US Citizenship Interview Guide: What Should You Expect?
An overview of the Naturalization Process from Eligibility to Taking the Oath
If you meet the eligibility criteria to become a United States citizen, you have a few steps you’ll need to take before naturalization. One of the biggest steps is your citizenship interview, which follows your citizenship application.
While your interview is extremely important, it may not be as difficult as you’re expecting. Most people don’t have trouble moving through the interview process.
Here’s what you should expect during the process of becoming a citizen and how to prepare for success.
What Is a United States Citizenship Interview?
A United States Citizenship interview is one of the most important parts of becoming a naturalized United States citizen. The interview process involves a few exams. You’ll also need to answer some questions your interviewer will ask about you, your history, and your family.
The interview is only one part of the process, but it’s a necessary step you have to take before you’re awarded your naturalization certificate.
What Is the Difference Between Citizenship and Naturalization?
The terms “citizenship application” and “naturalization application” are often used interchangeably. Naturalization is the process through which a person who is not a citizen at birth becomes a U.S. citizen.
If you’re born outside of the United States and legally immigrate to the country, you may be eligible for citizenship through naturalization. The naturalization process affords immigrants the same rights and responsibilities as other United States citizens. If you’re a permanent resident of the United States, you’ll use the naturalization process to become a citizen.
What Do You Have To Do Before a United States Citizenship Interview?
You can’t immigrate to the United States and immediately become a citizen. There are several steps you need to take, and there’s a waiting period before you’re eligible to apply for full-fledged naturalization.
You’ll use a visa appropriate for your situation to come to the United States. There are non-immigrant visas (for temporary stays) and immigrant visas (for people who intend to live in the USA). You’ll need an immigrant visa for this process. If you’re currently in the United States, you’ll use a process called adjustment of status to request lawful permanent resident status. If your overseas, you’ll go through a process called consular processing. If approved, you’ll receive a green card that can be valid for as long as ten years.
Become a Permanent Resident
Permanent residents aren’t naturalized citizens of the United States, but their status is very close. They’re able to live and work in the country, they can get driver’s licenses and social security numbers, and they can attend American educational institutions. Permanent residents are also free to travel in and out of the country for less than one year at a time.
Live in the United States for 5 Continuous Years
You’re eligible for the naturalization process if you’ve held a green card, remained in good standing, and lived in the country for at least five continuous years (three continuous years if you are married to a U.S. citizen or were previously found to have been abused by a U.S. citizen).
You need to be physically present in the U.S. half of this five (or three) year period. You should not have any absences of more than six months. You cannot have any absences of more than a year.
Maintain “Good Moral Character”
The good moral character aspect of becoming a United States citizen refers to specific acts, offenses, activities, circumstances, or convictions.
Criminal convictions, pologamy, alien smuggling, failure to support dependents, failure to pay taxes, and more can prevent you from establishing good moral character. All information you’ve provided U.S. immigration agencies must be complete and accurate.
Apply for Naturalization
You can apply for naturalization five years (three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen or were previously found to have been abused by a U.S. citizen) after becoming a permanent resident if you’ve lived exclusively in the United States for that five-year (or three-year) period. When you apply for naturalization, you’ll get your citizenship interview appointment. File Form N-400 with USCIS to officially begin the naturalization process.
Passing your interview and taking your oath will officially make you a naturalized U.S. citizen! This is a very exciting moment for many immigrants who have longed to live the American dream.
Attend a Biometrics Appointment (If Necessary)
After you’ve applied for naturalization, you may need to attend a biometrics appointment. USCIS will notify you if a biometrics appointment is necessary and provide a date, time, and location to have b iometrics captured. Biometrics are used to verify your identity.
How to Prepare for a Naturalization Interview
Don’t feel intimidated by the naturalization interview process. As long as you meet the requirements and can accurately answer the questions asked, you’ll be granted naturalization. Study the questions and practice your English skills — you’ll likely feel better about your interview opportunity if you thoroughly prepare.
Learn About the Process
If you’re nervous, speak with someone who has already become a naturalized citizen. Many naturalized citizens share their experiences with the process online. You can read blogs or watch videos posted by people who have been through the process. This will help you learn what to expect and put your nerves at ease.
Review the Questions and Answers
You’ll be able to find the U.S. citizenship test questions online. There is even an app you can download to practice. The citizenship test is mostly a U.S. history and civics test. You’ll be asked questions about basic U.S. history and the way U.S. political society functions. You might already know a lot of the answers if you’ve taken U.S. history courses in school, but it never hurts to refresh your memory.
There is a list of 100 questions they may ask. You’ll be asked ten of those questions, and you only need to answer six correctly to pass. It’s okay if you miss a couple of questions. Just review the study materials as much as you can, and you’ll get familiar with the majority of the civics test questions.
Brush Up on Your English Language Skills
The naturalization interview is given in English. If English is your second language, you might want to brush up on your skills. You can use language learning apps or free online tools to practice your English language skills.
There is an English reading and writing test you need to complete as a part of your interview. You also must demonstrate you understand English. In order to successfully pass the interview, you need to be sufficiently fluent in English.
This test doesn’t require you to be able to understand proper English grammar perfectly. Most Americans don’t communicate with proper English grammar, and outside of strictly formal or academic settings, it’s often not necessary.
It’s only checking for a basic understanding. If you can read menus and order your own food at a restaurant, speak to your doctor, or ask for directions, your English skills are likely good enough to pass the test. If you’re not having a hard time reading this article, you’re going to pass the reading proficiency part of the test.
What Should I Bring to My Citizenship Interview?
You’ll need to bring a few additional documents with you to your citizenship interview. The information you receive along with your appointment notice should specify what you need to bring. Typically, you should come with the following five elements:
- Your Permanent Resident Card
- Your official state ID (like your driver’s license)
- Every passport you’ve ever had (including your expired passports)
- Information about travel outside of the U.S. since you’ve become a permanent resident (if applicable)
- Marriage certificate, divorce decrees, and birth certificates of children (if applicable)
- Tax returns
- Certificates of Dispositions for arrest (if applicable)
- The paperwork (or printed email) you received with your naturalization interview appointment information
You may be required to bring other documents depending on the circumstances. Make sure you have everything before you leave for your interview. If you show up to your interview without important paperwork, you may not be able to complete your interview.
How Does The Interview Process Work?
In addition to taking a U.S. history and civics exam and an English test, you’ll sit down for an actual interview. There’s no reason to feel intimidated about the types of questions they’ll ask you at your interview.
You’ll be placed under oath, which means you promise to tell the truth. This is common practice in the United States for speaking within the administrative and judicial systems. Your USCIS officer just wants to affirm that you understand you’re expected to be honest. You’ll be asked questions that are very easy to answer truthfully.
You’ll be asked basic information, like your name, age, height, and date of birth. You might be asked about your immediate family, like your parents, spouse, or children. These questions will all be about basic information. You don’t need to have any special knowledge.
Expect questions like the following:
- What is your name?
- Where were you born?
- How tall are you?
- What color are your eyes?
- What are your parents’ names?
- Do you have children?
- What is your relationship status?
- Have you ever served in the United States military?
- How long have you had a green card?
- Have you taken trips outside of the United States since you got your green card?
- Where do you live?
- Where do you work?
- Do you pay your taxes?
- Do you promise to abide by the laws of the United States?
You shouldn’t have to think too hard to answer the interview questions. There is no wrong answer for most of the questions. The interview is more about collecting relevant information about you and your history.
Attending Your Naturalization Ceremony
After you complete your interview and pass your tests, you’ll have a oath ceremony. After the completion of this ceremony, you’ll be awarded your naturalization certificate. When you’re awarded your certificate, you’re officially a naturalized citizen of the United States.
The ceremony will likely take place on a different day from your citizenship interview. You’ll get a notice from USCIS with the date, time, and place of your naturalization ceremony, and they’ll tell you what to bring with you.
This is a formal ceremony, but it’s also a time of celebration. It’s a lot like graduating from University. Other permanent residents will be there to take the oath and collect their naturalization certificates. People may clap to congratulate you for successfully becoming an American citizen.
Swearing Your Oath of Allegiance
At your naturalization ceremony, you’ll be asked to swear an Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This is the final step of your naturalization ceremony. The oath is long and uses some complicated language.
In simple terms, the oath means that you no longer see yourself as a citizen of another country. You view yourself as American, you support the laws of America. You won’t betray America to its enemies.
The language of the oath might make it seem like you’re signing up to work for the United States, but the language is a little exaggerated. It only means that you will live by the rules of the United States, and you won’t work with any groups that go against the laws of the United States. You only need to be a law-abiding citizen.
It also states that you’ll perform service in the military or under civilian direction when the law requires it. In the past, there was a military draft where people were required to perform military service. This hasn’t happened since the year 1973.
It mostly means that you will listen to people in positions of authority and abide by what they say, in addition to following the law. The last part of the oath means that you’re choosing to become a citizen, and you understand what it means to be a citizen of the United States.
What Happens After I Become a Naturalized Citizen?
Naturalization affords new citizens virtually all of the same rights and privileges as American-born citizens. Naturalized citizens can do things like vote in American elections, use federal aid programs to attend American colleges, and petition for their family members outside of the country to join them in the United States.
Naturalized citizens can’t be deported. You won’t encounter any trouble with immigration law or traveling in and out of the country. You’ll be issued an American passport that will make it easy for you to visit friends and family overseas or take extended vacations abroad.
Do You Need Help With the Naturalization Process?
The naturalization process can be difficult, and immigration lawyers can help. Although the interview itself isn’t too difficult, the process of getting the interview and navigating the requirements can be a lot to handle. The Cohen, Tucker & Ades team has been helping American immigrants achieve their dream of citizenship for decades.
If you have any questions or concerns regarding the immigration process, our detail-oriented immigration attorneys are prepared to assist you through the process with legal advice and compassion. We’re here whenever you need us. Contact us for more information about legal assistance through the naturalization process.