Citizenship Tests

Murali Bashyam: Good morning.  My name is Murali Bashyam.  I’m a partner with the law firm of Bashyam Spiro, and I’m here with Ame Coats who is the senior counsel with our firm.

Ame Coats: Good morning everybody.

Murali Bashyam: And we handle corporate and family immigration law in all 50 states and around the world, and Ame and I are here today to discuss the road to citizenship.

Ame Coats: Today we’re going to go through just the basics of citizenship really, what the benefits are, the requirements for most folks, the English and Civics test that we get a lot of questions on, and also just general application, interview and post procedures.  Towards the – if you had a chance to look at the citizenship application, at the very end there’s a series of maybe five or six questions.

Murali Bashyam: What’s that form number again, just for the audience?

Ame Coats: N-400.   So the last five or six questions are about whether or not you support the principles of the Constitution, and you do have to check off that you’re willing to bear arms on behalf of the U.S., and to perform non-combatant services in the U.S. Armed Forces.  And if you’re not comfortable with that and you want to check no, then you have to justify your reasons on account of your religious or spiritual beliefs.  And that’s something that you need to seek advice with an attorney about, because there’s a letter that you need to write up to explain your beliefs.

Murali Bashyam: Ame, in your experience doing these cases for a number of years, how difficult is it to get around that?

Ame Coats: If you’re a member of a religion, like let’s say Jehovah’s Witnesses, I mean they have a very long – I mean their tradition is not to be involved in any sort of armed conflict, and I think most officers are aware of that.  And they are gonna expect a letter and that sort of thing, but that’s pretty common.  Now if you’re not a member of a certain religious organization, it doesn’t mean that you can’t get this exemption, but it requires more explanation. 

The English test.  The English test is basically one sentence that the officer shows you and you have to read it, and another sentence that the officer says out loud and you have to write it down.

Murali Bashyam: Would it be something like, “What color is the sky?”

Ame Coats: No, because when they revised this test a couple of years ago, one great thing they did is they posted a list of vocabulary words.  There’s one list for reading and there’s another list for writing.  And the sentences that they take are actually composed of those words.  So if you know those words and you’re not tripped up by the accent of the examiner, you shouldn’t have any trouble.  Like for example, if you look at the reading vocabulary words, one sentence that I hear sometimes at an interview is, “When is Columbus Day?”  And if you were to look at those vocabulary words, you’d see when, is, Columbus, Day.  I mean those are all listed.

Murali Bashyam: That really makes it a lot easier, doesn’t it?

Ame Coats: I think so.

Murali Bashyam: That’s a major improvement.

Ame Coats: Yeah, it is.  It is.  That’s pretty easy there.  And then also your ability just to answer the questions that they ask you throughout the interview, if you can’t answer their questions and they’re not understanding you, then that’s gonna pose a problem. 

Now the Civics test, this is very similar to how it was when they revised this a couple of years ago.  It’s still 100 questions that you have to memorize.  The examiner’s only going to ask you up to ten questions, but you still have to memorize all 100.  He will ask the questions aloud.

You have to get six out of ten correct, so it’s sort of a binding test here.  If you completely blank out on one of the questions, which happened to one of my clients the other day, it’s not a big deal.  You just ask to skip that one, and more than likely you’re gonna get the next one correct.  The 100 questions are posted on the Internet, and really this is straight memorization.  A lot of people ask me, “What happens if I don’t pass the test?”  Well they will give you a second chance interview, and I would say that’s probably going to be a couple of months after the first interview.

So you have a chance to go back home and do a little bit more studying and try it again.  I mean that has happened to a few clients along the way.  There are exemptions from the English requirement, and you can see that it’s on the PowerPoint.  If you’re over 50 and you’ve been a permanent resident for 20 years, or you’re over 55 and you’ve been a permanent resident for 15 years, you don’t have to take the English test, but you do have to take the Civics exam.  And you can take that in your own language and have an interpreter present to interpret it.

