USCIS has recently issued a new version of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. This is not just a minor revision. There are a number of important changes and additions to the application. While the old N-400 is still acceptable as of now, all prospective naturalization applicants must start using the new, revised version starting May 5, 2014.
Here are some salient changes that are worth noting (please note that I am not discussing all the changes, only the ones that stuck out to me upon first impression):
The form is now 21 pages long. By comparison, the old version is a mere 10 pages.
The form does clarify who qualifies for the English Waiver. Moreover, it distinguishes between those applying for accommodations because of physical impairments and disabilities from those applying for an exemption because they have physical or developmental disabilities that prevent them from either demonstrating knowledge of English and/or history.
Another positive change is that the form does go into more detail about parents’ information. While it may seem overly intrusive (wait till you get to the security questions), there is some benefit to all these questions because it may alert the applicant to the possibility that he/she may already be a citizen through his/her parents.
In terms of employment history, the form emphasizes, arguably more so than the old form, to list not only employment, but periods of unemployment as well as periods studying school, whether full-time or part-time.
Now, onto the security questions, which are clearly much more extensive than previously detailed on the old form.
Taxes- the form now asks “have you ever not filed a Federal, State, or local tax return since you became a Permanent Resident?”
Torture/Genocide questions: the questions now go even further in terms of asking not only whether the applicant has participated in genocide but also whether the applicant was “involved in any way” with among some other things, “badly hurting, or trying to hurt, a person on purpose” and “forcing, or trying to force, someone to have any kind of sexual contact or relations.” Additionally, the form inquires not only into whether the applicant personally harmed anyone but also “were you ever a part of any group, or did you ever help any group, unit, or organization that used a weapon against any person, or threatened to do so.”
Criminal Questions: Now, the applicant is required to disclose not only whether he/she has committed but also now whether he/she has “assisted in committing or attempted to commit a crime or offense for which…[there was no] arrest.” Also, even if the person was never convicted, the applicant must now disclose situations where he or she might have been charged with committing or “attempting to commit or assisting in committing a crime or offense.” Attempting to commit or assisting to commit are new elements that now widen the parameters of possible misconduct that now must be addressed.
Miscellaneous questions: Something which also caught my notice was that in addition to asking whether the applicant ever lied or made any type of misrepresentation to an immigration officer, the form now also asks whether he/she “made any misrepresentation to obtain any public benefit in the United States.” This is a different question than whether one has made a misrepresentation to obtain an immigration benefit or to avoid removal or deportation.
What are the potential pitfalls of this new application?
There are many hidden landmines here, even if the applicant has nothing to hide. The questions are incredibly detailed but at the same time, the scope of them is so expansive that they conceivably cover almost any questionable activity, even if not necessarily criminal. Failure to disclose may trigger charges of misrepresentation but disclosing without proper documentation or a proper explanation of the circumstances could also invite complications.
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