The final step in applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship is to attend an interview with an officer of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Some months after submitting Form N-400 to USCIS, you will likely receive a naturalization appointment notice telling you where and when to present yourself for this interview.
Here's what to expect and how to make sure the interview goes well.
The USCIS notice will tell you what to bring to your interview, and advise you of any other important rules or considerations. Be sure to follow any measures USCIS has put into place for health and safety during the coronavirus pandemic, such as wearing a mask and standing six feet away from others.
You can have a lawyer accompany you to your USCIS 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 they represent 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 can't answer the questions 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 or study for the history and civics exam. Then hiring a lawyer could be essential.
The lawyer can analyze your situation in advance, advise whether you should go forward with your application at all (if the problem is too serious, you might be risking deportation), and possibly help explain the matter to the USCIS officer and protect your rights.
When you get to the USCIS office building, you will first go through a federal security checkpoint. You might need to ask for directions to the room where the citizenship interviews take place. Once 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, wait for your name to be called. You might have to wait for some time, since USCIS often schedules many people for the same block of time.
That doesn't mean you should show up at the last minute. Get there early enough to make sure you don't get lost and to 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 and you'd have to start over.
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. Then the main part of the interview will take place.
A surprising amount of the naturalization interview involves the USCIS officer going over the written application and documents, 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, read over your copy of your filled-in 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 USCIS officer might 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 ready 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 either of the above are true, it might 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 could raise concerns, particularly if you have committed crimes or have done anything that might affect the officer's opinion about your "moral character."
Moreover, the officer might have information about you from sources other than what you provided in your application. Assume that USCIS knows almost everything about you! If the officer has any questions about whether you should get citizenship, based on information you gave or information obtained 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 lie to the officer because you think the truth will hurt your chances at U.S. 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 USCIS officer meets you. The officer 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 the officer will dictate. The vocabulary will come from the list that you studied ahead of time (provided within the Study Materials 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 U.S. 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 several questions from the long list you studied, as was provided by USCIS.
The list contains 100 questions, and you will have to answer six out of ten correctly in order to pass. If you are unable to answer a sufficient number of questions correctly, the interview will stop. If this was your first interview, you will be rescheduled for another day (within the next 90 days).
If all goes well at your naturalization interview, the USCIS officer will tell you that you have been approved and might 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. If that's the case where you are, 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 evidence of eligibility. Or, the officer might need to get approval from a supervisor because of some uncertainty about whether or not 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 from the USCIS officer explaining the reasons. You can choose to appeal or to simply reapply. Don't reapply, however, unless you understand why you got denied and your new application will be different and will likely cause USCIS to approve you this time.