N-400 Form in the United States
The N-400 form is the document that United States lawful permanent residents must fill out to apply for United States citizenship. The process is called naturalization.
Once the applicant is a United States permanent resident who has spent the required number of years in the United States and meets the other eligibility requirements for obtaining United States citizenship, his first step in the application process is to fill out the the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Form N-400.
There are a number of grounds upon which the permanent resident can be denied.
Except in the case the permanent resident (the applicant) is not using other routes to obtain United States citizenship, such as requesting automatic citizenship through the permanent resident parents’ United States citizen status (using one of the legal processes called acquisition or derivation), the grounds for denial of a Form N-400 might be based on:
- whether the permanent resident merited the green card in the first place,
- whether, since getting a green card, the permanent resident did something to make the permanent resident legally removable from the United States, or
- whether the permanent resident meets the basic eligibility criteria for United States citizenship.
N-400 Application Details
How Long the Permanent resident has lived in the U.S. State where he or she plan to submit his or her Application
Three months is the minimum time in which the permanent resident need to have lived in a particular U.S. state before submitting an application to naturalize. The application will be reviewed by the nearest USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) office there.
When the Permanent Resident can submit his or her Application
The applicant must submit the completed Form N-400 to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services center having jurisdiction over the permanent resident place of residence in the United States. Because the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services tends to be quite delayed, the permanent resident is allowed to submit the application up to 90 days before he or she has actually reached the five years (or fewer years, in the case an exception may be applied).
There is no upper limit on how long the permanent resident can wait to submit Form N-400. Many permanent residents live in the United States for decades before deciding to become citizens.
The Applicant´s Age
The applicant must be at least 18 years of age in order to apply to naturalize (see below). However, there are situations in which a younger permanent resident can obtain United States citizenship automatically, through their parents.
How Long the Applicant has been a United States Permanent (or Conditional) Resident
The applicant is required to live in the United States as a lawful permanent resident for at least five years before applying to naturalize – however, exceptions do exist in this case, as described as follows:
- In the case the applicant got the permanent resident residence as a refugees or asylee (status), he or she will benefit from a “rollback,” which allows the permanent resident to count some of the time before he or she applied for the permanent resident green card as if the permanent resident already had permanent residence.
- In the case the permanent resident entered the United States as a refugee, the permanent resident can count all the time starting on his or her day of entry, no matter how long it took the applicant to apply for the permanent resident green card.
- In the case the permanent resident received asylum within the United States, the permanent resident can count one year of the permanent resident asylum status toward his or her permanent residence. (Note: In either case, the permanent resident green card will already show the rolled-back date, so the permanent resident wll still need to count five years from that date.)
- Spouses of United States citizens, who have been married and living with the U.S. citizen for the last three years, can apply to naturalize after three (years), rather than five years with a green card. And battered spouses, who got their green cards based on marriage to a United States citizen, but who filed independently (using Form I-360) due to the above abuse, can also use this three-year exception.
- U.S. military personnel and their spouses (or widows and widowers) can also make use of various exceptions. For example, militars who have served honorably for one year, and got an honorable discharge, can apply to naturalize without waiting beyond the date they get their green card — but must apply within six months of discharge. And people who served in certian conflicts (including wars) can apply for United States citizenship even without getting a green card first.
How Long the Permanent resident has been Physically Present in the United States
The applicant must have lived in the United States for at least half of his or her five years of permanent residence. However, in the case that an exception allows the permanent resident to apply to naturalize in less time, he or she must have lived in the United States for half that amount of time — 18 months for spouses of United States citizens, for example.
Whether the Permanent resident has maintained continuous Presence in the United States
The applicant, besides the need to have lived and been “physically present” in the United States for a certain number of years, he or she needs not having broken up the permanent resident residency with any long absences. An absence of six months or more will raise a presumption that the permanent resident has broken the permanent resident continuous presence by living in another country. In the worst case, the immigration authorities could decide that the permanent resident abandoned his or her United States residence altogether, and effectively gave up his or her right to a green card (in which case the permanent resident would be placed in removal proceedings, in an Immigration Court).
