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N-400 Filing Tips and other Information from Meeting at USCIS Headquarters

Dear affiliates,

 

USCIS recently revised its form N-400, Application for Naturalization.  The agency will now only accept the newest version of Form N-400, dated 09/13/13.

On February 20, 2014, USCIS hosted a national stakeholder call with the public to provide an overview of and answer questions about changes made to the Application for Naturalization, Form N-400.  Following the call, several nonprofit organizations and advocates met with USCIS to seek answers to the questions and concerns the new N-400 generated.

Below is a series of questions submitted by advocates to USCIS Headquarters regarding the new Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, as well as answers provided by USCIS during a meeting with advocates on April 24, 2014. Please note that this is not an official USCIS document.  The questions to USCIS are in bold type, the answers by USCIS are in red type, an explanation of the question is in regular type, and CLINIC's comments are in italics. 

USCIS has also issued a list of Filing Tips for the new Form N-400.  Many of the issues raised in the tips are also explained below.

 

Contributors:  Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC); Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC); Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Los Angeles; American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA); Immigration Advocacy Network (IAN); National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO).


 

Stakeholder Meeting with USCIS Regarding New N-400

Date: April 24, 2014

 

 

General Questions

(1)  Will USCIS accept forms that have both electronically input information and handwritten answers?

It is often the case that applicants and representatives filling out the N-400 form electronically, may need to include handwritten answers in the form, both because the electronic version does not permit answers in certain formats and for purposes of accuracy. For example, applicants do not often recall exact dates. Many times applicants only recall the month and year, or prefer indicating that the date is an approximation or “Present.”

Some local USCIS offices have informed practitioners that if they are filling out the form electronically, they should not include any handwritten answers, because doing so will delay processing or not upload information properly into USCIS’s database.  Our concern is that not allowing applicants to include handwritten answers where they believe it is necessary for accuracy purposes will prevent applicants from providing accurate information.  Also, in workshop settings, it is often the case that Forms G-28 and N-400 are partially completed(electronically) ahead of time and the remainder of the form by hand.  Requiring applicants to submit forms that are either entirely completed by hand or electronically will present an additional challenge for applicants and practitioners, and may potentially cause applicants to submit less than accurate information.

Yes, USCIS will accept forms that have both electronically-input and handwritten information, and processing will not be delayed.  The agency recommends applicants to use one method or the other.However, if the dropdown menu does not include the appropriate option, you may handwrite it in.  If you have typed your information into a form with a barcode, do not make changes by crossing out and entering new information by hand.  Instead, make the correction on the computer and re-print that page of the form. 

(a)   When filling out the form electronically, how should month/day/year be entered, if the exact date is unknown?

If the exact date is unknown, leave that section blank.  If some, but not all of the information is known, write that by hand on the form or explain on an additional sheet of paper.  The agency is working to add an option to indicate that the response is unknown.

 

Advocates recommended that USCIS add an option "approximate" to the form to permit applicants to complete the date section even if the exact day is unknown.

 

(2) Will USCIS accept electronically filled out applications that do not have a barcode?

Some applicants and providers have had difficulty downloading the revised form that shows the 2-dimensional (“2D”) barcode.  For some, this is due to technology issues. However, for other providers, their form programs do not have barcode capability. This means they can fillout the form electronically, but the barcode will not show up and, therefore, will not capture electronically input information. 

Yes, such applications will be processed using Optical Character Recognition software, 

Make sure that you download the pdf form and use the most recent version of Adobe Acrobat to properly completeand save the barcoded forms.  Some internet browsers work better than others. 

Note from advocates: people have had success using Internet Explorer to be sure the barcode is showing and test print it. 

How will “additional pages” be processed when the N-400 is completed electronically? 

The revised N-400 instructions state that “If extra space is needed to answer any question, attach an additional sheet(s) of paper. You must provide the following information on the top of each additional page…” (see page 2 of instructions).This is likely to be done in a Microsoft Word document or blank sheet of paper, which will not include the 2D Barcode. How will this affect processing? What steps do applicants and providers need to take to ensure that additional information/addendums are taken into consideration?

Additional pages will be scanned and processed with no delay.  Also see the filing tips prepared by the Office of Intake and Document Production.

 
(3)   If someone applies using the previous version of the N-400, before May 5, 2014, will USCIS interview the applicant based on the questions in the new version or the version the applicant submitted?

Questions asked at naturalization interviews are based on eligibility requirements, not on the application form.  USCIS adjudicators may ask questions from the new form, even if the pre-May 2, 2014 form was submitted. 

 

(4)   What should be entered if the applicant does not know, for example, a child’s A-number?

Leave the section blank, and include a written explanation on a separate page.

 

(5)   If information is unavailable (e.g., home address of current spouse who left his family 10 years ago), how should the applicant answer this question?

Write “unknown” in the address field, and explain on a separate sheet of paper.

 

(6)   Suppose an applicant files the old N-400 well before 5/5/14 along with a fee waiver request (I-912), but USCIS erroneously rejects the fee waiver and returns the application to the applicant at such time that the applicant is unable to file the old N-400 again before 5/5/14, will USCIS accept the old (originally submitted) N-400 in that circumstance?

