USCIS Policy Manual
VOLUME 12: CITIZENSHIP & NATURALIZATION
PART J: OATH OF ALLEGIANCE
The naturalization ceremony is a pivotal milestone in the naturalization process. USCIS aims to make administrative naturalization ceremonies positive, memorable moments in the lives of the participants. The significance of the Oath of Allegiance will be honored by USCIS policies and practices that reflect the special, unique nature of the occasion.
The following guidance provides USCIS officials with the Model Plan for Administrative Naturalization Ceremonies (model plan) for conducting administrative naturalization ceremonies in a meaningful and consistent manner. This model plan applies only to administrative naturalization ceremonies involving an Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) where a USCIS designated official or an Immigration Judge administers the Oath of Allegiance. The model plan does not apply to administrative ceremonies involving children obtaining evidence of citizenship (Application for Citizenship, Form N-600, or Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, Form N-600K) or judicial naturalization ceremonies where a federal, state or local court administers the Oath of Allegiance.
1. Contents of U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet
To standardize the experience at naturalization ceremonies, USCIS created the U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet (Form M-771) for distribution to every naturalization candidate participating in an administrative ceremony in the United States. To the extent practicable, U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet (Form M-771) will also be distributed to candidates participating in naturalization ceremonies overseas, subject to circumstances such as the location of the ceremony and the capacity of active military to carry the necessary materials in an active war zone.
The U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet consists of the following:
President’s Congratulatory Letter and Envelope;
Department of State Form DS-11, Passport Application;
Form M-767, Important Information for New Citizens;
Form M-789, Oath of Allegiance/The Star Spangled Banner/Pledge of Allegiance Flier;
Certificate Holder; and
A Voter’s Guide to Federal Elections.
2. Distribution of U.S. Citizenship Welcome Packet
USCIS distributes the welcome packet to each person being naturalized either during the check-in process or after the ceremony program. See Section B, Ceremony Check-in Process [12 USCIS-PM J.5(B)], and Section C, Ceremony Program [12 USCIS-PM J.5(C)]. USCIS can distribute the welcome packet before the naturalization candidate has been administered the Oath of Allegiance but only after a USCIS officer has determined that the applicant is eligible to take the Oath of Allegiance on the day of the ceremony.
Because the welcome packet contains information for naturalized citizens, USCIS employees must:
Make a statement that an applicant does not become a U.S. citizen until he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance, regardless of the contents of the welcome packet, whenever distributed;
Make a general statement about the contents of the welcome packet; and
Answer the candidates’ naturalization-related questions.
The welcome packet includes the official congratulatory letter of the President of the United States. That letter is the only congratulatory letter USCIS distributes nationwide at naturalization ceremonies. If the U.S. flag is distributed, it should be distributed exclusively to naturalization candidates.
USCIS field office leadership will determine, in consultation with the USCIS Ethics Office, whether materials and publications outside of the U.S. flag and the contents of the welcome packet are appropriate for distribution. Partisan publications, publications referencing a specific political group, and materials that contain commercial or religious solicitation or promotion of any kind must never be distributed to new citizens.
Other governmental entities and non-governmental entities must not distribute their materials and publications until after the USCIS official has concluded the administrative naturalization ceremony and has released the new citizens. Field leadership will determine, in consultation with the USCIS Ethics Office, whether outside organizations’ materials are appropriate for distribution. The Citizen’s Almanac (Form M-76) and the Pocket-size Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States (Form M-654) must be made available to all interested naturalization candidates or newly naturalized citizens.
3. Citizen’s Almanac and Pocket-size Declaration of Independence and Constitution
In addition, the Citizen’s Almanac (Form M-76) and the Pocket-size Declaration of Independence and Constitution of the United States (Form M-654) must be made available to all interested naturalization candidates or newly naturalized citizens at the:
Conclusion of the oath ceremony program; or
Conclusion of the naturalization interview.
The preferred distribution method for on-site and off-site ceremonies is during the check-in process or at the conclusion of the oath ceremony. The items may be placed on a table in an area accessible to the naturalization candidates.
USCIS officers perform the ceremony check-in process before the start of the ceremony program. A USCIS officer reviews the responses on each naturalization candidate’s Notice of Naturalization Oath Ceremony (Form N-445) and updates responses as necessary. Once each candidate’s eligibility for naturalization is verified, the officer collects from each candidate any and all USCIS-issued travel documents and lawful permanent resident cards.
To standardize the naturalization ceremony experience, unless exempted, USCIS offices will implement these steps in all administrative ceremonies: USCIS offices are exempt from implementing the ceremony program when conducting a home visit, or an expedited administrative naturalization ceremony. See Chapter 6, Judicial and Expedited Oath Ceremonies [12 USCIS-PM J.6].
Play “Faces of America”; See USCIS Naturalization Ceremony Video for the Faces of America segment.
Play the National Anthem, The Star Spangled Banner, instrumental or vocal version; See USCIS Naturalization Ceremony Video for instrumental or vocal version of the National Anthem. USCIS offices may incorporate a live performance as an alternative to the version on the video.
