FORM N-400:

THE APPLICATION FOR NATURALIZATION

by

Pat Bonilla4

Form N-400, the application for naturalization, is four pages long and intimidating. In fact, many permanent residents cite the "scary paperwork" as a reason for putting off applying for citizenship. However, you can help students fill out the form, especially if you and they know the rationale behind some of the questions, as long as you know when a referral for legal advice is necessary. It is, as with all other immigration forms, not just a questionnaire. The reasons behind the obvious for each question are related to issues of immigration law.

Each question on the N-400 is designed to reveal whether or not the applicant meets the following general requirements for naturalization:

1. Lawful permanent residence and length of "physical presence" in the U.S.

2. Good moral character.

3. Attachment to U.S. principles.

4. Ability to read, write, speak and understand basic English.

5. Basic knowledge of U.S. government structure, the Constitution, and U.S. history.

6. Age (18 or older)

Naturalization applicants have generally filled out many previous forms and submitted them to INS. Applicants can refer to photocopies of previous forms if they have them so that no obvious contradictions in dates or places are written on the N-400. Remind the applicant that the INS examiner places a high premium on truthfulness. However, in terms of all previous jobs and residences, correct on approximate dates to the best of ones memory are sufficient. The applicant must swear that all the information on the form and all the information given during the initial interview is the complete truth. If there are significant inconsistencies on the form, the applicant will be asked to explain them. It is important to report the truth as the applicant remembers it. If untruths are discovered, the applicant could be denied for lack of "good moral character".

If, while working on the forms, it appears that a student may be ineligible to naturalize because of a criminal record or "lack of good moral character," be sure to check with an immigration caseworker or a lawyer. (See Appendix for some New Mexico & El Paso resources)

Although teachers can help most students successfully complete the N-400, some students may have complicated immigration histories or other legal problems. In these cases, you must consult an immigration expert, either an immigration lawyer, or an immigration caseworker at a non-profit agency such as Catholic Social Services of Albuquerque, Inc. Remember that without proper advice, your student could be denied naturalization, or ever lose the right to remain in the U.S. These are extreme circumstances, but some sample scenarios of these difficulties will be addressed in this section.

The following items refer to these on the N-400 form. (See Appendix for a complete N-400 in both English and Spanish.)

Part I. INFORMATION ABOUT YOU.

1. FAMILY NAME

Print the last name (or last names) that you wish to be used on your Certificate of Naturalization. (Some students might use up to three last names, as in "Garcia-Chavez de Sanchez," and some may wish to use only one last name from now on. Also see Part 3, number 4 ("Name on alien registration card"). Some students used two or three last names at the time the alien registration cards were issued and now prefer to use only one last name.

2. GIVEN NAME

Print only one first name.

3. MIDDLE INITIAL

Print the middle initial only of your middle name (or N/A).

4. MAILING ADDRESS - CARE OF

If you receive your mail at someone else's address such as a relative's or friend's address, print, for example "C/O Jose Martinez." If you receive mail at your own address, print "N/A."

5. STREET NUMBER AND NAME

Print the complete mailing address (street and P.O. box) where you receive your mail. Don't forget to indicate the city quadrant (SE, SW, NE, or NW).

6. APARTMENT NUMBER (#)

Print the apartment number (or space for trailers) or N/A.

7. CITY

Print out the complete name of your city. (Do not use any abbreviations, as in "Abq." for Albuquerque).

8. COUNTY

Print out the complete name of the county for the address where you receive your mail (i.e., Bernalillo). **Be careful! Many ESL students misread "country" instead of "county."

9. STATE

Print the state, either spell out "New Mexico" or abbreviate as "N.M."

10. ZIP CODE

Be sure it's correct.

  • the address you give here (in Part 1 of the N-400) is the address where the INS will mail your appointment letter. You might have to wait up to one year between the date you pay the $95 and the date you receive your appointment letter. If there is any change in your address during this waiting period, go to the INS in person and fill out a "Change of Address Card."

    11. DATE OF BIRTH (MONTH/DAY/YEAR)

    Print the complete date, as in "September 11, 1941."

    12. COUNTRY OF BIRTH

    Print only the country (not the city or state) where you were born, as in "Mexico."

    13. SOCIAL SECURITY #

    Be sure the number is correct.

