Passing Your Naturalization Interview for U.S. Citizenship - dummies

Passing Your Naturalization Interview for U.S. Citizenship

By Cheri Sicard, Steven Heller

No other part of the immigration process fills as many potential citizens with fear as the interview. They fret and worry about what kind of questions they’ll be asked, how they’ll be judged, and if they can possibly speak well enough and demonstrate enough knowledge of history, civics, and government to live up to the examiner’s standards.

Relax. Passing the BCIS interview is far easier than you may think. In fact, if you make it through the maze of forms, documents, and paperwork necessary to be in the position to be interviewed for citizenship, you’ve made it through the hardest part.

The BCIS is not looking for brilliance or perfection. They just want to know that you have a basic understanding of how to read, write, and speak English, along with an understanding of U.S. history and how our government functions.

Arriving prepared

You already know you’ll be asked about U.S. history and civics, and that you’ll need to demonstrate a working knowledge of the English language. But in order to be completely relaxed and prepared for your interview, be aware that the officer may ask you to talk about any of the following:

  • Your background (where you came from, your education, your occupation, and so on)
  • Evidence and documents that support your case for naturalization (things like your employment records, marriage, and involvement in your community)
  • Where you live and how long you’ve lived there
  • Your feelings about the United States, its Constitution, and its government
  • Your willingness to take the Oath of Allegiance

Be sure to bring to your interview your Alien Registration Card, your passport, and any reentry permits you obtained. Also, if your appointment letter specifically asks for any additional documentation, be sure to bring it.

Lying to the BCIS in writing or during the interview will immediately disqualify you. Even if the BCIS finds out you lied after you have been granted citizenship, your citizenship can be taken away. Being truthful with the BCIS is serious business, but as long as you’ve been truthful at every step of the process, you should have nothing to worry about. Note that the kind of lying that results in disqualification includes untruths that you knew were untrue at the time that you told them. In other words, if you lied about your criminal record, you’ll be disqualified; if you’ve committed an inadvertent misstatement — unknowingly providing incorrect information, such as being a digit off on your telephone number or having a new address — you should be fine. However, it’s important to note that failing to notify the BCIS of a change of address within ten days of moving can be a removable offense. Always keep your whereabouts current with the BCIS.

Acing the interview

No matter how much people tell you not to be nervous, you’re going to be, so try to give yourself a break. By following these easy tips, you’ll take off some of the pressure in advance.

  • Be on time! Why rush yourself? Find out where to go ahead of time. Some BCIS offices have separate entrances for people with particular appointments. Even with an appointment notice, you may still have to wait as much as an hour at some offices just to get into the building — and then wait again after you get to the office waiting room. Expect lines and you won’t be disappointed. Also, everyone entering a federal building must pass through security, which takes time (follow instructions and that should speed your passage). Talk to people familiar with the process in your area (friends in the community, lawyers, or other service providers); they can help you anticipate how far in advance you should plan to arrive so you’ll have time to relax — the day is stressful enough already.
  • Dress as though you’re going to a job interview. You want to make a good impression on the BCIS officer, and although there are no hard and fast rules for the kind of clothing you should wear, looking nice, neat, and tidy doesn’t hurt.
  • Bring copies of any paperwork you think you may need. If you’ve kept accurate, organized files and copies of all your documents, you’ll be able to easily bring your entire file with you, so you’re always super-prepared.
  • In addition to BCIS documents, bring paperwork that will prove your job or standing in your community. Bring things like payroll stubs, apartment leases, or membership cards in clubs or organizations — anything that helps establish your residence and participation in your community.
  • Tell the truth and don’t be nervous — you’ll do fine.

The calmer and more relaxed you are, the easier the interview will go. Before you know it, the whole thing will be over and you’ll be a giant step closer to becoming a United States citizen.

Practicing for the Big Three: Reading, writing, and speaking English

Unless you qualify for an age or disability exemption, you must be able to read, write, and speak English to be eligible for naturalization. The BCIS officer doesn’t expect you to have perfect grammar, diction, and accent. He or she just wants to know you can speak and understand basic English — enough to get around and function well within U.S. society.

How does the officer determine your English proficiency? He will probably ask you to read or write some simple sentences in English, as well as ask you a few questions about what the words mean:

  • Reading: You may be asked to read out loud parts of Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization you sent the BCIS or INS when you first started the naturalization process. Or the officer may ask you to read some simple civics questions out loud and to answer them. Typical questions may be, “How many stars are on our flag?” or “What are the three branches of government?”
  • Writing: The officer will probably ask you to write a couple simple sentences in English to test your writing skills. The sentences may be something like “I want to be a United States citizen,” or, “Today I am going to the store.”
  • Speaking: The officer evaluates your ability to speak English by the answers you give throughout the interview, so you don’t have to worry about studying for this separately.

Preparing for the English proficiency part of your BCIS interview is easy. After all, English surrounds you in the United States. Listen to conversations, have a conversation with someone yourself, read the newspaper or even signs and billboards, watch television, listen to the radio — opportunities to improve your English proficiency are everywhere!

Studying for the civics test

During your interview, you’ll also be required to show you know about U.S. history and government. You don’t need to be an expert and know every important historical event and date that ever happened in the United States. The BCIS just wants to make sure you understand and appreciate what it means to be an American. Find out the important principles that make up our government’s foundation, and show a basic understanding of the history and events that made our Founding Fathers structure our government the way they did, and you’re sure to pass.