Opening (welcoming) remarks by Master of Ceremonies; Opening (welcoming) remarks include, but are not limited to, an introduction of ceremony principals and an overview of the ceremony program.
Announce the “call of countries”; The designated official reads aloud a list of countries represented by the naturalization candidates’ former nationalities.
Administer the Oath of Allegiance to the naturalization candidates; See Chapter 2, The Oath of Allegiance [12 USCIS-PM J.2]. See INA 337. See 8 CFR 337.1(a).
Keynote remarks by USCIS field leadership or guest speaker; Keynote remarks must be politically neutral and may include, but are not limited to, the privileges, responsibilities, and importance of U.S. citizenship; the importance of civic principles within the U.S. government; the significance of swearing allegiance to the United States; and the theme of the ceremony.
Play Presidential Congratulatory Remarks; See USCIS Naturalization Ceremony Video for Presidential Congratulatory Remarks.
Recite the Pledge of Allegiance;
Concluding remarks by Master of Ceremonies or USCIS field leadership; Concluding remarks may include, but are not limited to, expressing appreciation to those family and friends in attendance, acknowledging the achievement of the naturalized citizens, announcing the services of those governmental and non-governmental entities in attendance, and explaining the distribution method for the certificates of naturalization. and
Present the Certificate of Naturalization (Form N-550). USCIS field leadership and staff presents the Certificates of Naturalization to the naturalized U.S. citizens.
Field offices may also enhance the ceremony program with additional appropriate elements, such as with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”
USCIS welcomes participation from distinguished community members. A guest speaker may be a civic, governmental, or military leader, a Member of Congress, a judge, a DHS official, or person whom USCIS deems appropriate for the occasion.
USCIS field leadership of the USCIS office conducting the ceremony must review the qualifications of any potential guest speaker who is not a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employee and approve of his or her role in the program before he or she speaks at an administrative naturalization ceremony. If USCIS headquarters selects a person to be a guest speaker at a USCIS field office’s administrative naturalization ceremony, headquarters will review the person’s qualifications before making the recommendation.
It is the responsibility of field leadership of the USCIS office conducting the administrative naturalization ceremony to preserve the solemnity and dignity of the occasion. When the guest speaker is selected and scheduled, field leadership must send the speaker written notice describing USCIS’s expectations that appropriate remarks will focus on:
Importance of U.S citizenship;
New privileges (such as the ability to travel with a U.S. Passport, apply for a position in the Federal government, and to vote in federal elections);
Responsibilities of U.S. citizenship (such as applying for a U.S. passport and registering to vote);
Civic principles within the U.S. government;
Significance of swearing allegiance to the United States; or
Theme of the ceremony. See internal USCIS guidance for further guidance on guest speakers.
Inappropriate remarks, including political (partisan or otherwise), commercial or religious statements, are not permitted. If a guest speaker makes inappropriate remarks during an administrative naturalization ceremony, field Leadership should inform the speaker and elevate the issue up the field leadership chain. If the guest speaker does not indicate a willingness to modify his or her remarks in the future, field leadership should not accept requests from the person to speak at future administrative naturalization ceremonies.
USCIS must uphold the integrity of each administrative naturalization ceremony and ensure that it is a politically neutral event. The presence of candidates for public office at a naturalization ceremony may create a perception inconsistent with USCIS’s obligation of neutrality. Accordingly, candidates for public office generally may not speak at or participate in an administrative naturalization ceremony within the three months before an election for that office, including both primary and general elections. For example, if the state primary elections are on February 7, 2012, a candidate for public office standing in those primary elections may not be a guest speaker or have another formal participatory role any time between November 7, 2011 and February 7, 2012. The three-month rule does not apply to the President or Vice President of the United States. In addition, in exceptional circumstances, the USCIS Ethics Office may authorize exceptions to the three-month rule if the candidate’s participation, subject to any appropriate conditions, would not unduly compromise the ceremony’s political neutrality and would serve both USCIS’s and the ceremony’s best interests. If any additional questions arise related to the three-month rule, Field Leadership should contact their designated Ethics Officer.
1. Voter Registration
The ability to vote in federal elections is both a right and responsibility that comes with U.S. citizenship. All newly naturalized citizens will have the opportunity to receive a voter registration application at administrative naturalization ceremonies. The mechanism for distribution may vary by ceremony location, but in every case must take place only after the conclusion of the ceremony.
The options for distribution of voter registration applications are (in preferential order):
State or local government election offices may distribute and collect voter registration applications for an Election Official to review and officially register the person to vote;
Non-governmental organizations may distribute and collect voter registration applications for an Election Official to review and officially register the person to vote (if qualified and approved according to the criteria identified below); or
In the absence of the above options, USCIS will provide voter registration applications to all new citizens – USCIS is not responsible for the collection of applications or any other activities related to voter registration.
If no space is available for governmental or non-governmental entities to provide on-site voter registration services, the USCIS field office will distribute voter registration applications, whenever feasible, to each newly naturalized citizen. If a field office is unable to distribute voter registration forms in any of the above three (3) vehicles, field leadership must notify their chain of command within the Field Operations Directorate.