If you’re over 65 and you’ve been a permanent resident for 20 years, you get an easier Civics test.  And if you go online and you look at the 100 questions, they have an asterisk beside the ones that are on the easy test for people who were over 55 and then permanent residents for 20 years.  There’s also a waiver that you can apply for if you meet the requirements.  You have to show that you have a disability or a mental impairment that prevents you from learning English or Civics, or demonstrating your knowledge of English or Civics.  And you have to have a doctor fill this out.  It’s a specific form from the immigration service, and the doctor has to really – he just can’t say you’re disabled.  He’s got to make the connection between what is your disability, and how does this prevent you from learning or demonstrating your knowledge of English.  If you have any questions about this waiver, feel free to email us.  Our email address is at the end of the presentation.  The basic application procedures, this is the form number and the website there where you can access the form and the instructions.  The application fee is $680.00.

Murali Bashyam: And that changes from time to time, right?

Ame Coats: Well, it just went up $5.00 dollars this fall.

Murali Bashyam: That’s a big change.

Ame Coats: Well, it’s better than some of the other fees that went up a lot more.  The filing location, I believe they’re down to two different filing locations now.  It depends on your state.  But it’s on the form instructions.  Our processing time at our local office which is the Raleigh/Durham office is about five months, and this is according to the Immigration Services website.  This is also their national goal and the average at this time.

Murali Bashyam: And it tends to go faster closer to election time, right Ame?  [Laughter]

Ame Coats: I don’t know.  That’s what people say.  I’m not sure I ever believed that.  The interview is very straightforward in my opinion.  They literally start at the beginning of the application and ask you every single question straight through, but checking off your answers with a red pen as they go through it.  They’re definitely going to see your green card, your driver’s license, and they ask to see your passport.  And let’s say you have a criminal conviction or something like that, or documentation that you registered for selective service, they’re gonna want to see those things.  They’ll give the English and the Civics test, and then if they’re comfortable with your case and that officer is gonna recommend approval, they will forward it to a second officer to sign off on the case.

And usually that’s done while you’re there waiting.  When the interview’s over and it’s time for you to leave, you should at least have a recommended approval in your hand, and probably you’re also going have the open notes, which will tell you the day and time that you return.  Sometimes they’re not able to do it that day though and you get the open notes in the mail.  Now if they need something else from you, then they’re not going to approve your case that day or give you a recommended approval.  Instead, they’ll ask you to mail in the evidence or to come back on another day and submit that.

Murali Bashyam: Ame, we get this question sometimes which is on the N-400 form where you are required to list all your trips for the last five years or so.  What if you take a number of trips back and forth to Canada, you really don’t have that evidence of and you can’t remember exactly the date of each trip?

Ame Coats: Right.  Well I’m working on a case right now for a gentleman who’s living in California, and he went to Mexico a lot on the weekends and he also went to Canada.  And so what we’re going to type on the application is permanent years – and I’m just making this up ‘cause I don’t know the years, but, “Permanent years, 1995 to the year 2000, I resided in San Francisco, California.  During that time period, I frequently visited my friends in Vancouver Canada, and also routinely traveled to Mexico for a vacation.  I do not remember the exact dates and times of these trips.”  Something like that, an explanation, whatever it is for that particular person.  Now since the immigration service is requiring passports, I mean it used to be that you didn’t have to show a passport.  There may be a little bit more documentation, but I still don’t think they’re sending those.  So it’s a case-by-case basis.

 Murali Bashyam: If we did not answer any of your questions, please do feel free to contact either me or Ame.  Our email addresses and telephone number is on your screen right now.  I do encourage you to visit our Media Library and connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.  We will have a webinar coming up next month on what to do about changing jobs during a permanent residency process and how that impacts the process.  Thanks everyone for joining in today.  We hope you have a great day.

Ame Coats: Thank you.

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