What to Expect at Your Naturalization Interview

What the USCIS officer will say and do during your interview for U.S. citizenship.

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Your naturalization appointment notice -- which you will likely receive some months after submitting Form N-400 -- will tell you where and when to present yourself for your citizenship interview. After you receive this notice, you have only one major hurdle left to citizenship: a successful interview. Here’s what to expect, and how to make sure the interview goes well.

Arriving at the USCIS Office

When you get to the USCIS office, you will go through a security checkpoint and be asked to prove your identity,using a photo identity document and undergoing biometrics reverification (submitting to having two fingerprints and a photo taken, which will be checked against government databases to make sure that you are really you and didn't send someone else in your place).

After being admitted to the office within, the usual procedure is for you to place your interview notice in a box and wait for your name to be called. You may have to wait a very long time, since USCIS often schedules many people for the same block of time.

But that doesn’t mean you should show up at the last minute. Get there early, to make sure you don’t get lost, find parking, and make it through the security station well in time for your interview. If you fail to show up on time, USCIS could decide to close your case file.

When it’s your turn, a USCIS officer will call you in to the inner office, lead you to a desk, and ask that you swear to tell the truth during the interview.

Review of Your N-400 Application

A surprising amount of your interview will involve the USCIS officer going over your written application, particularly Form N-400. The officer will use the simple inquiries on your form, such as “Your current legal name” and “What is your current marital status?” to test your English and to confirm that the information you have given is correct.

Before the interview, be sure go over your copy of your Form N-400 carefully. Then, simulate the interview at home, for example by having an English-speaking friend ask you each of the questions.

Discussion of Changes in Your Life Circumstances Since Filing Form N-400

The officer may ask near the beginning of your interview, “Are there any changes to your application?”

Be prepared to provide corrections. Most changes are not a problem. If, for example, you have had another child, be prepared with the child’s exact name and a copy of the birth certificate. Or, if you have taken a trip outside the United States, bring a list of the exact dates and other information that the N-400 asks for regarding trips (and, of course, make sure that none of those trips broke the continuity of your U.S. residence). If you have changed jobs, bring a business card or employer letter showing your new employer’s name and address.

Two particular changes to your Form N-400 could, however, have a serious impact on your chances of receiving U.S. citizenship:

• If you have recently divorced the person who sponsored you for a green card.

• If you have recently been arrested or done anything else that would cause you to change your answer to any of the "no" answers in Part 5 of the Form N-400 to “yes.”

If either of the above are true, it may not only affect your eligibility for citizenship, but your right to remain in the United States. See an immigration attorney immediately.

Testing Your English Ability

The test of your English speaking ability will begin the moment the officer meets you. He or she will be observing your ability to follow instructions (such as, “Please remain standing,” when you are sworn in), and to answer questions.

If you don’t understand a question, it’s okay to ask the officer to rephrase it. In fact, guessing at what the officer is saying could get you into deeper difficulties than simply saying, “I’m sorry, would you  please repeat that using different words?”

USCIS has instructed its officers “to repeat and rephrase questions until the officer is satisfied that the applicant either fully understands the question or does not understand English.”

The officer will also ask you to write a sentence in English, which he or she will dictate. The vocabulary will come from the list that you studied ahead of time (provided on the USCIS website and in Becoming a U.S. Citizen, by Ilona Bray (Nolo)).

Testing Your Knowledge of U.S. Civics

In some USCIS offices, they split the interview up, by having one officer test you on civics as well as written English, and then another one do the actual interview. If that’s not the case where you are, however, the interviewing officer will simply ask you up to ten questions from the list of 100 possible ones provided by USCIS. As soon as you have answered six questions correctly, the officer will stop, and you will have passed this portion of the interview.

If you are unable to answer six out of ten questions correctly, the interview will stop, and you will be rescheduled for another day (within the next 90 days).

The Interview Decision

If all goes well at the interview, the USCIS officer will tell you that you have been approved and may hand you a piece of paper containing information about your swearing-in ceremony.

In some parts of the United States, you have a choice between going to a court-run or a USCIS-run ceremony. In that case, the officer will show you the schedule and ask you to choose a date. (Remember to choose a court ceremony if requesting a name change, as only a judge can approve this.) Most USCIS offices will notify you about the swearing-in ceremony by mail. In any case, you are now a mere one or two months away from attaining U.S. citizenship.

If you are denied, you should receive a piece of paper explaining the reasons. You may choose to appeal or to simply reapply.

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