    14. A#

    This is the "alien registration number" or the "immigration number" on your alien registration card (also known as the "mica," "green card," or "permanent resident card." Be sure this number is copied exactly from your card.

  • Be careful. There are many forms of permanent resident cards. Some of the older ones were actually green, hence the name. There is much coded information in different formats on the different forms of cards. How a permanent resident card looks depends on the year in which it was issued. See the Appendix for samples.


    PART 2. BASIS OF ELIGIBILITY (CHECK ONE)

    Most adults will probably check

    (a) I have been a permanent resident for five years. If you are currently married

    However, students who are married to a U.S. citizen for 3 years and have also been a permanent resident for at least three years will check (b).
    A child who has U.S. parents, or anyone applying based on military service should get legal advice before filling out an N-400. There are differences between two legal processes--NATURALIZATION (for those 18 years old or older) and DERIVATION OF CITIZENSHIP (for certain permanent resident children of a parent(s) who are now citizens).

  • For a person applying under the 5-year eligibility, INS law now permits an application to be filed (with the fee) upon completing 4 years and 9 months of permanent resident status. Under this circumstance, make a check and write beside the line in small letters "applying upon 4 years and 9 months."

    Similarly, a person filing under the 3-year rule can actually file upon completing 2 years and 9 months of permanent residence.


    PART 3. ADDITIONAL INFORMATION ABOUT YOU

    1. DATE YOU BECAME A PERMANENT RESIDENT (MONTH/DAY/YEAR)

    This information is found in code on some permanent resident cards, and on other cards with the caption ADM/ADJ. Be Careful! Permanent residents through the amnesty process have "TEMP. RES." (temporary residence) on their cards. This is not the DATE OF RESIDENCE. See the Appendix for samples and information about codes.

    2. PORT ADMITTED WITH AN IMMIGRANT VISA OR INS OFFICE WHERE GRANTED ADJUSTMENT OF STATUS

    Refer to the Appendix for samples.

  • Many permanent residents in New Mexico remember clearly that their immigration work was "finalized" in Ciudad Juárez. For these people, the port of entry is legally EL PASO. Most amnesty applicants in central and northern New Mexico went through the process in Albuquerque, but their permanent resident cards show "ELP" or El Paso as the "place of adjustment" because the Albuquerque Amnesty Office was considered an "arm" of the El Paso regional office.

    3. CITIZENSHIP

    Print your current citizenship status--before you actually become a U.S. citizen--for example write "Mexican," or El Salvadoran," or "Guatemalan."


    4. NAME ON ALIEN REGISTRATION CARD (if different than in Part 1.)

    Look again at Part 1, #1-3. This the name you want to use on your Certificate of Citizenship. Look again at your "Alien Registration Card" (your permanent resident card or "mica.") If the two names are the same, print "SAME." If there is any difference, even a misspelling due to INS error at the time the card was issued, print your name exactly as it is typed on the top of your card.

    There is usually no problem with these "differences" in names. Immigration law even allows for a court-ordered name change simultaneous with court-administered naturalization. If a change in name is due to a marriage or divorce, submit a photocopy of the marriage certificate or divorce decree with the N-400 (KEEP THE ORIGINAL and bring it with you when you go to your interview.) If the change is due to a misspelling submit a photocopy or a legal document with the correct spelling and present the original at your interview.

    5.OTHER NAMES USED SINCE YOU BECAME A PERMANENT RESIDENT (including maiden name)

    Print completely ANY and ALL names that you have used SINCE becoming a permanent resident--or "N/A" if you have not used any other name.

    6. SEX    MALE    FEMALE

    7. HEIGHT

    Use feet and inches or meters.

    8. MARITAL STATUS

    Single, Married, Divorced, or Widowed are the only choices under immigration law. "Separated" is not a category here. The answer is "Married" unless a DIVORCE DECREE has officially ended the marriage.

  • If there has been a change in your marital status since the date of your permanent resident status, it is a good idea to submit a PHOTOCOPY of the marriage certificate or divorce decree (or possibly death certificate of former spouse and new marriage certificate) with the N-400. (KEEP YOUR ORIGINALS. Bring your originals with you to your personal interview.)

    9. CAN YOU SPEAK, READ, AND WRITE ENGLISH? NO YES

    If you answer "NO," your application will probably be returned to you.

