7, 1996), reprinted in 73 No. 27 Interpreter Releases 929, 948–50 (July 15, 1996); USCIS Policy Manual, vol. 12, part D, ch.3: “Continuous Residence.” See also Gary Endelman and Cyrus Mehta, Home Is Where the Card Is—How to Preserve Lawful Permanent Resident Status in a Global Economy, Immigration & Nationality Handbook 581 (2008-2009 ed.).

  48. The U.S. and China do have a tax treaty in effect. IRS, China—Tax Treaty Documents, http://www.irs.gov/Businesses/International-Businesses/China—Tax-Treaty-Documents (last visited July 28, 2014).

  49. IRS Form 2555 Instructions (2015):

    Whether you are a bona fide resident of a foreign country depends on your intention about the length and nature of your stay. Evidence of your intention may be your words and acts. If these conflict, your acts carry more weight than your words. Generally, if you go to a foreign country for a definite, temporary purpose and return to the United States after you accomplish it, you are not a bona fide resident of the foreign country. If accomplishing the purpose requires an extended, indefinite stay, and you make your home in the foreign country, you may be a bona fide resident.

    See also IRS Publication 54, Tax Guide for U.S. Citizens and Resident Aliens Abroad 14-15 (2015) (“Questions of bona fide residence are determined according to each individual case, taking into account factors such as your intention, the purpose of yor trip, and the nature and length of your stay abroad.”)

  50. Gary Endelman, The Enigma of Disruption: What Continuity of

    Residence in Naturalization Really Means (July 19, 2012), http://blog.fosterquan.com/2012/07/19/the-enigma-of-disruption-what-continuity-of-residence-in-naturalization-really-means/.

  51. Frieda Garcia, Brian O’Neill, and Clayton Cartwright, Jr., I Left My Home in San Francisco: Overseas LPR Issues, Immigration Practice Pointers (AILA 2013-14), citing Dawson v. Commissioner, 59 Tax Court 264, 268 (1972) (stating “bona fide residence is primarily a question of fact”) and Treasury Regulations §1.871-2(b) (describing the difference between a transient or sojourner and a resident).

  52. AFM 74.2(g)(9)(B).

  53. 13 INS Interp. 316.1(b)(2)(iii), cited in Daniel Levy, U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Handbook §7.4 (2016-2017 ed.)

  54. Like a reentry permit, an N-470 serves as prima facie evidence that an LPR who has left the United States has not abandoned his LPR status. See 9 Foreign Affairs Manual N9 to 8 CFR §42.22 (“It would be inconsistent to permit time spent abroad [when an N-470 has been approved] to be applied for residence for naturalization purposes, but to interpret that same time abroad as interruptive of residence for the purpose of retaining LPR status. Thus, if an alien qualifies for the benefits [of an N-470] it may be considered prima facie evidence that the alien is entitled to the status of a returning resident….”); Matter of John, 17 I&N Dec. 534 (RC 1980) (Pointing to the same inconsistency as the Foreign Affairs Manual, USCIS held that an a person who would be eligible for approval of an N-470 has not abandoned LPR status, even though they never actually filed an N-470). However, our firm may recommend that you apply for a reentry permit too because only the reentry permit serves as a travel document for an LPR who has been outside the U.S. for 1 year or more.

  55. In the case of a person employed by the CIA, the 1 year of uninterrupted physical presence in the U.S. may take place at any time prior to filing the naturalization requirement.

  56. INA §316(a).

  57. INA §316(c)., 317(3). Under this provision, the time that religious workers or those employed by. Or under contract with, the U.S. government are abroad counts towards the physical presence naturalization requirement.

  58. INA § 316(a); 8 C.F.R. § 316.2.

  59. INA § 334(a); 8 C.F.R. § 334.2(b).

  60. Students attending an educational institution in a state or district other than their home residence may apply either (a) where the institution is located, or (b) where their home residence is located, if “financially dependent” upon their parents at the time the application is filed and during the naturalization process. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(b)(2); USCIS M-476, p. 24. The Internal Revenue Service guidelines for determining whether a child qualifies as “dependent” for tax purposes may be relevant to determining whether a child is “financially dependent” for naturalization purposes.

  61. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(b)(4) (“If an applicant claims residence in more than one State, the residence for purposes of this part shall be determined by reference to the location from which the annual federal income tax returns have been and are being filed.”).

  62. 8 C.F.R. § 335.9 12(a).

  63. 8 C.F.R. § 335.9 12(b). See also 12 USCIS-PM B.3(B)(2), 12 USCIS-PM D.6(A).

