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The New Naturalization Application Form N-400

On Tuesday this week, USCIS announced major revisions to the Application for Naturalization (N-400). From now until May 2, 2014, lawful permanent residents eligible for U.S. citizenship can decide whether to use the old form or the new form.

If you are eligible for U.S. citizenship, I strongly recommend that you file your N-400 before May 2nd to avoid using the new version.

At first glance, you’ll see that the N-400 more than doubled in size – from ten pages to 21. While some of the changes are good, not all of them are a step in the right direction.

The new form finally provides adequate space for listing the applicant’s addresses and employment for the past five years. Instead of having one small line to put in an entire address, city, and state, the form provides sufficient space to list out an entire address or employment information. This explains four of the new pages. While it makes the form longer, it makes it cleaner and clearer. I think this is a positive change.

Another cause for the lengthiness is that USCIS has started defining terms in the form instead of leaving the definitions and clarifications in the instructions. The English-language exemption requirements are clearly laid out, which is helpful.

What concerns me about the new form, though, are the random definitions placed in the questions regarding a person’s criminal and military history. Let’s look at just one of the over ten parentheticals USCIS has put into the new N-400.

The question on the form is: Have you ever been a member of a vigilante unit? (a group of people who act like the police, but are not part of the official police).

My first question is: what does it mean to act like the police? Are we talking about U.S. police standards or the police in Thailand or Russia? What about places such as Egypt where the military acts as the police? The standards for what the police look like changes across jurisdictions and across cultures. This is too subjective of a definition.

My second problem with the added definition is wondering whether USCIS considers this to be the only valid definition of “vigilante.”

Black’s Law Dictionary defines vigilante as “A person who seeks to avenge crime by taking the law into his or her own hands.” Webster’s defines vigilante a third way, as “A member of a volunteer committee organized to suppress and punish crime summarily.”

I can see where, according to USCIS, a neighborhood watch organization may be considered a vigilante unit. But, let’s say an enraged father shoots his daughter’s rapist. According to Black’s Law Dictionary, he is a vigilante, but because he’s not a part of a group he’s not considered a vigilante by USCIS standards.

I understand that USCIS wanted to help clarify the form and the questions they were asking. They were hoping to make it easier for people to complete the forms without the aid of an attorney. I fear, though, that this helpfulness will only lead to more confusion. By giving these definitions, USCIS has created more opportunities for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.

Again, if you are interested in and eligible for applying for Naturalization, save yourself needless headache and paperwork and apply before the May 2nd deadline.

– Tracie