(Photo source: The Beacon – The Official Blog of USCIS)

Beginning this week, anyone applying for citizenship must use the new N-400 application form for naturalization. The 90-day period during which USCIS was accepting both the shorter old form and the longer new form has ended. An applicant for citizenship who submits an old N-400 will have it rejected by USCIS.

The new form, and the instructions that accompany the form, are considerably longer. In part, this is because new questions have been added to determine if an applicant might be disqualified from citizenship on the basis of new laws passed by Congress several years ago. The new questions will apply to very few applicants, but will likely lead to more “red flags” that, in a group processing workshop, will take up more of the time of volunteer attorneys supervising the volunteers who help applicants fill out the forms.

Another reason the form and instructions are longer is because USCIS attempted to make the instructions more clear, and even in the form itself, there is language added to explain some of the terms used. Unfortunately, in any form created to determine legal eligibility for a government benefit, there will be a tradeoff between clarity in the language and length of the form.

Finally, there is a huge bar code at the bottom of each page. When the form is filled out on a computer, the barcode changes to record the information. The code can be scanned by USCIS computers and the information is captured. An applicant can still fill out the form with a pen; it is not necessary to fill it out electronically.

Here are a few resources on the new N-400:

  • USCIS has a “tip sheet” for filling out the form on its website.
  • The Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc., has posted on its website some questions and answers that were raised at a recent USCIS stakeholders meeting with service providers. CLINIC also has a 90-minute recorded webinar discussing changes in the format and content of the new N-400. You can find that recording here.