As of mid-September 2020 naturalization interviews and ceremonies were proceeding at the USCIS field office in Seattle with social distancing and COVID-19 protocols in place. Unlike previous accounts of the final step of the naturalization process, this naturalization interview and ceremony followed a different procedures to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Like so many other important events, preparation for the naturalization interview makes the experience much more pleasant.
The interview went great! I was very nervous, but I passed the civics and reading/ writing portions of the test and didn’t have any problems with updating the N-400 answers with the agent. I was even able to take my oath ceremony right after the interview, so I am now officially a naturalized U.S. citizen!
Preparing for the naturalization interview is almost as important as the interview itself. In this case, the notice of interview appointment arrived within two weeks before the interview, so our preparation time was limited. Fortunately, the list of documents required for the interview was shorter than usual. In the past, USCIS has asked naturalization applicants to bring tax returns filed between the date of applying for naturalization and the date of the interview. Here, USCIS only asked my client to bring civil documents such as birth certificates (for her and her spouse), passports, and her marriage certificate.
The procedure for entering the USCIS field office began outside at the end of a small, socially-distanced queue with everyone wearing masks. Unlike my typical appointments at the Seattle field office there were only two other people in the waiting room. Also, unlike typical USCIS interviews, there was no agent in the interview room. Instead, there was an iPad on the desk with the agent appearing on screen. The agent was in another room in the building.
First, the agent asked my client to show her green card and passport through the webcam. After inspecting these documents virtually they moved on to the civics test followed by the English language test. For the English test the agent first showed my client a sentence on the screen of the iPad and instructed her to recite it out loud. Next, my client had to write a sentence on a form that was on the desk in the interview room. The agent read her the sentence, and my client showed him the written sentence via webcam when she was finished.
A major component of the naturalization interview is reviewing N-400 with the USCIS officer to update any information that may have changed between the date of filing the application and the interview date. In this case, my client could not see the actual Form N-400 because the USCIS agent was not in the same room with her. Although the changes to Form N-400 were small they could have been difficult to remember and update without sufficiently preparing for the interview. For example, like many Canadian applicants for naturalization, my client had taken trips outside the United States after filing Form N-400. Since an applicant must meet certain residence and physical presence requirements to become a citizen, my client needed to review the dates of her travel outside the United States prior to her interview and update Form N-400 with the USCIS officer.
Once my client passed the English and civics tests, the USCIS agent reviewed Form N-400 with her. When they finished reviewing and revising Form N-400 the agent asked her if she would be willing to take the oath immediately and my client said yes. The agent then printed some documents, including revised Form N-400, for my client to sign. She signed these forms, showed her signature to the agent via webcam, and then dropped the originally-signed documents in a basket along with her green card.
The agent administered the oath through the iPad. Another employee then escorted my client back to the waiting room where she waited for about 5 minutes until someone delivered her Certificate of Naturalization and citizenship packet. She summarized the experience as follows:
It went very quickly, and I was in and out in less than an hour!
Good preparation is key for a successful naturalization interview. Preparation begins on the date that an alien receives his or her green card. Permanent residents should keep track of all days outside the United States, and ensure that they have copies of their U.S. tax returns to file with Form N-400 when they become eligible to apply for citizenship. After filing Form N-400, permanent residents should continue tracking their days outside the United States and spend a few minutes each day studying for the citizenship test. Additionally, they should keep a blank Form N-400 handy so that they can write down any changes to their address or employment history. By keeping track of data required for Form N-400 permanent residents will be more prepared to update the form during their naturalization interview.