Deportation is when a person is sent out of the United States by the immigration authorities. The preferred technical term currently, however, is “removal.”
In the United States, there are many circumstances under which the immigration authorities can enforce someone’s departure from the United States. Examples include:
- Immigration officers catching immigrants attempting to cross the United States border and immediately returning them,
- Removals of aliens in detention
- Issuing an order of removal to an immigrant whose Immigration Court case has been denied (sometimes, after several appeals).
Among the immigrants getting deported, there are the undocumented immigrants (also called illegal aliens). They are people who crossed the United States border illegally, or people who stayed in the country beyond the permitted time on their temporary (non-immigrant) visa.
Foreign people who do not comply with the terms of their stay in the U.S. can be deported or removed from the United States. Real cases include a tourist who accepts a job (not allowed), or a student who fails to pursue a full-time course of study.
The same applies to immigrants who have not yet become United States citizens. In this regard, a green-card holder can be deported on grounds of deportability (a list which is found in Section 237 of the Immigration and Nationality Act or I.N.A.). For example, the following are grounds of deportability to apply to permanent residents when they:
- Have committed document fraud, or
- Have falsely claimed to be a United States citizen.
Commit certain types of crimes, most notably an aggravated felony; domestic violence; a crime of moral turpitude (CMT) committed within five years after being admitted to the United States or getting a green card, if the prison sentence was for at least one year; or two CMTs not arising out of a single scheme of criminal misconduct.
The following is just a quick overview of these grounds:
- Are discovered to have committed marriage fraud.
- Helped smuggle other aliens into the United States.
- Fail to advise the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services of their changes of address within 10 days of moving.
- Are or have been drug abusers or addicts, or have been convicted of any drug-related violations other than other than a single offense involving possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana for personal use.
For more information, see the entries about:
- The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (agency), or ICE.
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS.
- The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) (it deals with immigration court proceedings, including the removal or the right to remain in the United States by non-citizens).
What Happens After Submitting Form N-400
Generally the time for processing an N-400 form is five to seven months, though this can vary by state or region and depending on the number of people who apply at the same time.
After the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does a basic review (to make sure the application the permanent resident has sent is complete, and that the permanent resident has paid the permanent resident fee), if succesful, the permanent resident will be asked to report for fingerprinting (biometrics).
Several weeks after the biometrics report, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will call the permanent resident for an interview, where he or she wll be examined on his or her English proficiency, and tested on the permanent resident knowledge of United States history and government. The official in charge will decide, afterwards, whether the permanent resident qualify for citizenship. If he or she qualify, then the permanent resident will later be called for a swearing-in ceremony, where the permanent resident wll actually receive a Certicate of Citizenship.
Tips to Fill Out the N-400 Form
The following are some tips to help the permanent resident fill out the N-400 form.
Applicants should Gather the Permanent Resident Supporting Documents
It is advisable, for the Applicant, to gather all the documents he or she will need before he or she starts filling out Form N-400. These may include the permanent resident passport and all prior addresses and employment information, including addresses and phone numbers. If the permanent resident has made any trips outside the United States for any amount of time, it will help to gather documents showing the exact dates. The form will be easier to fill out if the permanent resident has the information at his or her fingertips.
Applicants should Read the Instructions Carefully
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offers detailed instructions for filling out Form N-400. It is advisable that the applicant print the instructions out, and as he or she works through each question on the instruction sheet, he or she cross off the question and move on to the next.
The instruction sheet will help the permanent resident determine what documents the permanent resident need to submit, as well.
Applicants should Pay Attention to Some Questions
Many of the questions on Form N-400 are self-explanatory. However, here are some that people are sometimes confused by:
Part I, Question D; Name change
Because the citizenship swearing-in ceremony often happens in court, this is an opportunity (easy and cheap) for the permanent resident to have a legal name change done at the same time. This applies, for example, when the permanent resident has found that no one in the United States seems able to spell or pronounce his or her name. There are, however, some legal limits on the changing of the permanent resident name. For example, the proposed new name is likely to be denied if it would cause confusion or tread on the rights of others (such as if the permanent resident took the name of a famous person), or it is obscene.
