What happens when you’re called for a naturalization interview?

A friend recently completed the citizenship process in New York City, with the time from start to finish taking about five months.  Though his case was solid, interview day was cause for some jitters.

After arriving at the USCIS office in Long Island City, John was asked to provide fingerprints to ensure they matched with the ones on his application. Then the waiting began, and though his appointment was scheduled for 2 p.m., he wasn’t called until after 4 p.m. 

After being sworn to tell the truth by the USCIS interviewer, the questions began in earnest.  The file of paperwork that the officer had on John was extensive, dating back to his initial application for permanent residence (he married a U.S. citizen).  That marriage ended in divorce and the officer asked questions about it – nothing hugely intrusive, but he did want to make sure that the marriage wasn’t entered into solely for legalization purposes. (It definitely wasn’t.)

Another issue that arose was that of Selective Service. All males aged between 18 and 26 are required by law to register for Selective Service – basically, military availability in the extremely unlikely event of a draft.

John was 23 when he was issued with his green card, but he wasn’t aware of the Selective Service directive.  Failing to register cost him his chance at citizenship when he was 27, as the officer who interviewed him at that time said he would have to get a letter of absolution from Selective Service.

He waited until he was 31 years old to re-apply for citizenship to completely inoculate himself against further Selective Service problems.  To become a citizen one has to possess “good moral character” in the five-year period preceding the naturalization application. Failing to register for Selective Service can be considered as a lack of moral character, so John waited five years after he turned 26 – the last age for registering – to wipe the good moral character slate clean, so to speak.

He had his letter from Selective Service to provide the USCIS officer, who John said didn’t seem particularly pleased with the registration oversight, but accepted it as a genuine mistake and moved on.

John was asked about his absences from the U.S. – a couple of them lasted several months in duration due to the death of his father. The officer even asked for a death certificate to prove his story was true. 

One thing that never came up was tax compliance. John had all his tax returns at the ready, but the officer never asked.

The written English test and the questions on U.S. civics were easy for John.  After a roughly half-hour interview, John was told by the officer that he would be recommended for naturalization approval.  We’ll tell you about the swearing-in next week.

Every naturalization candidate has a different experience. A woman in the waiting room with John was asked by her interviewer to provide a detailed tax history.  And a friend of his was approved for citizenship a couple of years back even though he too failed to register for Selective Service.

The important thing for candidates is to be totally prepared for all questions, and if they never arise, then all the better.