After U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has reviewed your naturalization application and processed your biometric information, they will set an interview appointment for you. Your appointment notice will have your interview date and time. Citizenship interviews typically take place at a USCIS field office - usually, one that is close to the physical address you provided on the Form N-400 form you submitted. This article explains the purpose of the citizenship interview, what to take with you, and what happens during and after the interview.
What is the goal of the citizenship interview?
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) conducts the U.S. citizenship interview for many purposes, including to:
- Review whether you meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship through your N-400 application form
- Review your immigration file for any previous issues, such as receiving lawful permanent residence when you did not qualify
- Conducting an English test to determine your English reading, writing, and speaking abilities
- Conducting a civics test to determine your knowledge of U.S. history and U.S. government
What should you bring to the citizenship interview?
When you file Form N-400, you should keep a copy of the application, the originals of the supporting documents you submitted, and any letters you receive from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Keeping these documents together will make it easier to review your information before the naturalization interview. This interview is the final step in your naturalization process.
Can you bring someone with you to the citizenship interview?
If you qualify for any of these three cases, you can bring someone else to your naturalization interview:
- You want to make sure that USCIS respects your rights during the interview. You can bring an immigration lawyer or representative with you in this case. They must sign Form G-28, “Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Representative.” You will file this form to USCIS along with your naturalization application. Your attorney or representative can ensure that USCIS honors your rights during the actual interview. However, they cannot answer any questions for you. If you choose not to bring an attorney or representative, you need to sign a “waiver of representation” at the interview.
- You are exempt from the English test. In this case, you can bring an interpreter or ask USCIS to choose one for you. The USCIS officer may also hold your interview in your preferred language if they can. If you bring your interpreter, they need to complete an “interpreter’s oath and privacy release statement” at the interview. They will also need to submit a copy of a government agency-issued ID, such as a passport or driver’s license, after arriving at the USCIS field office. The interpreter, however, cannot answer any questions for you.
- You have a disability. In this case, you can bring a family member or a legal guardian. The USCIS officer gets to decide whether they will allow the family member to be present during your interview. It is a good idea to contact the USCIS office where you’ll have your interview and ask for permission beforehand.
What happens at the citizenship interview?
When you arrive at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office for your citizenship interview, you will show USCIS your appointment notice and undergo a security check. Afterward, you will wait for a USCIS officer to call your name for your interview.
You will first swear to tell the truth. The USCIS officer will then ask you about your background, character, place and length of residence, ability to answer civic questions, and willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance. You should be completely honest during your naturalization interview. If an officer discovered you lied on purpose, they could deny your application or even begin deportation proceedings.
The USCIS officer will ensure that the information you tell them matches the information you provided on Form N-400. If you have any differences between your provided answers, you must explain why. Most changes are not significant, such as getting a new job. However, these changes could affect your eligibility:
- If you traveled abroad for longer than six months
- If law enforcement arrested you for certain crimes that would disqualify you from the good moral character requirement
- If you recently divorced the U.S. citizen you are using for your N-400 eligibility
In these cases, it is good to seek legal advice from an attorney.
To prepare for your interview, it is a good idea to review your immigration history. USCIS could ask questions about your A-file, which includes your travel documents. It is good to have a track record of all communication with the USCIS before becoming a green cardholder.
If you don’t have all these records, you can prepare for your citizenship interview by reviewing supporting documents, such as police or court records. You can also request your A-file through a FOIA request. It is good to request your file, especially if you have a complicated history with USCIS. For example, if USCIS ever placed you in removal proceedings or another government agency ran a background check on you before, you should consider requesting your A-file. It is important to note that this request can take between one to four months.
The USCIS officer will also give you a reading and writing test to determine whether you can speak and understand English. You will have to read aloud and write down a sentence the USCIS officer tells you. You will also have to complete a civics test. Your interviewer will ask you 10 questions on American government, history, and politics. You’ll have to get 6 correct answers to pass the test.
Preparing for the test
There are two main components for your U.S. citizenship test: the English and the civics components.
You will have to complete three English test components, including speaking, reading, and writing sections. The consular officer will ask you questions about your citizenship application during the speaking test to determine how well you can speak and understand English. You do not have to understand every word perfectly, and it's okay to make mistakes. To prepare, you should review your answers on the application before your appointment.