Part 2, Information about the Permanent Resident Eligibility
Most people will check box A, “I have been a lawful permanent resident for at least five years.” This includes refugees and asylees, despite the fact that they were allowed to credit one or more years of their refugee or asylee status toward their permanent residence. If the permanent resident check box B or C, indicating that the permanent resident qualify for an exception allowing the permanent resident to apply early, he or she should be sure to attach proof of what he or she is claiming.
Part 3, Question C
The date the permanent resident became a permanent resident is shown on the permanent resident green card.
Part 3, Questions D and E
The permanent resident country of birth and country of nationality may well be the same. If, however, the permanent resident is or has become a citizen of another country (and gave up citizenship in his or her birth country, if the permanent resident had it in the first place), that is the permanent resident country of nationality.
Part 3, Question F
The reason the permanent resident is being asked about whether his or her parents are United States citizens is that it’s possible, depending on the law in effect when the permanent resident was born, that the permanent resident acquired or derived citizenship from them, automatically. In that case, the permanent resident could skip the whole application and apply for a United States passport.
Part 3, Questions H and I
If the permanent resident has a physical or mental disability, he or she may qualify for a waiver of the exam requirements, or to take the interview done in the permanent resident own language (through an interpreter, which U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will provide). The Form N-648 that the permanent resident is asked to attach, must be filled out by a doctor who examines the permanent resident health. If the permanent resident is severely disabled and cannot leave his or her house, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services may, in rare cases, agree to visit the permanent resident and conduct the interview there (as an “accommodation”).
Part 7, Time Outside the United States
This is an important section to get right, because it establishes whether the permanent resident has been physically and continuously present for the required amount of time before applying for citizenship. If the permanent resident cannot determine exact travel dates, he or she sould put down as much information as he or she can, and enter the dates as “approximate.”
Part 8, Question E
If the permanent resident spouse has no legal immigration status in the United States, simply write “alien” here. Thus far, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has not made a priority (until now) of using this information to track down undocumented immigrants.
Part 8, Question G
The number of times the permanent resident spouse has been married includes his or her current marriage. Therefore, if the permanent resident spouse was married once before, the answer is, “2.”
Part 10, Question B
Answering “Yes” to whether the permanent resident is a member of any groups can be a good thing, when this shows the permanent resident community involvement and, therefore, his or her good moral character. For example, being a member of church or religious groups, a parent-teacher’s association, or volunteering for a charity can all help the permanent resident application.
Part D, Good Moral Character
If the permanent resident has had any arrests or committed any crimes, see a lawyer before completing this application. The exception is parking tickets, which are not a bar to United States citizenship. Traffic tickets were usually without problems, but this may change.
Applicants should Always Tell the Truth
The applicant should no guess at any answer. If he or she is not sure about an answer, it is highly recommended that he or she finds the correct information before answering. If that is not possible, the applicant should offer an explanation as to why he or she cannot answer it.
If the permanent resident believes an honest answer might hurt his or her chances of approval, consult an immigration attorney before answering. Lying on a N-400 form, or any immigration documents, can lead to removal from the United States, and the permanent resident could eventually lose his or her United States citizenship even if it is granted. Lies or false statements (other than honest mistakes) are taken very seriously by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, when they review the applications for naturalization or United States citizenship.
Many applicants come up against facts they wish United States Citizenship and Immigration Services didn’t have to know about — such as a criminal arrest, long absences from the United States, or a year when they should have filed United States income taxes or paid child support, but didn’t. To the applicant, some of these may seem like little things that they’d rather keep out of their citizenship application.
It doesn’t matter what the lie is about, however. Even a small lie — or an apparent lie, based on the applicant’s inconsistent statements — is enough to justify a denial of citizenship.
If the permanent resident, knowingly and intentionally, provides false information (orally) during the naturalization interview and testing process — or if the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency discovers that the permanent resident falsely testified in order to gain immigration benefits in the past — the permanent resident can expect his or her application to be denied. Or, if the lie is discovered later, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services can revoke (take away) a person’s citizenship. The naturalization interview is held “under oath”.