2. Registration by Non-governmental Organizations
In-person voter registration services by the state or local election office is the optimal mechanism for distribution. If state or local election officials are unable to participate, all interested non-governmental groups may seek the privilege of offering voter registration services at the conclusion of administrative naturalization ceremonies.
Field leadership must consider requests from all interested organizations seeking to participate in the ceremony and must offer equal, non-preferential opportunities to all qualified and approved non-governmental organizations.
To qualify, non-governmental organizations must be both non-profit and non-partisan. Organizations must be deemed qualified by USCIS field leadership. All interested organizations seeking to offer voter registration services at the conclusion of a USCIS administrative naturalization ceremony must submit a request in writing to the local USCIS Field Office Director to be considered. Field leadership will provide a written response, only after consultation with the USCIS Office of Chief Counsel’s Ethics Office, within 60 days from receipt of the organization’s written request. Approval may be granted on a one-time or standing basis, but may be removed at any time if the participation requirements are not met.
When USCIS determines that an organization is qualified and is chosen to participate in voter registration services at an administrative naturalization ceremony, field leadership will send the organization a letter, listing specific selected requirements. See internal USCIS guidance for further guidance on voter registration by non-governmental organizations. Field leadership will then contact the organization to determine its availability to participate in scheduled administrative ceremonies.
While participating, non-governmental organizations and their representatives MUST NOT:
Participate in any political activity, partisan or otherwise, while participating in voter registration activities during administrative naturalization ceremonies, regardless of whether the ceremonies take place on federal or non-federal property; Political activity includes activity directed toward the success or failure of a political party, candidate for partisan political office, or partisan political group. For this purpose, political activity also includes advocacy for particular referenda or other political propositions. For example, a non-governmental group participating in voter registration activities at an administrative naturalization ceremony may not provide information for or against a state immigration law or proposition. The organization’s activities while participating must also comply with the Hatch Act, 5 U.S.C. 7321-26.
Engage in commercial or religious solicitation or promotion of any kind; or
Discriminate on the basis of race, color, gender, religion, age, sexual orientation, national or ethnic origin, disability, marital status or veteran status.
While participating, non-governmental organizations and their representatives MUST:
Safeguard all personal information new citizens provide for voter registration and are prohibited from using this information for any purpose other than voter registration;
Follow scheduling and logistical requirements set forth by USCIS field leadership;
Wear professional attire and represent themselves and their organization professionally;
Have received proper training on how to register voters;
Receive an on-site briefing from field leadership regarding rules for that particular venue; and
Wear name tags that include the name of the organization while registering voters (no other identification of the organization may be worn or displayed).
3. Failure to Comply with Requirements for Voter Registration by Non-governmental Organizations
If a non-governmental entity fails to comply with the above requirements for participation, field leadership, in consultation with the USCIS Ethics Office, may revoke this privilege and exclude the entity from participating in future administrative naturalization ceremonies that occur on or outside of the administrative ceremony location.
In addition, if a USCIS official receives a complaint from a newly naturalized citizen, guest or family member of a newly naturalized citizen, or the state or local election office regarding an entity’s inappropriate behavior or lack of ability to properly provide voter registration services, field leadership, in consultation with the USCIS Ethics Office, may revoke the privilege upon appropriate inquiry and review of the circumstances. See internal USCIS guidance for further guidance on voter registration by non-governmental organizations.
4. Points-of-Contact for Voting and Voter Registration
If naturalized citizens have questions regarding voting and voter registration, USCIS should refer them to:
The governmental or non-governmental entity offering voter registration services on-site;
Other information resources within the local area; or
The official U.S. government Web site www.usa.gov(http://www.usa.gov).
Federal, state, and local governmental entities, such as the Department of State’s Passport Services Division, and the Social Security Administration, may be authorized to provide information and make services available to newly naturalized citizens and their guests at the conclusion of the administrative naturalization ceremony. Governmental entities that desire representation at administrative naturalization ceremonies must seek advance approval from field leadership of the USCIS office conducting the ceremony.
Field leadership may enlist individual volunteers, community-based organizations, and civic organizations to participate in various roles during the administrative naturalization ceremony. For example, Field leadership may have the U.S. armed forces Color Guard perform the presentation of colors and the national anthem or have volunteers lead the Pledge of Allegiance.
Field leadership must consider requests from all interested, qualified volunteers and organizations so that all have an equal opportunity to participate in the ceremony. Field leadership will determine the appropriate level of participation for the occasion; however, under no circumstances will any non-USCIS employee perform any USCIS function. For example, volunteers must not perform any of the USCIS employee’s duties within the ceremony check-in process.
Field leadership must review the qualifications, designate the level of participation, and oversee the participation of all volunteers and organizations during the administrative naturalization ceremony. In addition, non-USCIS participants must not engage in political, commercial, or religious activity of any kind.
USCIS employees must not solicit a gift (including donated use of a venue to hold an administrative naturalization ceremony) from any non-Federal entity. See internal USCIS guidance for further guidance on offers to donate venues for ceremonies. An unsolicited gift, however, may be accepted with the concurrence of the USCIS Ethics Office and approval of the USCIS Director. This process is not required when non-government entities host USCIS for conducting citizenship outreach initiatives and workshops.