To become a United States citizen by application (rather than by birth in the United States), the applicant normally has to understand, be willing to take, and actually recite the "oath of allegiance." Applicants for U.S. citizenship are also required to support the constitution and form of government of the United States.
An applicant for U.S. citizenship can take the oath of allegiance only if he or she can freely say that he or she wants to become a U.S. citizen and understands that he or she is:
becoming a U.S. citizen, and
giving up “allegiance” to the country of which he or she was previously a citizen.
However, some people have disabilities that make it impossible for them to express their support for the U.S. constitution or government, or to take the oath. Anyone actually reading this article is unlikely to fit this description, so we're going to presume that you are a family member who thinks that your relative may fall into this group. If you would like to help your disabled family member become a U.S. citizen, it may make sense to request what's called an “oath waiver.”
An oath waiver allows people who are – because of a severe disability or impairment – completely unable to understand and take the oath to become citizens. Instead of having the naturalization applicant answer questions at the interview and take the oath, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) allows a “designated representative” to answer all questions regarding the information on the Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) and complete all steps of the naturalization process. However, the representative will not have to take the naturalization test.
For the application to be approved, the “designated representative” must be able to confirm orally and in writing that the applicant meets all the requirements for naturalization. But the applicant must still undergo a background check and (with help, most likely) submit photos and all other necessary documentation.
The applicant can also sign the Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization) unless physically unable to sign, in which case the “designated representative” can sign his or her own signature in the place where the applicant would normally sign.
An oath waiver is not appropriate for an applicant with a minor disability. This is because USCIS will look for any ways in which it can modify its standard interviewing procedure in order to allow the applicant to effectively tell an immigration officer whether he or she understands and is willing to take the oath. In cases of minor disabilities, some workable adjustment can usually be made.
An oath waiver is not the same thing as a disability waiver of the naturalization tests, which cover the English language as well as U.S. history and government. And, more importantly, a decision by USCIS to approve a request for an oath waiver does not mean that the naturalization applicant will also receive a waiver of the naturalization test.
Applicants requesting an oath waiver may very well want to request a disability waiver of the naturalization test as well. More information on that is available under "Waivers for Age or Disability When Applying for Citizenship."
For an applicant to receive an oath waiver, it must be clear that the person “ha[s] a developmental or physical disability or mental impairment that prevents him or her from being able to understand the meaning of the oath or to communicate an understanding of the oath requirement,” as described in a June 30, 2003 USCIS memo.
There must also be someone who can act as a designated representative for the applicant. To qualify as a designated representative, the person must be either:
the applicant's court-appointed “legal guardian or surrogate” or, if there is no legal guardian or surrogate,
“a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or adult brother or sister” of the applicant.
There is no standard form used to request an oath waiver. Also, USCIS does not require that an applicant request an oath waiver when first sending in the naturalization application. An applicant is allowed to request an oath waiver for the first time at a naturalization interview.
However, if possible, it is a good idea to include a written request for an oath waiver when first mailing in the Form N-400, or at least to write at the top of the first page of Form N-400 something like: “APPLICANT REQUESTS AN OATH WAIVER” or “OATH WAIVER REQUESTED.”
If you do not include a request for an oath waiver when you mail in Form N-400, be prepared to explain, at the interview, why you did not make your request earlier.
There are two key requirements to receive an oath waiver: (1) the applicant must unable to take the oath; and (2) there must be a person who has the authority to act as the applicant's “designated representative.”
Both requirements are met by providing various documents, including, at a minimum, the following:
A statement from a U.S.-licensed medical or osteopathic doctor or psychologist who (a) has been seeing the applicant the longest; or (b) is most familiar with the applicant's medical history and condition. The statement from the doctor should include, at a minimum:
An explanation regarding the depth of the doctor's knowledge regarding the applicant's medical treatment. Specifically, the doctor should:
describe how long he or she has been treating the applicant
state that he or she has reviewed the applicant's prior medical treatment and history, and
state that, among all of the applicant's doctors, he or she has been treating the applicant the longest and/or is the most familiar with the applicant's medical history.