During the reading test, the officer will give you a digital tablet. A sentence will appear, and you will have to read it aloud. The officer will ask you to read three sentences until you read one successfully. USCIS provides a list of all the vocabulary words used in the test, which you can use as study material. It would help if you tried to avoid pausing for very long periods. It's generally okay to leave out short words or mispronounce some words. However, you can’t replace a word in the sentence with another word you know. These questions and answers are supposed to determine whether you understand the sentence's meaning.
During the writing test, you will write out one of three sentences as the immigration officer reads it out loud to you. You will write on a digital tablet. USCIS also gives a list of vocabulary words for this test, and many are similar to the reading test. It is okay to misspell some words and make some capitalization, grammatical, or punctuation mistakes. You can spell out numbers (for example, "ten") or write the numeral (for example, "10"). However, you cannot abbreviate or write the shorter version of any words.
For the civics component of the test, you will have to answer at least six questions right out of ten to demonstrate your knowledge of U.S. history and government. USCIS provides a complete list of all questions that the immigration officer could ask. They can randomly pick any questions and ask you questions until you answer six correctly. You can phrase your answers however you prefer as long as they are correct.
You should study all 100 questions USCIS provides unless you are 65 or older. In that case, you only have to learn the 20 questions marked with an asterisk (*). You can find these questions in your native language. You should also check the USCIS website to ensure the answers to these questions haven't recently changed.
Over half of the questions are about the U.S. government, and the other questions are about U.S. history. Some questions may require you to look up the information on your own. For example, one question is, "Who is one of your state's U.S. Senators right now?" and you will need to look up the specific answer for your state.
You should start studying as early as possible to get comfortable with all the questions and answers. You can also practice English by reading children's books, watching videos or listening to audio, and taking practice tests.
Exemptions from the citizenship test
Certain applicants qualify for exemptions from the English and civics test. When filing Form N-400, you can apply for an exemption from the English language requirement if you are:
- Age 50 or older when filing Form N-400 and lived as a permanent resident or green card holder in the United States for 20 years or more
- Or age 55 or older when filing Form N-400 and lived as a permanent resident in the United States for 15 years or more
Otherwise, if you have a disability that impedes your ability to understand English or civics, you may qualify for an exemption. You will need to submit Form N-648, “Medical Certification for Disability Exemptions,” when you file Form N-400. A licensed medical doctor or clinical psychologist will need to prepare this form less than six months before you file it.
If you qualify for an English language exemption, you will still have to take the civics portion of the naturalization test. However, you can take this civics test in your native language. You will need to bring one person fluent in both English and your native language to use an interpreter. If you are age 65 or older and a permanent resident of the United States for at least 20 years, you will receive a simplified version of the civics test. You can take it in your native language and only need to study 20 of the 100 civics test questions.
What happens after the citizenship interview?
At the end of the interview, USCIS will provide you with a notice containing your interview and citizenship exam results. USCIS may decide your citizenship application the same day. Otherwise, it could take up to 120 days for USCIS to decide.
You will receive either approval, denial, or continuation. Applications are “continued” when USCIS needs additional documents or information, or you did not pass the citizenship test or part of it.
If USCIS continues your application, the notice they provided you will contain the next steps. Usually, USCIS will send you a “Request for Evidence” (RFE) for missing or unclear documents or schedule a second interview 60 to 90 days after your first interview. During your second interview, the officer will review your new records or clarification or reexamine parts of the test you did not pass.
What should you do if your citizenship request gets denied?
If USCIS denies your naturalization, you will receive a notice in the mail. This notice will include instructions on how to appeal the denial. Appealing the denial means that USCIS made a mistake. If USCIS denies your application because you failed one of the exams or did not meet the eligibility requirements, the appeal process will not be possible. It is easier to reapply by submitting a new Form N-400 and restarting the process in most cases.
It is a good idea to speak to an immigration attorney before you request an appeal or reapply.
Successfully passing your citizenship interview can be complicated, but working with a good immigration attorney can make it easier. If you can't afford the attorney fees and don't want to handle your citizenship case alone, we may be able to help. If you are eligible, our free web app will walk you through the process and help you prepare and file your application with the U.S. government. Click "Get Started" to see how we can help make your American dream come true!