The immigration laws specifically say that, “No person shall be regarded as, or found to be, a person of good moral character who, during the period for which good moral character is required to be established [has] given false testimony for the purpose of obtaining any [immigration benefits].” (See the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) Section 101(f)(6).)
Applicants should Get a Second Look
When the permanent resident has completed the Form N-400, it is advisable to have a family member or friend who look it over to make sure every question is answered. Any errors or missing information could result in a delay of the permanent resident naturalization process, which will already be several months long (depending on how backed up the permanent resident local the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office is).
Conclusion: Criteria for Citizenship through Naturalization
If the permanent resident meets all of the following criteria, he o she is eligible to apply for United States citizenship:
The Applicant has demonstrated good moral character in the years leading up to his or her application for citizenship
For example, it helps to be able to say or prove that the permanent resident has paid the permanent resident taxes and child support and not committed any crimes, and have otherwise been a responsible member of the community.
The Applicant can speak, read, and write English
The applicant will be tested on the English language during the naturalization interview at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office.
The Applicant can pass a brief oral test covering United States history and government
The applicant will also be tested on this during the naturalization interview at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services office. Fortunately, all the possible questions are available for the permanent resident to study in advance.
The applicant has had permanent residence (a green card) for the required number of years
This is usually five, but fewer for certain categories of applicants. For example, as explained above, people who might be allowed to apply sooner include the spouse of a United States citizen who has been married and living together for three years; the battered spouse of a United States citizen, even if divorced or separated; a refugee or political asylee; a United States military members or a military widow or widower, and a spouse of a United States citizen in certain types of overseas job. Note also that the permanent resident can turn in his or her citizenship application 90 days before the required years of permanent residence have passed, to compensate for the fact that USCIS may not act on the permanent resident application (call the permanent resident in for an interview) for at least that amount of time.
The Applicant has been “physically present”—that is, lived in the United States, for at least half the required years of permanent residence
This is usually two and a half out of the required five years.
The Applicant has been “continuously present” in the United States
That means the permanent resident has not spent long stretches of time (six months or more) overseas. People who have not only spent a long time out of the United States but appear to have abandoned their United States residence for a home elsewhere may, not only be denied citizenship, but also have their green card cancelled.
The Applicant has lived in the same U.S. state or USCIS district for three months before applying to the USCIS there
This is an easy requirement to deal with – if the permanent resident don’t meet it yet, he or she should wait a few months. There are United States Citizenship and Immigration Services offices in each state.
The Applicant is at least 18 years old at the time of filing the application
Note that children may, in some cases, gain citizenship through their United States citizen parents. A child can, under certain circumstances, derive United States citizenship automatically through the naturalization of a parent. The exact terms of this depend upon the laws in place when certain key events occured. In most cases, the permanent resident needs to have already held United States lawful permanent residence (a green card) in order to derive United States citizenship.
In the case of parents born in United States or naturalized between February 27, 2001 and the present, the permanent resident (the applicant) derives citizenship if one of his or her parents was born in the United States or if one of the parents naturalized prior to the permanent resident 18th birthday and while the permanent resident were living in the United States in the legal and physical custody of that parent, provided the applicant already had a green card (lawful permanent residence). Both biological and adopted children qualify under the law. This allows some children to become United States citizens the minute they receive a green card through a United States citizen parent.
This system is different from the other method of gaining automatic citizenship even if born outside the United States
Although derivation of citizenship is automatic, the permanent resident will probably want to have some proof of the person’s new status as a United States citizen. To apply for such proof, the child or the naturalized parent will need to fill in USCIS Application for Certificate of Citizenship or Form N-600, along with various documents. Instructions can be found on the N-600 page of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website, or the permanent resident may wish to hire a lawyer to help. The child can also apply to the United States State Department for a United States passport.
The Applicant is willing to affirm loyalty to the United States and serve in its military forces if necessary
Once the permanent resident pass the naturalization interview, he or she will attend a swearing-in ceremony, where applicats will take the Oath of Allegiance.
Notes and References