  • Only a few people can answer "NO" and still apply for naturalization. If you answer "NO" in this circumstance, write an explanation in small letters after the "NO." (See Appendix "Steps to U.S. Citizenship" [#14: Can a person ever be tested in his/her own language?]).

    4. Physical disability-blindness, deafness, paralysis (include a doctor's letter)

    10. ABSENCES FROM THE U.S

    10a. Have you been absent from the U.S. since becoming a permanent resident?
    No Yes

    For ANY Absence of any length, the answer is Yes. (A student could say, "I only crossed the bridge from El Paso into Juarez one time, and I only stayed two minutes to buy a newspaper for my father. Does that count?" The answer is YES, it was an absence, but it is not a problem.)

    For any absence the answer is Yes, but a Yes answer is not a problem. INS is checking whether the applicant was really a permanent residence. If you have an absence of 6 months or more get legal advice before filling the application.

    (Teachers --- an absence of 6 months not necessarily a problem but it could be. This is a time to refer your student for legal help.) INS is looking for possible fraud here, i.e. a person who benefitted from having a permanent resident card without actually making a home in the U.S.

    INS examiners in New Mexico are usually surprised to see a No answer on (10a) so close to Mexico. A "no" answer on 10 a can elicit further questioning like "Are you sure you never went to Juarez even for a day?" or "Don't you have any family in Mexico any more?" 90% of permanent resident adults from Mexico do visit at least once in a while. THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM. The issue is TO BE HONEST ON THE APPLICATION FORM.

    10b. If you answered "yes" to further information on absences and you know exact (or approximate) dates of absences, use those dates and other information requested.

    Many applicants simply write in small letters a short statement or use an attachment sheet (for example: "I have been a permanent resident for 5 years. Almost every year I spend about 2 weeks at Christmas and 2 weeks in August visiting my family in Durango, Mexico. I have never been absent for 6 months. " or" I have been a permanent resident for 12 years. I have gone to visit my family in Cd. Juarez, Mexico a few times at Christmas, a few times at Mothers Day and a few times during the summer. I usually stay with family about 1 week when I go, but one summer, either 1988 or 1989, I spent 2 months in the summer, because I got sick. I have never been absent for 6 months in any year.!!!"

    PART 4. INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR RESIDENCES AND EMPLOYMENT

    A. ADDRESSES

    Just follow the instructions. Start with the present and work back, being sure to cover 5 years (or 3 years for those who only have 3 years of permanent residence, through marriage to a U.S. citizen). Give all information requested (P.O. Boxes are NOT wanted - - use the street address of where you actually resided.) It's fine to use "approx. Dec. 94" if exact dates are not remembered. Sometimes it's easier to remember this chronology if it's tied to other information: "Where were you living when your first baby was born? Did you move in the summer or winter? Where were you living when you were working at ?"

    B. EMPLOYERS

    Again, just follow instructions to the best of your memory. 5 years of employment is requested. Approximate dates are fine. If the employment was in another city and you have no documentation of the exact street address, just give street or even just "North side of Dallas" to the best of your ability.

    There is no requirement for having worked 100% of the last five years. Include a line for "Unemployed" with approximate dates, if that is the case. Some married women have no paid employment outside the home. They might write in "Homemaker 1979 - Present." The question of how the family is supported financially will probably be asked, and usually information about husband's (or older children's) employment and photocopies of the family's tax returns will suffice.

    Review the residences and employment to be sure dates and places are logical. Residence in Las Cruces during employment in Dallas will cause questions at INS. You may need to do a new "chronological memory review."

    The information concerning absences (Part 3), residences & employment (Part 4) is information that proves an applicant complies with the naturalization residency requirement.

    Part 5. INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR MARITAL STATUS

    1. Total NUMBER OF TIMES YOU HAVE BEEN MARRIED

    If there has been more than one marriage (IN ANY COUNTRY OF THE WORLD) the normal, legal process is to have received a final divorce decree BEFORE a subsequent marriage.

    Remember for INS purposes, you are MARRIED until a final divorce. If you are "separated" but there has been no divorce, you are still MARRIED.

    If any student brings up any of the following scenarios, he or she NEEDS LEGAL ADVICE BEFORE CONTINUING with the application:

    Teachers should not give advice concerning Legal Problems with marriages and divorces. These can have SERIOUS consequences in any INS process.