  64. 8 C.F.R. § 316.5(b)(5) provides:

    (5) Residence during absences of less than one year.

    (i) An applicant’s residence during any absence of less than one year shall continue to be the State or Service district where the applicant last resided at the time of the applicant’s departure abroad.

    (ii) Return to the United States. If, upon returning to the United States, an applicant returns to the State or Service district where the applicant last resided, the applicant will have complied with the continuous residence requirement specified in § 316.2(a)(5) [state residence requirement] when at least three months have elapsed, including any part of the applicant’s absence, from the date on which the applicant first established that residence. If the applicant establishes residence in a State or Service district other than the one in which he or she last resided, the applicant must complete three months at that new residence to be eligible for naturalization.

  65. Technical Update to 12 USCIS-PM D.7, Clarifying Intent to Reside in the United States for Naturalization Purposes (Jan. 5, 2017)

  66. 12 USCIS-PM F.4.

  67. 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(2).

  68. INA § 101(f)(6).

  69. Matter of L-D-E-, 8 I. & N. Dec. 399 (BIA 1959); Matter of Ngan, 10 I. & N. Dec. 725 (BIA 1964) (“His oral sworn statements taken in connection therewith, after investigation had disclosed reason to doubt the bona fides of the status of the respondent as a citizen of the United States, constitute testimony as that term is used in section 101(f)(6) since it was not written but oral and thus not within the restriction of Sharaiha v. Hoy”).

  70. Matter of Healey and Goodchild, 17 I. & N. Dec. 22 (BIA 1979).

  71. 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(2)(vi). Linawag v. I.N.S., 872 F.2d 685, 689 (5th Cir. 1989).

  72. Kungys v. U.S., 485 U.S. 759, 780, 108 S. Ct. 1537, 99 L. Ed. 2d 839 (1988).

  73. 8 C.F.R. § 316.10(b)(3). In cases arising under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, the officer must also consider any counterbalancing evidence of GMC. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(L)(2).

  74. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(K), (L).

  75. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(L)(3).

  76. INA § 101(f).

  77. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(K)

  78. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(L)(2). Matter of Gantus-Bobadilla, 13 I&N Dec. 777 (BIA 1971).

  79. In cases arising under the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, the officer must also consider any counterbalancing evidence of GMC. 12 USCIS-PM F.5(L)(2).

  80. 8 CFR §316.10(a)(2); see INA §316(e).

  81. USCIS Form M-476: A Guide to Naturalization, p. 37.

  82. INA § 212(b)(2).

  83. INA § 212(b)(2).

  84. 8 C.F.R. § 312.2(c)(1).

  85. 12 USCIS-PM E.2.

  86. INA § 312(b)(3). Special consideration has been determined to be a test of 10 out of 25 civics questions in the person’s language where they need only answer 6 correctly. Memo, Crocetti, Assoc. Comm., Adjudication, CO 70/33.2-P (Dec. 22, 1995), reprinted in 73 No. 3 Interpreter Releases 66, 86 (Jan. 16, 1996).

  87. INA §312(b)(1); 8 C.F.R. §312.1(b)(3); 8 C.F.R. §312.2(b)(1); 62 FR 12915, 12923 (Mar. 19, 1997); AFM at 72.2(d)(5); AFM 74.3.

  88. Policy Memorandum No. 47, Pearson, Ex. Assoc. Comm., Field Operations (HQ 70/33-P) (Apr. 7, 1999), reprinted in 76 No. 17 Interpreter Releases 677, 693–711 (May 3, 1999), published on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No. 99041420.

  89. 8 C.F.R. §312.2(b)(2).

  90. INA §337(a); AFM at 72.2(d)(5)(H); Galvez-Letona v. Kirkpatrick, 54 F.Supp.2d 1218 (D. Utah 1999); Memo, Cooper, G.C. INS (Mar. 13, 2002), reprinted in 80 No. 16 Interpreter Releases 570, 592–96 (Apr. 21, 2003), published on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No. 03060641 [Rehabilitation Act of 1973 applies and disabled person may have guardian or other proxy regarding oath].

  91. Memo, Yates, Acting Assoc. Director, BUSCIS, HQISD 70/33 (June 30, 2003), published on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No. 03071544.

