You're Not a Naturalized U.S. Citizen Until You Take the Oath!

Although the bulk of the paperwork and interview has been completed, and you’ve succeeded in getting approval to go forward, you must make sure that you continue to be eligible for U.S. citizenship right up until the day of the oath ceremony.

By , Attorney · Temple University Beasley School of Law

Your naturalization interview is one of the most important steps in applying for naturalized U.S. citizenship; but even after you've passed it, you're not quite finished with the process. There is one crucial last step: taking the oath of allegiance to the United States and receiving your naturalization certificate. Although the bulk of the paperwork and interview has been completed, and you've succeeded in getting approval to go forward, you must make sure that you continue to be eligible for U.S. citizenship right up until the day of the oath ceremony.

People have actually been turned away from the oath ceremony because they'd done something to destroy their eligibility in the weeks or months leading up to it. For instance, if you have been arrested or if you have traveled extensively outside of the U.S., you will need to disclose these changes to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and you might not be eligible to naturalize.

As further detailed below, it is definitely in your best interest to stay out of trouble in the time between your naturalization interview and your U.S. citizenship oath ceremony!

How Long You Will Have to Wait for the U.S. Citizenship Oath Ceremony

Depending on where you live and the oath ceremony schedule in your district, you could be scheduled as soon as the same day you pass your interview or it could be several months before you are able to take the oath. The longer the wait, the higher the risk that changes in your situation might impact your continued eligibility for U.S. citizenship.

How USCIS Will Find Out About Changes in Your Life Situation

Form N-445, Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony, which you will either receive at the conclusion of your interview at USCIS or later by mail, is an important document. It will not only list things that you should bring to the oath ceremony, but it contains a questionnaire that you must fill out on the reverse side. Your answers to these questions will determine whether you are still eligible for naturalized citizenship.

The Form N-445 questionnaire contains questions similar to those you answered on your N-400, Application for Naturalization. If you answer "yes" to any of these, you will need to explain the reason to the USCIS official at the ceremony. The official will determine whether you are still eligible to take the oath that day or whether to send you home and ask you to mail in additional evidence or to await further action on your application.

Make sure you answer the questions truthfully, or speak to a lawyer if you are worried about your answer to one of them. Disclosing a minor criminal offense is typically preferable to making a false statement to an immigration official, as you could lose your U.S. citizenship later if it is discovered that you lied.

How Changes in Marital Status Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

You will be asked: Have you married, or been widowed, separated or divorced. If "Yes," please bring documented proof of marriage, death, separation, or divorce.

USCIS asks this question because if you are applying for citizenship after three years based on your marriage to a U.S. citizen, you must remain married until after you take the oath. If your spouse died or you separated or divorced before you could be naturalized, your application will be rejected (unless the normal wait time of five years has already passed), because you are not eligible to apply early based on your marriage. You can reapply once you have had your green card for five years.

If you have been married recently, USCIS will want your new spouse's biographical information before allowing you to naturalize. And if your name has changed because of the new marriage, it will not match the preprinted naturalization certificate that you are given at the conclusion of the oath ceremony. You should provide evidence of your name change (such as a marriage certificate) and you will be scheduled to take the oath at a later date once USCIS processes this new information.

How Long Trips Outside the U.S. Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

Form N-445 will also ask: Have you traveled outside of the United States?

If you have made only a short trip outside the U.S. since your naturalization interview, then you shouldn't have a problem. USCIS is only concerned if you have abandoned your residency by making your home in another country. If you have spent several months abroad recently, you should bring evidence to the oath ceremony that you maintained your ties to the United States.

For more on maintaining U.S. residence when abroad, see How to Travel Outside the U.S. With a Green Card.

How Arrests and Convictions Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

You will be asked: Have you been arrested, cited, charged, indicted, convicted, fined, or imprisoned for breaking or violating any law or ordinance, including traffic violations?

In any of these cases, USCIS will want to know what happened following your arrest and citation, known as the "official disposition" of the case. If you need to answer "yes" to this question, be sure to gather copies of all documentation regarding the incident and to talk to an attorney before submitting them. Certain types of crimes can not only hurt your eligibility for citizenship, but cause U.S. immigration authorities to place you into removal proceedings in immigration court. Minor traffic citations shouldn't pose an issue, but you should still make sure to disclose them.

In some cases, where citizenship applicants have been arrested, the USCIS officer might postpone their oath ceremony until they receive the final outcome of their criminal case. For more on this topic, see FAQs About Taking Oath of U.S. Citizenship.

How Lapses in Moral Character Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

You will need to answer two questions about your moral character: 1) Have you knowingly committed any crime or offense, for which you have not been arrested? and 2) Have you practiced polygamy; received income from illegal gambling; been a prostitute, procured anyone for prostitution or been involved in any other unlawful commercialized vice; encouraged or helped any alien to enter the United States illegally; illicitly trafficked in drugs or marijuana; given any false testimony to obtain immigration benefits; or been a habitual drunkard?

USCIS asks these questions to determine whether you still have the good moral character required for U.S. citizenship. You will be asked to disclose any crimes or offenses that law enforcement or other authorities have not discovered. While it might occur to you to hide this criminal activity because you have not been "caught," if this information is uncovered in the future, you could lose your citizenship.

The inquiries about instances of specific behavior are USCIS's "go-to" questions to determine good moral character. People who have been involved with prostitution, heavy drinking, drugs, gambling, and polygamy and those who have helped others to skirt U.S. immigration laws or lied to receive immigration benefits are not eligible for U.S. citizenship. Again, see an attorney if you're worried about how to answer any of these questions.

Membership in the Communist Party and Certain Organizations Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

Form N-445 asks: Have you joined any organization, including the Communist Party, or become associated or connected therewith in any way?

Communists are not eligible for U.S. citizenship. Likewise, if you have joined any club or organization that USCIS considers to pose a national security threat, you will not be allowed to take the oath. You can bring documentation of any groups you have recently joined that may be suspect, but the best thing to do is to avoid joining any new organizations until after you have taken the naturalization oath.

How Refusing Military Service or Being Unwilling to Serve the U.S. in National Emergencies Can Affect Citizenship Eligibility

You will be asked two questions about military service: 1) Have you claimed an exemption from military service? and 2) Has there been any change in your willingness to bear arms on behalf of the United States; to perform non-combatant service in the armed forces of the United States; to perform work of national importance under civilian direction, if the law requires it?

If you are a man (as defined by the gender assigned you at birth) and you received your permanent resident card before the age of 26, you were probably expected to register for Selective Service (or the military "draft"), though some exceptions apply.

All applicants, both male and female, are asked on Form N-400 to certify that they will take up arms or perform noncombatant service in a war effort. If your religious beliefs have changed such that you are no longer able to swear to this part of the oath and have taken up "conscientious objector status," you will need to provide proof of this and request taking a modified Oath of Allegiance.

If You Have Further Questions or Concerns About Your U.S. Citizenship Eligibility

An experienced immigration attorney can help evaluate your ongoing eligibility for U.S. citizenship and strategize ways to protect your eligibility to take the oath of allegiance and become a U.S. citizen.

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