Weird questions you have to answer to become a U.S. citizen

Aug 15, 2012

Have you ever been a “habitual drunkard?” What about a Communist? And exactly where were you between the dates of March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945?

If you want to become a citizen of the United States, get ready to answer these questions---and about a hundred more---on the U.S. citizenship application form, the N-400.

It’s the form that can make or break a permanent resident's chances of becoming a full citizen, and some of the questions it asks are pretty surprising.

Like this one:

Have you ever been a member of or in any way associated (either directly or indirectly) with the Communist Party?

Seattle immigration attorney Carol Edward says that while this question doesn't apply to many applicants these days, it can still be a deal breaker.

"If you were an active member of the Communist Party, they would not allow you to become a U.S. citizen," Edward says.

But, she adds, "most people, once they come to the United States, aren’t actually active members anymore. They were a member at some point, and they decided not to be."

Okay, how about this one?

Between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945, did you work for or associate in any way (either directly or indirectly) with the Nazi government of Germany?

This can only apply to a handful of people, right? Does this even need to be on the form? Edward says she's never had a client who struggled with this one.

She says questions like this are more interesting from an historical perspective.

"If you look at the N-400 and the questions they ask, you’ll see the concerns that were raised over the years about who we wanted to come into the United States," she says. "What’s interesting is that usually, they don’t take those questions out. They just sort of keep getting more and more restrictive."

Not all the questions on the N-400 are as surprising as the ones about Nazism and Communism, but they can still be a headache for applicants.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) wants to know pretty much everything about your life over the past five years---like how many days you've been outside the U.S. since you've had your Green Card, where you've lived, information about your hair, eye, and skin color, and even details about ex-spouses.

So why become a citizen?

If the process is such an ordeal, why bother applying for citizenship in the first place? After all, if you have a Greencard, chances are you could live in the U.S. indefinitely as long as you obey the law and pay your taxes.

"Anyone who’s not a citizen is always at risk of being deported if they have a problem," says Carol Edward. "If you have somebody who is here in the United States and they have a family member that becomes very seriously ill in another country, and they then go and stay with that family member too long…the government could charge them with having abandoned their residency."

Also, if you’re a full citizen, it’s easier to help your family members overseas become U.S. citizens too. Permanent residents can only sponsor certain immediate relatives, and the process is a lot more slow-going.

Another big incentive for citizenship is the ability to vote in national elections. Green card holders can vote in local and state races, but you have to be a full citizen to vote for the president.

And for some immigrants, that alone makes the whole process worthwhile.

For more information about the N-400 and the citizenship process, visit the USCIS page on naturalization.

And here's the full N-400 form: