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.
You can have a lawyer accompany you to your interview, even if you only just hired the lawyer. It doesn't matter that you've never told USCIS that you'll be bringing an extra guest. On the day of the interview, the lawyer should simply hand the USCIS officer a form called a G-28 to show that he or she now represents you.
Then the question is, do you want a lawyer with you? If it's just because you're not sure you're ready for your interview, you might do just as well studying up on your English language and American civics. The lawyer can't stop USCIS from asking any of these questions, and he or she can't answer them for you. In fact, you'll find that the lawyer has to sit quietly through much of the interview.
It's a different matter if there's a legal issue in your case that you don't know how to deal with—such as if you've spent more than a year outside the United States, have had a run-in with the police, were quickly divorced from the spouse that got you your green card, or have a disability that prevents you from being able to learn English. Then a lawyer can help explain the matter to the USCIS officer, and protect your rights.
When you get to the USCIS office building, you will go through a security checkpoint. You may need to ask for directions to the room where the citizenship interviews take place. Once you get there, you’ll need to check in with the person at the desk or window, or follow instructions for checking in with your interview notice. Then have a seat and wait for your name to be called. You may have to wait for some 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, and that you 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 a private office or cubicle where the interview will take place. The officer will usually be sitting at a work desk, and you will be given a chair on the other side of the desk. Your lawyer, if you have hired one, may be present in the office with you.
The USCIS officer begins the interview by asking you to raise your right hand and swear to tell the truth during the interview.
A surprising amount of your interview will involve the USCIS officer going over your written application and the documents you submitted, 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.
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 before going to the interview.
The job of the USCIS officer during the interview is to decide whether you are eligible for citizenship. The information and documents you gave when you applied may raise concerns with the officer, particularly if you have committed crimes or have done anything that might affect the officer’s opinion about your “moral character.”
Moreover, the officer may have information about you from sources other than what you provided in your application—you should assume that USCIS knows everything about you. If the officer has any questions about whether you should get citizenship, based on information you gave or information the officer got from other sources, you will need to provide truthful answers at the interview.
The worst thing you can do at a citizenship interview is to hold back information or lie to the officer because you think the truth will hurt your chances at citizenship. Even if the question is not relevant to the officer’s decision, your citizenship can be denied on grounds that you were not truthful during the interview. If you truly do not know the answer to a question or cannot remember, tell the officer that. Do not make up an answer.
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 you either fully understand the question or do 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)).
Lots of people who can pass the English test have their citizenship denied because of misunderstandings during questioning at the interview. Make sure your ability to speak and understand English is strong before you apply for citizenship.
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 doing 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).
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.
Sometimes the officer cannot make a decision after the interview, maybe because the officer needs you to send another document. Or, the officer may need to get approval from a supervisor because of some uncertainty about whether you are entitled to citizenship. Make sure you comply with any deadlines for responding to requests for more evidence.
If you are denied, you should receive a piece of paper explaining the reasons. You may choose to appeal or to simply reapply. Don’t reapply, however, unless you understand why you got denied and your new application is different and will cause USCIS to change its mind.