FAQs About Taking Oath of U.S. Citizenship

Whether you've had a recent arrest or are a Jehovah's Witness, learn how this will affect your ability to take the oath of citizenship.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

The final step in the process of becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen is to attend a swearing-in ceremony, at which you will take an oath of allegiance to the United States. While this is a fairly straightforward part of the process—you have, after all, been approved for citizenship already—it can give rise to legal issues and questions, such as:

Do I have to take a different oath of allegiance if I plan to be a dual citizen?

I'm scheduled to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen soon. I have read that, since my home country (the U.K.) allows it, I can maintain dual citizenship with it and the United States. But the citizenship oath says I will "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."

Will I be lying if I take that oath when planning to maintain dual citizenship? Is there some alternate oath I should take?

Answer: The same oath works, even for intending dual citizens

As the U.S. State Department, says, "U.S. law does not . . . require a person to choose one citizenship or another." And the Supreme Court has declared that "the concept of dual citizenship recognizes that a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both." (See Kawasita v United States, 343 U.S. 717, 753 (1952).)

U.S. courts have often said that the only ways in which a dual citizen can lose U.S. citizenship is by choosing to do so. (There are other ways in which one can lose U.S. citizen status involuntarily, such as by committing treason, but that's a separate issue.) So, you can take the oath as it stands, in good faith, even while planning to retain your original citizenship.

What if an applicant is too disabled to take the oath?

My family member is soon to attend an interview for U.S. citizenship, where we will request a disability waiver of most of the requirements. I am his designated representative. Assuming he is approved, how do we handle the oath ceremony? His speech and other impairments are so severe that he truly can't repeat it, let alone understand what it means.

Answer: Oath waiver is available in cases of severe disability

Naturalization applicants normally have to understand, be willing to take, and actually recite the "oath of allegiance," but can do so only if they can freely say that they want to become a U.S. citizen and understand that they are both becoming a U.S. citizen and giving up "allegiance" to the country of which they were previously a citizen.

Some people's disabilities make this impossible. The designated representative might then want to request an "oath waiver." For approval, it must be clear that the person has 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.

USCIS prefers that you request the oath waiver when first sending in the N-400, and has created a question on Form N-648, which is used to ask for various disability-related waivers, where the doctor can recommend the oath waiver. You can also request it by a separate letter, or request it for the first time at the naturalization interview.

There are two key requirements for receiving an oath waiver:

  • the applicant must be unable to take the oath, and
  • there must be someone legally acting as "designated representative."

You will need to prove these things by providing a statement from your family member's doctor regarding the disability, an affidavit from you explaining your role, along with any court documents showing that you are the applicant's legal guardian; and proof that you are a U.S. citizen and related to the applicant.

An applicant who qualifies for both naturalization and an oath waiver will not have to appear at a public oath ceremony. Instead, the applicant should receive a naturalization certificate on the day of the USCIS interview; a process referred to as a "same-day oath ceremony" or a "same-day administrative oath."

Got arrested before my oath ceremony: Now what?

I'm scheduled to be sworn in as a U.S. citizen soon. Last week, I was arrested for driving under the influence (DUI). Can I still take the oath? Will I be able to become a U.S. citizen?

Answer: You can go ahead only if your case is quickly dismissed

Unless you are able to get a court document or "official disposition" of your DUI case with a dismissal or a verdict of not guilty, you will need to postpone the oath ceremony or reapply for naturalization another time.

Candidates for naturalization must remain eligible on the day of the ceremony. That means that you must be of good moral character and not pose a threat to public safety. If you have a pending criminal case, USCIS is unable to make that determination, and will take you off its schedule until you can submit documentation showing how the case turned out.

Also, if you are sentenced to probation, USCIS will deny your citizenship application. You can later reapply for naturalization, after your probation has ended.

As a normal part of the oath ceremony, you will be asked whether you have been arrested or cited since your naturalization interview and whether you are a "habitual drunkard." You must answer truthfully, as you could lose your citizenship or even be deported in the future if USCIS discovers that you lied in order to obtain an immigration benefit. For more on what to expect at the oath ceremony, see You're Not a Naturalized Citizen Until You Take the Oath!.

As long as the DUI ("DWI" in some states) does not involve bodily injury to another person, criminal intent, or a prison sentence of six months or more, and you do not have a history of alcohol-related arrests, it should not disqualify you from U.S. citizenship or put you at risk for deportation. However, seek the advice of both a criminal attorney and an immigration attorney. The exact type of crime (if any) to which you plead and the sentence you receive (even if it's probation or rehabilitation) could make a big difference in your ability to apply for citizenship in the future.

As a Jehovah's Witness, I can't take an oath—can I still become a citizen?

My religion teaches me not to take an oath of allegiance to any country, and that military service is forbidden. Can I still become a naturalized U.S. citizen without taking an oath?

Answer: A modified oath is permissible if you can show religious reasons

To become a U.S. citizen, you will have to attend an oath ceremony and make a pledge of allegiance to the United States. However, "conscientious objectors" to military service and those whose religion has instructed them not to use the word "oath" can request a modified oath from USCIS, omitting four phrases:

  1. "on oath" (You will instead use "solemnly affirm.")
  2. "so help me God"
  3. "willing to bear arms on behalf of the U.S." and
  4. "willing to perform noncombatant services in the Armed Forces of the U.S."

Request the modified oath when you submit your N-400, which will ask questions about taking up weapons, joining in a war, or providing noncombatant services in the armed forces. (See Filling Out USCIS Form N-400.)

You must also attach information stating that you are a member of the Jehovah's Witnesses in good standing (an active participant in congregational events) together with a letter on official letterhead explaining that Jehovah's Witnesses are opposed to bearing arms, military service, and using the words "on oath." A letter from your congregation's elder is considered adequate.

At your naturalization interview, a USCIS officer may ask you further questions on this topic. (Also see What to Expect at Your Naturalization Interview.)

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