    These "marriage and divorce problems" are not very common. Divorce itself is NOT a problem in INS, but suspicion of fraudulent marriage to a U.S. citizen for legal papers, or possible bigamy are SERIOUS issues that can have GRAVE consequences in any INS process. A teacher should NOT give advice concerning possible legal problems with marriages and divorces.

    If you are now married, complete #2 - 11 with the information of your current spouse. If you have never been married, or if you are now divorced and have not remarried, all will be "N/A."

    2. FAMILY NAME

    Your SPOUSE'S last name

    3. GIVEN NAME

    Your SPOUSE'S first name

    4. YOUR SPOUSE'S MIDDLE INITIAL

    5. ADDRESS

    Street address of your SPOUSE. Usually it's the same as yours, but a spouse could have a separate residence due to work, military service, etc.

    6. DATE OF BIRTH - OF SPOUSE

    7. COUNTRY OF BIRTH - OF SPOUSE

    8. CITIZENSHIP - YOUR SPOUSE'S CURRENT CITIZENSHIP.

    If both of you are applying for U.S. citizenship at the same time, you still use "Mexico," "Guatemala," etc. for this blank because neither spouse has yet become a U.S. Citizen.

    9. SOCIAL SECURITY # - OF YOUR SPOUSE.

    Many citizenship applicants have a spouse who is undocumented, and INS understands this. Naturalization is a way to speed up the legal process of the undocumented spouse, so just give honest information. If your spouse has no legal Social Security Number, use "N/A."

    10. A #

    If your spouse has INS documentation of any kind, give his or her A #. If your spouse is undocumented use "N/A."

    11. IMMIGRATION STATUS - OF YOUR SPOUSE.

    Most common are: "U.S. Citizen" (Yes -- write it anyway if the spouse is!) "Permanent Resident," "Student Visa" or "N/A." (for an undocumented spouse, this is fine).

    12. NATURALIZATION (IF APPLICABLE)
    MONTH/DAY/YEAR
    PLACE (CITY/STATE)

    If your spouse who has already become a U.S. Citizen by naturalization, give date and place. For a spouse who is a u.S. Citizen by birth, use whose words in space "U.S.C. by birth." If your spouse is not a u.S. Citizen, use "n/a."

    Many husbands and wives apply at the same time for Naturalization . In this case both would use "N/A" for #12. It is also very common for 2 persons who applied at the same time to have widely separated appointment dates. For example, husband and wife both apply on January 2, 1996. Wife is called for appointment on November 30, 1996, passes the test, and is sworn in (officially "naturalized") on December 15, 1996. Husband is called in for an appointment on December 21, 1996. Husband's application showed (a year ago) that wife is not a U.S. Citizen, but now she is! Is this a problem? NO PROBLEM. INS examiners know that many life situations change during the year of waiting. If a spouse becomes naturalized (or there is a marriage,divorce, birth of baby, change of residence or job, etc.) all the applicant needs to do at the appointment is mention the change, and the application form will be brought up to date by the examiner. (**Change of address, however is a reason to go personally to INS as soon as it happens, file a formal change, because otherwise your appointment letter will be sent to your old address and you may never know you missed an important INS appointment.)

    13. Watch this small print!!! Do not overlook this important information. If you have ever previously been married, or if your current spouse has been previously married, include an attachment sheet:

    MY PRIOR SPOUSES

    Name (s)Date of MarriageDate Marriage EndedHow Marriage EndedImmig. Status of Spouse
         
         
         
         

    MY SPOUSE'S PRIOR SPOUSES

    Name (s)Date of MarriageDate Marriage EndedHow Marriage EndedImmig. Status of Spouse
         
         
         
         



    Remember, INS always checks for possible fraudulent marriages (Marriages performed solely to acquire immigration papers) and possible bigamy.

    PART 6. INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR CHILDREN

    Be careful! Many applicants read "children" and assume -- "the little ones who aren't married yet." INS wants information about ALL sons and daughters. For the total number of children, count up (& include all names) of all who were born to the family, (including now deceased), any adopted children, and nay step children (children of spouse) and any children born out of wedlock whether married or unmarried. Why is this list so important? Upon naturalization of the parent, immigration petitions might be filed in many of these cases, even if the child is a stepchild, or born out of wedlock, or over 21 or married. If information is not listed here, and a future application were ever submitted it would be easy for INS to argue that the relationship was "invented" for immigration purposes.