A non-technical description of the applicant's condition and disability or disabilities. To be non-technical, the doctor should not use any undefined acronyms and should provide simple definitions of all medical terms. The goal is that the letter be clear and simple enough that the immigration officer and the designated representative can understand it without having to turn to a medical dictionary.
An explanation regarding what it is about the applicant's disability that makes the person unable to understand and express to an immigration officer an understanding of of the oath. An example would be: “Because of applicant's severe mental retardation (below average mental functioning since the age of ten, which makes him completely unable to independently perform any activities of daily living), he is completely unable to understand what it means to be a citizen, let alone what it means to apply for naturalization and take an oath of allegiance to the United States.”
An opinion regarding how likely it is that in the near future the applicant would be able to understand and communicate an understanding of the oath.
The doctor's signature and state license number.
A written affidavit from the designated representative stating:
That to the best of his or her knowledge and belief, no other person has been granted legal guardianship or authority over the affairs of the applicant.
That the designated representative personally knows the relevant information regarding whether the applicant qualifies for naturalization. (Note: this statement is not necessary if the representative is the applicant's legal guardian or surrogate.)
If applicable, that the designated representative was not aware, at the time that the application for naturalization was submitted, that the applicant's disability was so severe that he or she would be unable to understand and answer questions related to the naturalization process.
A court order showing that the designated representative is the applicant's legal guardian or surrogate OR, if there is no such court order, items 4-6, below.
Proof that the representative is a U.S. citizen.
Proof of the familial relationship between the representative and the applicant. If the proposed representative of the applicant is a spouse, provide a copy of the marriage certificate. If the representative is the applicant's parent, provide evidence that the applicant is the applicant's child, son, or daughter. If the representative is the applicant's child, provide evidence that the representative would, at some time, have qualified as the applicant's child under Immigration and Nationality Act Section 101(b)(1). NOTE: Any document showing the relationship between the representative and applicant that is not in English must be submitted together with a translation. See "Translating Non-English Documents for Immigration Applications" for more information.
If the designated representative is not the applicant's spouse, any proof the representative may have that he or she has "primary custodial responsibility" for the applicant, e.g.:
proof that the representative is the copayee of any public benefits the applicant receives
affidavits from the representative and others familiar with the applicant's condition and situation describing the ways in which the representative looks after and takes care of the applicant
tax returns the representative has filed that list the applicant as a dependent, and
any other documents demonstrating that the representative is responsible for the applicant's welfare, such as an executed power of attorney.
Even after the applicant requests an oath waiver, the USCIS officer may still try to conduct an independent evaluation of whether the applicant is truly unable to understand what he or she is applying for or state support for the government and constitution of the United States.
The officer may do this by having the applicant's interpreter interpret the officer's yes/no questions about naturalization, the oath, and the applicant's desires and wishes. The officer might also allow the applicant to respond with “physical motions or signals” if unable to speak.
Usually, it is obvious (because of the applicant's severe physical and mental disabilities) that an applicant qualifies for an oath waiver. But if the applicant's disability is not readily apparent, the USCIS officer may ask for more documents about the applicant's disability.
The officer may also refuse to approve the request for an oath waiver because of some technical error in the applicant's oath waiver request. For more information about what to do if the first naturalization interview does not go as planned, see "What Happens If USCIS Rejects an N-648 Disability Waiver Request."
The USCIS officer may also ask unusual or inappropriate questions. If the officer is asking for documents or information that seem inappropriate, definitely ask to speak with a supervisor.
If the applicant qualifies for an oath waiver, and USCIS approves the application for naturalization, the applicant will not have to appear at a public oath ceremony. Instead, the applicant's representative should be able to complete a same-day administrative oath process. That means that the applicant will receive a naturalization certificate on the same day as the USCIS interview. This process is referred to as a “same-day oath ceremony” or a “same-day administrative oath.”