My Relative Drives: Can She or He Get a Disability Waiver for Naturalization?

After you have read about  the disability waiver  in general, you may be wondering whether your relative can get a disability waiver even though he or she drives a car. After all, if your relative is trying to prove to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that physical or mental disability makes it impossible for him or her to take the civics and English tests required for U.S. naturalization, being able to handle a car might undermine that argument. The short answer is that it is possible for a person who drives to get a disability waiver, but it can be difficult.

Recent USCIS Memo on Disability Waivers

A  December, 2010 USCIS memorandum  about how an immigration officer is supposed to review Form N-648 (the form that a naturalization applicant must use to request a waiver of the naturalization test), specifically says that an officer should not deny a disability waiver because there is a particular activity that the applicant is able to perform. The idea is that the doctor who completes Form N-648 is best able to make the medical determination about an applicant's ability or inability to take the naturalization test. Therefore, an immigration officer should not substitute his or her judgment for the medical decision of the doctor who completed the Form N-648.

For example, if the doctor has decided that the naturalization applicant is unable to take the naturalization test, the officer should not ignore the doctor's medical determination and instead decide that because he or she drives to the supermarket, the applicant can also study for and take the naturalization test.

How USCIS May (or May Not) Apply This Memo

Although the rule is that an officer should not ask about activities and then decide that an ability to complete one of them disqualifies the applicant from receiving a disability waiver, in practice some officers will do so anyway.

In part, this may be a result of history and habit: In the past, the doctor who completed Form N-648 was actually required to describe the effect of the applicant's disability on his or her “activities of daily living.” And, perhaps as a result of the availability of this information, many immigration officers seem to have gotten into the mindset that only a person who is home-bound and very dependent on the help of others to deal with cooking, cleaning, and other activities of living can qualify for a disability waiver.

Because of this history, your relative should not be surprised if the immigration officer asks about his or her living situation, including whether and how often your relative drives a car or why he or she could pass the driver's test, but cannot take the naturalization test.

When faced with such questions, your relative's interpreter or attorney can politely point out that the new disability waiver rules specifically state that an officer should not identify something that an applicant can do in his or her private life in order to cast doubt on the legitimacy of the disability waiver request. If the officer still insists on asking and receiving answers to questions about activities of daily living, your relative, or the interpreter or attorney, should ask to speak to a supervisor.

Another option is to answer the questions but then ask to speak with a supervisor if the officer seems to be using the answers to the questions about driving habits or other activities as a basis to reject the medical waiver.

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