    For each child (son or daughter of any age) include:

    1. FULL NAME OF CHILD

    2. DATE OF BIRTH - or approximate date if exact date is unknown.

    Many elderly applicants say "My kids are long ago grown and married. I no longer have their birth certificates, and I can't remember birth dates." In this situation, for the son's or daughter's birth date, get an approximate age and fill in an approximate date (For example, if the son is about 40 years old, for date of birth use "approx. 1956").

    3. COUNTRY OF BIRTH - Country only

    4. CITIZENSHIP - of what country is this child a citizen, at the time of your application.

    5. A - NUMBER

    For a U.S. Citizen child, fill in "U.S. Citizen". For a child who is not a U.S. Citizen, fill in the "Alien Number" or Immigration Number from an immigration document. If you believe your son or daughter has an A Number, but you are unable to get the number, fill in "Unknown".

    If your son or daughter has no U.S. Immigration number, use "N/A." Remember, INS officials know that many applicants will, upon receiving the Certificate of Naturalization, submit applications for undocumented sons or daughters to become Permanent Residents. If your son or daughter has no immigration status, the WORST thing you can do is leave the name OFF this list. When you do apply for a family member, your list of sons and daughter from your N-400 is part of the immigration record.

    6. ADDRESS

    Use simply "With Me" if your son or daughter lives at your address. Otherwise give CITY, STATE, and COUNTRY of the son's or daughter's current residence. If the family does not know whereabouts of the son or daughter, simply use "UNKNOWN" but INCLUDE the name on the list of children.

    An applicant with more than 7 sons or daughters must attach an extra sheet with all information for all children.

    7. ADDITIONAL ELIGIBILITY FACTORS (Items 1-15)

    Please answer each of the following questions. If your answer is "yes," explain on a separate sheet of paper. Most of these questions relate to the "good moral character" requirements for naturalization. See the Appendix for the Spansih translation of the N-400.

    Remember, your signature on the N-400 application is a certification under penalty of perjury, that the information in the application form is true and correct. HONESTY IS IMPERATIVE.

    A "YES" answer on Part 7 is a situation to remind citizenship teachers NEVER to give legal advice. A "yes" answer will not automatically cause a denial of citizenship, but should be looked at by a person with legal expertise. If an applicant fills in "NO" when his or her immigration or FBI file shows that "yes" is the honest answer, an INS official could deny the application, and could possibly charge the applicant with perjury and fraud.

    All the questions on Part 7 seem straightforward, and for 99% of your students it will be NO PROBLEM whatsoever to answer clearly "yes or no." In one case out of 100, a student may have a question like, "What does #10 really mean?" Or, "Once I was in a strange situation, and I'm not sure what to answer on #11." Or, "Do you think I should say yes or no on this one?" Teachers, DO NOT INTERPRET these kinds of questions. Find a responsible legal referral in your community, and make sure the applicant speaks directly to the expert. (Making phone calls for students not only creates dependency, but can be the source of further incorrect information and incorrect interpretation.) See the Appendix for some resources.

    Questions 8, 9, 12, and 15 merit further discussion.
    The "Tax Questions" (8 and 9) are almost always asked. They refer to your years as a permanent resident ("since becoming..."). For question 8, if you have always filed your tax forms, the answer is "no" ("I have never failed to file"). Usually, at the individual interview, the examiner asks to see photocopies of your last 5 years of income tax returns. If you have failed to file, it is possible to file late forms for previous years. Talk to an expert in tax law for further information. Question 9 would be answered "yes" only if the applicant used special tax forms and requested special benefits as if he or she were a non-resident while, in fact, in permanent resident status, Again, seek tax expertise for correcting this problem.

    Paying taxes shows residency and intent to be a responsible citizen. The opposite is inferred if no taxes are filed, and non-filing is considered a crime. Late filing is possible.

