The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Application for Naturalization, Form N-400, may now be completed and submitted online by creating an account at https://my.uscis.gov/. In many ways, the online application improves upon the old paper-based form. It is easier to complete, gives better guidance on what evidence is required, and allows an applicant to more easily track developments after filing. Attorneys can also create and submit these applications for clients online, though surprisingly many do not.
Unfortunately, the increased convenience of filing the application online has a significant downside: some applicants seem to not take an online form as seriously as completing a paper form and signing it with a pen. Other applicants are not aware that they will eventually need to appear in person before an immigration officer to testify under penalty of perjury about the contents of the application. Giving the wrong answer can lead to a host of problems.
N-400 Biographical & Residence Questions
The first few sections of the form concern the applicant‘s biographical information, residence history, and parents. The most common mistake is to not list all other names used, including names that appear on criminal records, names from prior marriages, and nicknames that other people know the person by.
Applicants should also be aware that the eligibility questions in Part 1 do not list all of the potential ways of qualifying for naturalization or citizenship. Congress has created more generous criteria for persons who have served honorably in the U.S. military and for other favored groups.
Employment, Travel, Marriages & Children
The employment, travel, and marriage questions may not seem important, but it is surprising how many applicants end up in trouble because of them. In particular, answers to the marital or employment questions can cast doubt on whether the applicant was honest in the permanent residence application filed years earlier. Common marriage issues include: not disclosing an earlier marriage, bigamy (being married to 2 people at the same time), divorce from a U.S. citizen petitioner shortly after obtaining permanent resident status, and re-marriage of a prior spouse. The parentage of the applicant‘s children may also raise questions about whether a marriage was genuine.
Another serious issue is abandonment of residence. Examples of when this issue might arise include where the applicant has worked outside of the U.S., his or her spouse or minor children live outside the U.S., or the applicant has spent a substantial amount of time abroad. It may be an issue even if the applicant meets the separate requirement of being physically present in the U.S. for more than half of the qualifying time period for naturalization.
Good Moral Character & Attachment to Constitution
Most applicants understand that they need to talk to an attorney if they answer yes to any of the questions about arrests, bad acts, removal proceedings, etc., on the N-400. However, a significant number of applicants skim through these questions too quickly or erroneously assume that a question does not apply to them. Or, the applicant feels that what he or she did was not serious, so he or she doesn't think a “yes” answer is necessary. That usually is not a safe assumption. Check with an immigration lawyer to find out.