  92. AFM at 74.3(d)(1).

  93. Policy Memorandum, USCIS, PM-602-0019 (Dec. 14, 2010) (Interim), published on AILA InfoNet at Doc. No. 10122333.

  94. AFM at 74.3(d)(2)(A).

  95. AFM at 74.3(d)(2)(B).

  96. AFM at 74.3(d)(2)(C).

  97. Id.

  98. Id.

  99. USCIS Form M-476: A Guide to Naturalization, p. 28.

  100. Id.

  101. Id.

  102. You’ll still be required to prove, at the time of your naturalization interview, that the qualifying marriage was entered into in accordance with the laws of the place where the marriage occurred; has not been judicially annulled or terminated; was not entered into for the purpose of procuring an alien’s admission as an immigrant; and that no fee or other consideration was given for filing the immigrant or fiancée visa petition that forms the basis for admission to the United States.

  103. USCIS Honolulu, Naturalization FAQ Sheet for Spouse of a U.S. Citizen Regularly Stationed Abroad: The Honolulu Process (May 10, 2004), http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/pdfs/wwwf319b.pdf.

  104. USCIS Fee Schedule, 81 Fed. Reg. 73292 (Oct. 24, 2016) (to be codified at 8 C.F.R. § 103.7).

  105. See USCIS, N-400, Application for Naturalization (rev. Feb. 4, 2014), http://www.uscis.gov/n-400.

  106. Form M-476, A Guide to Naturalization 33 (Nov. 2016). See Email, USCIS Public Engagement Division to Stakeholders, Updates to Filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (Sept. 22, 2016) (photographs no longer required unless applicant resides overseas).

  107. USCIS Washington Field Office Interview Notice (2016), on file with the author.

  108. 8 C.F.R. § 319.11(a)(6), (7).

  109. USCIS Washington Field Office Interview Notice (2016), on file with the author.

  110. USCIS, N-400, Application for Naturalization, http://www.uscis.gov/n-400. See 8 C.F.R. §§ 316.4(a), 319.11(a) (applications should be filed in accordance with the form instructions).

  111. USCIS, Form N-476, A Guide to Naturalization 34 (Nov. 2016). Note that the instructions mentioned above are silent as to where applicants living abroad should file.

  112. USCIS, Lockbox Intake Questions and Answers (Sept. 11, 2013), http://www.uscis.gov/about-us/directorates-and-program-offices/lockbox-intake/lockbox-intake-processing-questions-and-answers.

  113. 12 USCIS-PM B.2(B)(1).

  114. 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(e)(2). See Email, USCIS Public Engagement Division to Stakeholders, Updates to Filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization (Sept. 22, 2016) (biometrics appointments now required for applicants residing in the U.S., even if over age 75).

  115. CSC & AILA Liaison Meeting Agenda (Nov. 19, 2008), AILA Infonet Doc. No. 08112165.

  116. 12 USCIS-PM B.2(B)(1).

  117. Form N-400 Instructions at 3 (Sept. 17, 2019) (“if you are currently overseas,” a USCIS notice will “instruct you to contact a U.S. Embassy, U.S. Consulate, or USCIS office outside the United States to set up an appointment.”). See 8 C.F.R. § 103.16(b) (“Individuals residing abroad. An individual who is required to provide biometric information and who is residing outside of the United States must report to a DHS-designated location to have his or her biometric information collected, whether by electronic or non-electronic means.”); 8 C.F.R. § 103.17(a) (“DHS will charge a fee … for collecting biometric information at … designated collection site[s] overseas.”); 1 USCIS-PM C.2(A) n.1 (“Requestors residing overseas may be fingerprinted by USCIS officers overseas, a U.S. consular officer at a U.S. embassy or consulate, or at a U.S. military installation abroad.”). See also 76 Fed. Reg. 53763 (Aug. 29, 2011), deleting 8 C.F.R. § 103.2(e)(3) and (e)(4)(2), under which applicants residing abroad were required to “submit a properly completed Form FD-258, Applicant Card, at the time of filing the application” and were not required to pay the biometrics fee.

  118. Email from USCIS Beijing Filed Office, May 3, 2017.

  119. To reschedule your appointment, send a letter to the USCIS office where your interview is scheduled. The letter should explain your reason for not attending the interview and should request a new interview. Include a copy of your interview notice. Make sure USCIS receives this letter within 30 days of the scheduled interview. 8 C.F.R. § 335.6(a); AFM 72.3(q); M-476 at 36. USCIS will send you a notice confirming that the interview has been cancelled and later a separate notice for the rescheduled interview.

  120. 8 C.F.R. § 335.6(a).

