By Attorney Farhad Sethna © 2014
Effective May 5, 2014, any applicant for naturalization (U.S. citizenship) will be required to file the new version of Form N-400, which has a revision date of September 13, 2013. Until May 2, 2014, the USCIS will continue to accept older versions of the Form N-400.
What are some of the salient changes in the new Form N-400?
Rather than go through each and every change, including simple stylistic or mechanical changes, I am concentrating only on changes that I believe have a bearing on the material aspects of the application- that is, whether a particular answer will result in a grant or denial, and whether or not answer those questions in a particular fashion might lead not only to denial of the application but potentially deportation.
Accordingly, some of the material changes that I see in the application are the following:
1. Section on former spouses:
The new form has a much expanded section on former spouses, both of the applicant as well as his or her current spouse. Obviously, one of the concerns here is to determine whether the applicant or current spouse has ever been “serial” immigration sponsors. That is, sponsoring multiple spouses, one after the other, which might indicate a pattern of possible immigration fraud.
2. Greater space for biographic information:
The form has been made much longer (21 pages) by the addition of expanded biographic information sections. For example, in the old form, both the prior residential history and the employment history occupied two short tables on just one page. Now, each of those tables has been expanded, and each line in the table is its own separate subsection or part. Consequently, there are many more fields on the new Form N-400.
3. Convoluted language:
The Form N-400 generally does a good job of presenting questions in an easy to understand fashion. However, beware of Part 11, question 7A: “Have you EVER not filed a federal, state, or local tax return since you became a permanent resident?”
And then question 7B asks: “If yes, did you consider yourself to be a non-U.S. resident?”
Be aware that question 7A essentially wants to inquire whether or not the applicant has failed to file a federal tax return since becoming a permanent resident. Therefore, answering this box “yes” is not itself a problem. The problem comes in answering box 7B. If the reason for not filing a tax return was because the applicant considered himself or herself to not be a U.S. resident, then further explanation will be necessary. If there are other reasons for not filing a return, such as- for example- no income or too little income, then question 7B will be answered, “no” and consequently will pose no problem. But be ready to answer follow up questions at the interview and show proof to explain why a return was not filed.
4. Memberships held in professional organizations:
While there was always a box for memberships held by an applicant, the new form also adds another field to the questions: “purpose of the group”. Therefore, an applicant should verify the correct purpose of the group before filling in this field.
5. Expanded section for disqualifying information:
The US government and Congress are obviously very concerned about human rights. Therefore, in a series of expanded questions relating to persecution of others, the N-400 asks the applicant various questions relation to persecution, military service, paramilitary service, and even assistance to organizations. The form even asks whether the applicant has ever worked in a prison or detention camp.
Likewise, in order to determine if the applicant ever provided “material support” to any group, the application asks whether the applicant: “did you ever “help” any group, unit, or organization that used a weapon against a person, or threatened to do so?”
Additionally, questions on the N-400 seek to inquire whether the applicant was ever involved in arms trafficking, or any military, paramilitary, or weapons training.
Finally, in a recognition of the realities of modern civil uprisings, the Form N-400 asks whether the applicant has ever used or aided in the recruitment of child soldiers (defined as children under the age of 15).
6. Good moral character questions:
In Part 11, question 30 (I), the application specifically asks if the applicant has “ever made any misrepresentation to obtain any public benefit in the United States?”
The applicant should be extremely careful in answering this question, and understanding, before answering, what exactly constitutes a public benefit. Otherwise, answering “yes” might trigger further investigation and potentially a determination that the alien might have been a “public charge”. This may not only result in a denial of naturalization, but may also trigger removal proceedings.
7. Renunciation of nobility:
While none of my clients have ever held noble title, I continue to hold out the hope that an emperor or even a knight might walk into my office at some point in time! Since the United States is a Constitutional democracy, the United States does not recognize such titles. Therefore, any naturalized U.S. citizen has to agree to give up any titles of nobility that he or she may have held in his or her native country. The renunciation of nobility has now become part of the Form N-400. An applicant has to affirmatively agree to renounce his or her title of nobility on Part 16 on the form.
The new Form N-400 does not pose any unique or specific challenge as compared to the old form. However, given the USCIS’ more heightened oversight over this process, careful attention should be paid to the various aspects of the form.
If you have had more than one marriage to an alien spouse, who you then sponsored for permanent residency, have any criminal convictions, or have received public assistance or have failed to pay taxes, these are all issues which you should take to a qualified immigration lawyer.
Naturalization is the very important final step in cementing an alien’s ties to the United States. It should not be taken lightly. Once naturalized, an alien becomes a U.S. citizen and not only has rights, but also responsibilities to the United States.
Copyright, Farhad Sethna, Attorney, 2014
About the author: Attorney Farhad Sethna has practiced law for over 20 years. Since 1996, he has been an adjunct professor of Immigration Law at the University of Akron, School of Law, in Akron, Ohio. He is a frequent speaker at Continuing Legal Education and professional development seminars on various immigration-related topics. His practice is limited to immigration and small business. With offices in Cuyahoga Falls, Akron and Dover, Ohio, Attorney Sethna represents clients in all types of immigration cases. Our number is: (330)-384-8000. Please send your general immigration questions to AttorneySethna@immigration-america.com. We will try to answer as many questions as possible.
This is only general legal information. Please consult a qualified immigration attorney for advice on your specific case.