By Laura Burdick
On February 4, 2014, USCIS released its long-awaited revision of the Form N-400 (Application for Naturalization). A draft of the new form was published in the Federal Register for comment on December 20, 2012 and again on March 20, 2013. CLINIC submitted comments on the draft together with the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) on February 15, 2013. The comments are posted on the CLINIC website at https://cliniclegal.org/resources/revisions-to-application-for-naturalization.
At 21 pages, the new form is significantly longer than the old form, which is only 10 pages long. The additional length is due in large part to a new bar code that appears at the bottom of each page, more space for residences and children, and approximately 40 additional questions in Part 11 relating to the following: good moral character; military service; group membership; and past involvement with terrorism, persecution, torture, or genocide. USCIS states that while the eligibility requirements for naturalization have not changed, the additional questions relating to terrorism, persecution, torture, or genocide are necessitated by the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004. The new form also includes additional questions about the applicant’s parents, current spouse, and prior spouse(s), and requires a statement concerning the failure to register for the Selective Service prior to age 26. In addition, the preparer’s statement has been revised and there is a new interpreter’s statement that the applicant and interpreter must sign, if applicable.
On the positive side, there are several changes that will make the form more user-friendly. The new form has better instructions for completing the sections on employment/education history and children, and there is a new question relating to the age/residency exemptions on the English language test. Also, the prior question asking applicants to list all trips outside the U.S. of 24 hours or more since becoming a lawful permanent resident has been changed to request only those trips taken during the last five years.
The longer form has implications for applicants, legal service providers, and USCIS adjudicators. Potential applicants may be intimidated by the new form and may find it less accessible, resulting in more people needing application assistance. Legal service providers may need more time to complete and review the form, and thus may need to raise their fee for the N-400 or find ways to increase their efficiency in order to continue serving the same number of naturalization clients. The additional security-related questions make it more important than ever that representatives obtain a copy of the applicant's A-file in certain cases before completing the N-400. USCIS adjudicators may need more time to review the form and conduct naturalization interviews, and this could increase N-400 processing times.
We encourage legal service providers to use a professional, written translation of the questions in Part 11 of the new form, due to complexity of the vocabulary in this section. Translations in languages commonly spoken by asylees and refugees are especially needed. CLINIC will collect and share translations of Part 11 on its website to help avoid duplication of effort. We have also asked USCIS to consider providing the translations.
For group workshops, more time will be needed to complete and review the new form. The interpreter certification could pose a problem, especially if an interpreter was used only for a few questions, and did not translate every question on the form. Interpreters may be intimidated or unwilling to sign the certification. Professional, written translations of Part 11 will be useful for literate applicants, while an interpreter could read the translation for those who are not literate.
The old form will continue to be accepted for 90 days, through May 2, 2014, but it is no longer available on the USCIS website. CLINIC has posted the old form on its website in the Toolkit for Naturalization Workshops (https://cliniclegal.org/resources/toolkits/toolkit-naturalization-workshops) located under “resources.” We encourage affiliates to continue using the old form for as long as possible, while obtaining training on the new form. A USCIS teleconference on the new form will be held on February 20, 2014; CLINIC and the ILRC are conducting a joint webinar on the new form on February 26, 2014. In addition, there are some educational materials on the new form posted on the N-400 page of the USCIS website.
The new form presents an opportunity for affiliates to encourage lawful permanent residents to apply for citizenship now, while the old form is still accepted, and to conduct group application workshops to facilitate the process for as many people as possible. CLINIC’s Toolkit for Naturalization Workshops (https://cliniclegal.org/resources/toolkits/toolkit-naturalization-workshops) was recently updated and provides a variety of useful resources for planning and implementing a group workshop.