  121. AFM ch. 15.8.

  122. AFM ch. 15.4(e), 15.8.

  123. AFM ch.15.3(b).

  124. AFM chs. 12.4, 15.4(c).

  125. 1 USCIS-PM E.11, AILA Doc. No. 18011631 (released in response to an AILA FOIA request).

  126. 1 USCIS-PM A.6(A). See also 1 USCIS-PM A.10 (reporting allegations of misconduct or other inappropriate behavior).

  127. AMF ch. 71.1(f)(1).

  128. AFM 51.4(a) (“Any USCIS document is to be issued to the individual in his or her full legal name.” A “married woman may choose a legal married name (husband’s surname), a legal pre-marriage name (retention of maiden name), or any form of either (e.g., hyphenated name, maiden name and husband’s surname)” on the green card.).

  129. Form N-400 Instructions 5 (Mar. 26, 2016); 12 USCIS-PM K.3

  130. INA § 336(b); 8 C.F.R. § 335.3(a); 12 USCIS-PM B.4; AFM chs. 72.3(f)(3), (k).

  131. Instructions for Form N-336, Request for Hearing on a Decision in Naturalization Proceedings under Section 336 (Dec. 23, 2016).

  132. See 8 C.F.R. § 310.3.

  133. Https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/Dashboard/CaseStatus/BucketDescriptions.do#6.

  134. USCIS, Washingoton, DC—Washington Field Office (Mar. 1, 2012), http://www.uscis.gov/about-us/find-uscis-office/field-offices/washington-dc-washington-field-office.

  135. Http://travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html (last viewed Nov. 7, 2012).

  136. INA § 215(b); 22 C.F.R. § 53.1; 7 FAM 085.

  137. 22 C.F.R. § 53.2

  138. Nationality Law of the People’s Republic of China, art. 9, adopted at the Third Session of the Fifth National People’s Congress, promulgated by Order No. 8 of the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on and effective as of September 10, 1980, available at https://lawandborder.com/prc-nationality-law/.

7 comments

  1. Good afternoon Mr. Chodorow

    I really hope you read my situation in order to help me know if I can apply for a US citizenship.
    I was granted a green card on March 2014 (6 years ago) but wasn’t able to come to the States right away, instead, what I did was to travel every 4 or 6 months, stayed for a weekend in the US and then go back to my country. I did this until August 2017. The main reason why I couldn’t establish residence in the States right away was because I was taking care of my mom and then I had a high risk pregnancy and my child was born abroad and I could not go on an airplane. I never had any issue when entering through customs and now I’ve been in the US for almost 3 years just leaving the country for 2 weeks vacation on 2019.
    My questions are : Am I eligible to apply for a citizenship now (May 2020)?
    if not, how long do I need to wait?
    Will I be questioned about my absences from the past during my interview?

    I obtained my LPR through marriage with a US citizen.

    1. Marcela,

      The continuous residence requirement is 3 years for an applicant who immediately preceding the date of filing the application has been married to and “living in marital union” with a U.S. citizen (who has been a U.S. citizen for all 3 years). The term “living in marital union” means “actually resid[ing] with” one’s spouse, so it can be lost through informal separation, although not through involuntarily separation. While the couple must be “living in marital union” only up to the date of the filing, termination of the marriage at any time before the applicant takes the oath of allegiance makes the applicant ineligible under section 319(a).

      The statute allows an applicant to file their naturalization application as early as “3 months before the date the applicant” meets the continuous residence requirement, so long as the requirement is met at the time of adjudication. Oddly, USCIS regulations allow filing “90 days” early rather than “3 months early.” Applicants should be sure to comply with the requirement of the regulations.

      Caution: The early filing rule only applies to the continuous residence requirement. Applicants filing on the basis of having been married to and living in marital union with a U.S. citizen spouse for the 3 years immediately preceding the date of filing the N-400 must still complete those requirements before filing. Specifically, before filing

      • the spouse must have been a U.S. citizen for all 3 years;
      • the couple must have been married for all 3 years; and
      • the couple must have lived in “marital union” for all 3 years.

      1. Thanks a million. You just gave me a clearer idea on What, how and when to do it. Hope to contact you any time soon to apply for my citizenship with your office name.

  2. Gary – How risky is it to apply for naturalization with a break greater than 6 months but less than a year.
    I have a break from Dec 2015-Aug 2016 and even though I am eligible currently, I do fear denial of the N-400 since I did not own a home in the US, my company moved me to India and my payroll change to India and also my family was with me in India. I did have a valid drivers licence, continued paying and filing my US Taxes.
    Would you recommend I apply for naturalization

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