    Question 12 refers generally to honesty in previous INS applications. It is possible that certain difficult scenarios may come up in a classroom. These are very rare, but can be significant. For example, someone may say, "I applied for Amnesty and got my permanent residence, but I was not really in the U.S. all the years I said." Or someone may say, "I got my permanent residence through the Agricultural Provisions of Amnesty, but I never worked in agriculture and I paid someone for false documents." Or someone may say,"I got my permanent residence because I married a U.S. citizen, but really I was never divorced from my first spouse in my country." Perhaps 1 in 100 students will confide in a teacher about a situation like this.

    The vast majority of permanent residents have been completely honest individuals. But, if a previous immigration application includes fraud, this is a case where the person should probably never apply for citizenship. Previous applications are always subject to review at the naturalization step, and if fraud is discovered, the applicant could be deported and stripped of permanent residence.

    Scenarios of the above type should never be discussed at length in a classroom situation, and a teacher must not give legal advice, but refer an applicant, if necessary, to an expert in immigration law. For classroom purposes, continuously remind applicants that honesty is required in immigration applications.

    Question 15a is sometimes called "the confessional." The applicant must simply answer according to his or her conscience.

    Question 15b must be understood correctly: "Have you ever (at any time in any country) been arrested, or charged, or indicted, or convicted, or fined, or imprisoned for breaking any law or ordinance, excluding traffic regulations?" A DWI is not considered a simple traffic violation, so any DWI arrest, even if not convicted, requires a "yes" answer. Remember a "yes" answer does not mean the application will be automatically denied, but it means the applicant needs good legal advice and must include the information. All applicants submit fingerprint charts and any discrepancies between their records and their statements on the application will be found.

    Some applicants say "It happened 20 years ago, so I put 'no.'" No matter when it happened, the answer must be "yes" with details. Some applicants say, "I completed my punishment, so that's the same as 'no." If it happened at all, the answer is "yes" with details. Honesty is the bottom line with INS applications. If a student talks to you about any criminal problems, refer him or her to a professional who can offer legal advice. A teacher can hurt, rather than help, such an applicant.

    There are certain convictions for serious crimes that can make an applicant either never eligible for U.S. citizenship or eligible only upon completing the sentence.

    Part 11. SIGNATURE

    Be sure to read the certification and the "penalties" sections of the N-400 instructions before signing. Is any information false or incorrect? Don't sign, if so. Start over, and correct the information. Remember that the use of approximate dates or honestly answering "unknown" will not cause problems.

    Part 12. SIGNATURE OF PERSON PREPARING FORM IF OTHER THAN ABOVE.

    The great majority of citizenship applicants can and should fill out their own forms by printing in black ink. It is never necessary for someone else to type the form, in that case the typist must complete part 12. New Mexico law prohibits anyone to be paid for filling out immigration forms or for giving immigration advice unless that person is an attorney or a BIA (Board of Immigration Appeals) accredited representative . The attorney or representative must complete Part 12 employed by a BIA-accredited nonprofit community agency, who will complete part 12. A friend, relative, or teacher can help the applicant fill out the form for no fee but that person must complete part 12.

    To foster independence and useful learning, teachers should encourage students to carefully fill out their own forms.

    Remind students to be careful. They are responsible for checking their information for accuracy even if someone else prepared the form. The applicant must understand that he or she is under penalty of perjury if the information is not true and correct.

    Final Section. DO NOT COMPLETE THE FOLLOWING UNTIL INSTRUCTED TO DO SO AT THE INTERVIEW.

    This section will be signed again by the applicant and by the INS examiner at the individual appointment and testing date. There is a process for possible changes in the application, which usually cause no problems. Addresses and jobs can change, babies can be born, etc., during the approximate one-year wait between submitting the N-400 and being called into the individual interview.

    ADDITIONAL DOCUMENTATION TO BE SUBMITTED WITH THE N-400

    After the N-400 has been sent to INS, applicants must sometimes wait 10 months to 1 year for an appointment for the oral interview. To notify applicants of the time and date of the interview. INS will mail a form called "Request that Applicant for Naturalization Appear for Examination." (See Appendix.) This is also named "the call-in letter." It tells the applicant what documents they will be required to bring to the interview.

    See the article entitled "Naturalization: The Interview" for more details about the individual interview, where information from the applicant's N-400 will be reviewed, under oath, in oral English. See the Appendix for the N-400 in English and Spanish, the G-325, and "Steps in the Naturalization Process."



    Table of Contents / Previous / Next