Note: we are waiting for guidance in response to this question.

 

(7)   How do applicants from American Samoa or Swains Island (US Nationals) indicate they do not have an A-number?  

Many of the fields in the revised N-400, including the A-number field, do not accept “N/A”. The A-number field only accepts a 9-digit response. Will there be any delays or problems if this space is left blank? Similarly, US Nationals are not permanent residents and therefore do not have permanent resident cards. However, the N-400 instructions instruct applicants to enter “N/A” if an item is not applicable or if the answer is “none” (see page 2 of instructions). Since this question is not applicable to US Nationals, how should they respond to this item?

Leave this section blank.

Part 4: Information About Your Residence

(1)   According to the instructions, applicants who received benefits under VAWA may provide a safe address. What address (if any) do applicants enter if they did not receive VAWA benefits, but spent some time at a shelter with a confidential address?

Provide a safe address, or provide only the city and state, and clarify the response at the interview.

 

(2)   Is the +4 of the ZIP code required?

No.


Part 5: Information About Your Parents

(1)   The instruction to Part 5 advise applicants with US citizen parents to visit the USCIS website for further information (presumably on derivation and acquisition of citizenship).  The link provided (www.uscis.gov), directs applicants to the USCIS website homepage, which does not immediately provide information about derivation or acquisition of citizenship. Would USCIS consider providing a different link that directs applicants to a specific part of the website with relevant information?

 Yes, USCIS will include the proper link in the filing tips, and will include it on the form the next time it is revised.

 

(2)   How should an applicant respond to Part 5. Item 1, if her parents were married, but not to each other, at the time of her birth?

 Answer no.

 

Part 7: Information About Your Employment and School You Attended

(1)   If the applicant is or was unemployed, where does she write “unemployed” – at “employer/school name” or “your occupation” and how does she answer the rest of the questions in that section?

 Indicate “unemployed” in the section that asks for the name of your employer.  Enter the dates of unemployment. 

 

 

Part 8: Time Outside of the United States

(1)   What is USCIS’s reasoning behind limiting the information requested in Part 11. Item 9.B. to trips taken outside the United States during the last five years?

While this is a welcomed change to the previous version of the N-400, which required applicants to list all absences since becoming a lawful permanent resident, it is unclear whether this change on the form also indicates a shift in investigating trips prior to the statutory period, and issues such as abandonment of permanent resident status. For example, advocates in Los Angeles have received mixed information from local offices. Some have been told that USCIS will no longer investigate abandonment issues, only physical presence and continuous residence. Others have been told that USCIS will continue to investigate abandonment on a case by case basis. 

While the form has been simplified to require less information, USCIS will continue to investigate abandonment of residence from the time the applicant became a lawful permanent resident.  Other agencies, such as Customs and Border Protection, may have information related to the issue of abandonment.

 

The November 7, 2011 USCIS Memo, Revised Guidance for the Referral of Cases and Issuance of Notices to Appear (NTAs) in Cases Involving Inadmissible and Removable Aliens, established a list circumstances when the agency would consider the issuance of a Notice to Appear and the institution of removal proceedings to be a priority.  Those circumstances included where an NTA was required by statute or regulation and where there were cases that involved public safety threats, criminal offenses, and fraud. Cases involving abandonment of residency were not cases identified as NTA "priorities" in the November 11, 2011 memo.

 

(a)  What would trigger an investigation of abandonment and what guidance will USCIS be issuing to applicants?

 The statutory requirements for naturalization have not changed.  No additional information will be issued to applicants. 

 

Part 9: Information About Your Marital History

(1)   Does “separated”in Part 9. Item 1. mean legally separated?

 The revised form provides the new category of “separated” to allow the applicant to indicate how his/her marriage ended.  Many clients have been estranged from spouses for many years - does this constitute separated?

Yes, “separated” means legally separated.

 

(2)   What if current spouse’s previous spouse information (Part 9. Item. 8) is unknown? How will the absence of that information (in whole or in part) affect the applicant’s application/eligibility for naturalization?

Provide a written explanation on a separate page.  Eligibility will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

 

Part 10: Information About Children

(1)   How should children’s addresses be listed if they reside in an area without a formal postal address?

 Provide information to the best of your ability, attaching a written explanation if necessary.

 

Part 11: Additional Information

(1)   Can Part 11. Item 7, be read to mean “required” tax return?

Many applicants do not earn enough (or any) income to file a tax return.  In those cases, should applicants be checking the 'yes' or 'no' box?

No, the question cannot be read to mean a “required” tax return.  Check the “yes” box and provide an explanation on a separate page.

There are many instances when filing a tax return is not required.  There may be a perfectly legitimate reason that the applicant is answering this question with a "yes" answer.

 

(2)   Can USCIS clarify what “badly hurting”(Part 11.Item 14.d.)someone means?

Neither the Form N-400 nor its accompanying instructions provide a definition for this term. “Badly hurting” is a vague/ambiguous term that can be subject to one’s own interpretation of hurting. For example, would slapping a neighbor in the face constitute trying to hurt or badly hurting someone?

