Lawful permanent residents applying for citizenship must learn and demonstrate knowledge of English as well as U.S. history and government. Certain elderly immigrants may be excepted from the English requirement and may take the history and government test in their native language. But what about immigrants who have a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment that makes it impossible to learn the material to pass the naturalization test?

In 1994, Congress passed legislation providing an exception to the naturalization language and civics requirements for immigrants suffering from these conditions. To gain the exemption, an immigrant has to submit an application form N-648, Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions. This form must be completed by a medical professional who can certify the immigrant’s disability and explain why it prevented the immigrant from learning what is required for the naturalization test.

This original form had many problems. It was long and burdensome for physicians and required unnecessary information. Many immigrants applying for the disability exemption were denied because the form was not properly filled out.

Advocates pressed United States Citizenship and Immigration Services in the early days of the Obama administration to change the form to make it less burdensome for physicians. A new form N-648 was published in December 2010. The new form contains clearer and more concise language, eliminates the collection of some unnecessary information and contains a new certification section for interpreters.

Still, a physician is not an immigration specialist and may not understand exactly what is being asked for, or may not know how to clearly communicate the necessary information.

The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center (MIRC), one of our Detroit partners, created a helpful video to help physicians who are evaluating immigrants for the disability waiver.  In the video, Susan Reed, managing attorney at MIRC, explains what a physician must do to fill out the disability waiver properly and to make sure that an immigration examiner will understand why the immigrant’s condition qualifies the individual for the waiver.

Some of the tips include using clear language so that a person without medical training will understand. The nexus between the person’s disability and the inability to learn a language or information for the naturalization test must be explained in plain language, and in great detail, even if it seems obvious to the physician.

For more resources on the N-648, visit the links below: