What Happens at the U.S. Citizenship Interview?

The process of applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen includes a requirement that each applicant appear for a personal citizenship interview with immigration officials. Here are some preparation tips.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

The process of applying to become a naturalized U.S. citizen includes that each applicant must appear for a personal citizenship interview with U.S. immigration officials. If you've already submitted your naturalization application (on Form N-400), you will, within several weeks or months, first be called in for biometrics (to have your fingerprints taken) and then be notified when to appear for your interview.

The interview will be held at the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) serving the region in which you live. You will receive only one interview notice, so check your mail regularly. Also, if awaiting your interview notice, be sure to immediately inform USCIS if you move and change your address.

Purposes of the U.S. Citizenship Interview

The citizenship interview serves many purposes, including allowing USCIS to:

  • review your N-400 application, checking whether you meet the basic requirements for U.S. citizenship
  • review your immigration file, looking for any past issues, such as having received lawful permanent residence when you didn't actually deserve it
  • test your ability to speak, read, and write English
  • test your knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics), and
  • make a decision on whether you are eligible for citizenship.

Up to this point, USCIS might have quickly looked over your N-400 application to make sure it's complete and you paid the fee, but it won't have reviewed it for substance.

Documents to Bring to Naturalization Interview

USCIS will send you a list of documents to bring to your interview. Depending on what's relevant, these might include your green card and other forms of photo identification, any and all passports and travel documents you've had or used, proof of your valid marriage (if you got your green card through that marriage), proof that any trips you took outside the U.S. are not a sign that you actually resettled elsewhere ("abandoned" your residence), and so on.

You will also need to bring documents proving any changes to the information on your N-400, for example showing a name or address change since the time you filed the form.

For your own sake, bring a copy of the Form N-400 that you submitted to USCIS, to refer to during the interview.

What Exactly Will Happen at the USCIS Interview

When you arrive at the federal building for your U.S. citizenship interview, you will have to show your appointment notice and pass through a security check. You'll need to follow any public health-related guidelines.

Then you will wait until your name is called. Next, a USCIS officer will lead you to a desk, and probably ask you to sit down. Just when you're comfortable, the officer will probably ask you to stand up and raise your right hand in order to swear to tell the truth during the interview.

The interview itself usually lasts about 20 minutes. The officer will go over the N-400 that you filled out, and ask you questions about the same information that's on the form. Part of the purpose here is to see whether you actually speak and understand English.

You will also be tested on your English reading and writing abilities, by having to read aloud and write a sentence that the officer dictates to you. And you will have to answer questions showing your knowledge of U.S. history and government (civics).

At the end, you will hopefully be approved for U.S. citizenship. You won't become a citizen at that moment, however. You'll be scheduled for a swearing-in or oath ceremony, at which a judge will officially make you a U.S. citizen, and you'll receive a certificate showing your new status.

Preparing for the Naturalization Exams

USCIS provides abundant resources on how to study for the English and U.S. history and government exams, on the Study for the Test page of its website. Here's a brief overview of both.

The English Test

Unless you have been exempted from taking the English exam (based on age or disability), the answers you provide during the interview will be included as part of your English test.

Following the testing, you will be given Form N-652, which will tell you the results of your examination. If you failed one of the exams, you will not be denied citizenship on the spot, but will be called back for another try within 90 days.

  • You will be given three sentences in English and you have to be able to read one of the sentences to the satisfaction of the USCIS official.
  • You will be given three sentences to write in English and you will have to write one sentence legibly.
  • Your ability to speak will be determine while you answer questions and speak to the official during the interview.

The U.S. Civics and Government Test

Unless you're exempt due to age or disability, you'll need to pass the civics and government test. It will consist of the official asking you a series of questions about U.S. history and government. You will have to answer 60% of them (six out of ten questions, out of a possible list of 100 that the officer can choose from).

The questions are publicly available through the USCIS website, on a page called The Naturalization Test. The questions and answers usually don't change much year by year, except when it comes to questions about the names of elected government officials.

If You're Not Approved for U.S. Citizenship at the Interview

If a USCIS official needs more documents before making a decision on your case, they might give you a form that describes what documents are needed and where to send them.

If you fail either of the tests during the interview, you will be given Form N-652, which will tell you the results of your examination. You will not be denied citizenship on the spot, but will be called back for another interview, which will be scheduled within 60 to 90 days. Then you can take the tests again. If you fail either test a second time, your request for naturalization will be denied.

If you are denied naturalization, you will receive a written notice in the mail. You will receive instructions on how to proceed if you want to appeal the denial. However, appealing a case means convincing USCIS that it made a mistake. That will likely be impossible if the reason for denial was that you failed one of the exams or don't meet basic eligibility requirements.

In most cases, it's easier just to correct the earlier problem and reapply, by submitting a new N-400 and going through the rest of the process again.

After You're Approved for U.S. Citizenship

Once you are approved for citizenship, the officer will schedule a time for you to attend your swearing in ceremony. There, you'll take your oath of allegiance to the U.S. and become a U.S. citizen. Note that swearing allegiance to the United States doesn't necessarily stop you from keeping your original citizenship. Dual citizenship is permitted by the United States (though it might not be in your country of origin.)

See an Immigration Lawyer Regarding Any Red Flags in Your Case

If there is anything in your application that might lead to a denial of U.S. citizenship, or worse yet, a discovery that you didn't qualify for permanent residence in the first place (in which case you might be placed into deportation proceedings), speak to an immigration lawyer before submitting your N-400 application or at least before your interview.

If your request for naturalization is denied, it would be wise to seek the advice of an immigration lawyer before you request a hearing or reapply.

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