The language of the form was changed to offer simplified language.  No further clarification can be given.  USCIS will look at the circumstances of each case. 

Note from advocates: this can likely be read to mean intentionally and severely injuring another person as specified on Form I-485, question 14c.  See that form for an understanding of the intent behind this question.

 

(3)   Can USCIS clarify the following terms:“self-defense unit,”“police unit,” and“rebel group”?

No further clarification can be given. 

 

(4)   We have the position that victims of genocide and torture should not be required to answer “yes” to Part 11. Items 14A. and 14.B., is that also USCIS’s position?

A literal reading of the question, “were you ever involved in any way with…” suggests the applicant must answer in the affirmative, even if she or he was the victim.  This seems inconsistent with trying to identify perpetrators of these acts.

If the applicant was solely the victim of genocide or torture, answer no. 

 

(5)   Regarding paramilitary membership(Part 11. Item. 15.B.),what if applicants belong(ed) to a paramilitary branch organization registered in the United States?

Respond “no.”  USCIS is not looking for organizations that are associated with the United States military, such as ROTC. 

 

(6)   If the applicant was a prisoner in a labor camp, should the applicant answer in the affirmative to Part 11. Item. 16.?

 Note: we are waiting for guidance in response to this question.

 
(7)   How does USCIS define “weapons training” (Part 11.Item. 19)? Would this include recreational martial arts classes, target practice at a shooting range?

 USCIS requires applicants to respond “yes” even if weapons training was recreational.  Explain the circumstances on a separate sheet of paper. 

(a)   For someone who has received weapons training, how would that affect his/her eligibility for naturalization?

Applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

It is very important to discuss all the facts concerning  military service, police service, self-defense participation, weapons training, etc. with the applicant.  These activities may be perfectly innocent and not involve activities that would bar naturalization – or they may involve conduct that would make the applicant ineligible for naturalization.  A “yes” response to these questions alone does not indicate ineligibility, but does require detailed discussion with the applicant.

 

(8)   Would Part 11. Item. 22.include speeding, never arrested?

 No

 Note: advocates recommend that applicants continue to list traffic violations on the appropriate place on the application. 

 

(9)  Regarding Part 11. Item 28.B., if the applicant was only in jail for a few hours, does she need to include that information given that the question only provides space for “days,” “months,” and “years”?

Yes. Indicate one day.

 

(10) We assume that Part 11. Item.30, regarding misrepresentation to obtain any public benefit in the U.S., means willful and knowing, is that correct? How would a “yes” answer impact an applicant’s eligibility for naturalizations?

No, the question is not limited to willful and knowing misrepresentation.  Answer yes regardless of intent.  Applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

 

(11) USCIS clarify who is required to submit a Status Information Letter from the Selective Service (Part 11.Item. 46.C.2.)?

The revised N-400 states that a male applicant who lived in the U.S. between the ages of 18 and 26, but did not register with the Selective Service and is now 26 years or older, must attach a statement explaining why he did not register and a status information letter from the Selective Services.  On the N-400 Stakeholder call, when asked, a USCIS representative said a 50 year-old applicant would not have to submit a status information letter because he would be outside the statutory period. Please clarify.

Applicants between the ages of 26 and 31 should provide a status information letter.  Applicants over the age of 31 need not. 

 

(12) Are applicants required to submit a status information letter with their Naturalization application?

The new form explicitly states that the applicant must submit a status information letter from the  Selective Service along with an explanation. It has taken up to 30 days to obtain the status information letter and we are concerned that some potential applicants may not apply/delay applying due to this additional burden. Would USCIS allowapplicants to bring their status letter to their interview instead or mailing it with their application? 

Applicants may bring the letter to their interview.

 

(13) There are a few nations where serving in the army is a mandatory requirement (e.g.  Korea). These people get stationed randomly, and if they were stationed as prison guard, how would that affect their eligibility?

 Answer yes, and explain on a separate sheet of paper.  Applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

 

(14) If the applicant was a child soldier (impressed against his will), is an explanation necessary and/or will this be held against him regarding good moral character?

Yes, explain on a separate sheet of paper.  Applications are adjudicated on a case-by-case basis.

 

Part 14: Statement of Applicants Who Used an Interpreter

(1)   Can USCIS provide additional guidance on who is expected to complete the interpreters section, especially for those assisting family members or those volunteering in group processing events?

Currently, the instructions to Part 14, seem to suggest that only those whoanswered “yes” to Part 2., Item Numbers 11 or 12., and during the completion of the form used an interpreter to interpret the questions on the form, are required to complete this section (as well as the interpreter), is this correct?

(2)   If a provider used a written translation of questions in Part 11 to interview the applicant, must the provider then complete the interpreter statement?

Anyone who interpreted or who shared written translations must complete this section, even if the applicant is not requesting an exemption based on age and language ability.

Note: advocates are continuing to discuss this issue.

 


 

CLINIC continues to advocate with USCIS on many of the issues related to the new N-400 raised in the notes above.  Please continue to share your experiences and problems with us by emailing Rommel Calderwood at rcalderwood@cliniclegal.org.

 

 

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