Today I was pleasantly surprised when I saw a citizenship interview notice in my mailbox (8/17/2012). I was surprised because my USCIS online status never changed. In fact it is still showing Initial Review right now. Normally it would’ve changed to “your N400, APPLICATION FOR NATURALIZATION was placed in line for interview scheduling. When scheduling is complete, you will receive a written notice with a time and place for your interview.” But for some reason, mine was never updated.
The I-797C notice was dated 8/14, and the interview is scheduled for mid September.
The time finally arrived. On September 18, I took my citizenship tests at the San Diego office.
I got to the USCIS office a little before 8am and my appointment was 8:15. There was a table at the font entrance and a big sign asking people to put their appointment letters in a box (except infopass notices). A worker later collected the letters and brought them inside.
The waiting room was about 10% full. I saw a couple people holding the “Learn About the United States” booklet, apparently waiting for their interviews. Two windows were open with immigration officers sitting behind them, who I assume were talking to people with infopass appointments. While I was waiting, someone (IO) would periodically come out to the waiting room and call people inside.
Then I noticed on the big sign by the front door that N-400 applicants are also required to complete a new form. It is a simply one-page form that asks if you want to change your legal name and if anything has changed since the N-400 was filed. I quickly filled it up and left it in the box (my original appointment letter was already picked up by then).
My name was called around 8:20. I followed an immigration officer to his cubicle where the interview and tests would take place. The IO looked rather young, and after a brief greeting, wasted no time and went straight to the interview.
I would say that it didn’t start very well. The conversation went like this:
IO: So you’re from China?
IO: Do you still have a house there?
Me: No, I don’t have a house.
IO: But you lived in China? Where is your birth certificate and resident record?
Me: Resident record?
IO: Yes, the one that shows your parents, siblings, home address, schools you went to, etc.
Me: I don’t have that, the only thing I have…(he cut me off here)
IO: Everyone I interviewed had a resident record! How do you prove you residence in China?
Me: We have a document called “hukou” back in China. But when I left for the U.S., the policy at that time was that I had to turn it in.
IO: So you can’t prove anything?
Me: I have a notarized document to…( show my birthdate and family members, but he cut me off again)
IO: Did you bring it?
Me: No, but I brought my passport (I was a bit concerned at this point and honestly a little upset too – the interview notice never mentioned to bring anything like that, and he apparently doesn’t believe me that I don’t have a “resident record” which I’d never heard of in China)
The conversion went on a bit longer but I can’t remember the exact words. I basically explained that I had to turn in my “hukou” and national ID card in order to apply for a passport, and my notarized documents, which I later found out were in my file right on his desk, are the only ones that confirm my birth date and also show my family members. He either believed me or gave up, and said:
IO: Show me your ID please.
Me: (Handing over my driver’s license and green card)
What followed was pretty routine. I was asked to stand up and raise my right hand, and answer yes or no when he asked if everything I say during the interview is true. Then he started to go over my N-400 application. He didn’t go though every entry on the form, but asked me to confirm some of them. So it went quickly with just one little hickup:
IO: Have you been fingerprinted outside the U.S.?
IO: No? You didn’t get fingerprinted the last time you got your passport?
Me: The last time I got it was in Los Angeles (I was trying to say it wasn’t out of the United States as in his original question)
IO: Did you understand my question? You didn’t have to submit fingerprints when you applied for a passport?
Me: I don’t recall being fingerprinted.
IO: You didn’t have to submit an application package and go through security checks in China?
Me: Yes, I did and it was a complicated process…
IO: So you do remember!
Me: Yes, but I don’t recall being fingerprinted during the process.
Ok, as you can see this episode came out of nowhere! He was just going through my N-400 application which doesn’t ask about fingerprinting at all. So I’m starting to think that maybe I did misunderstand his question, but he never tried to clarify and just started digging. Anyway, he moved on with the rest of the N-400 after that.
The next section was Civics test. He got a piece of paper with 10 questions on it and started from the top. The questions were easy: What is one promise you make when you become a United States citizen? Who is the governor of California? Where is the Statue of Liberty? I don’t even remember the others but he stopped after six questions. So I passed the test.
The following section was reading and writing. I was asked to read one sentence “Who lives in the White House,” and write down “The President lives in the White House.” That was it.
At this point the interview was pretty much finished. I signed a few things including the two photographs I submitted along with the N-400 package. The IO’s mood was also much improved as the interview went on. He said he would recommend approval and I should expect a notice to appear for the Oath Ceremony soon. He also said he’d be at the ceremony so if I could stop by and say hello that’d be great.
Interestingly, he asked how I felt about the interview. I said it went well, and it was smooth (what else could I say?) He then said the only thing for him was that I didn’t have a resident record which he thought everyone was supposed to have. Anyway, no biggie. He gave me a sheet of paper indicating that his recommendation for approval and that was the end of my citizenship interview.
Entire N-400 Citizenship Application Process: