Chapter 2 - Background and Security Checks
USCIS conducts an investigation of the applicant upon his or her filing for naturalization. The investigation consists of certain criminal background and security checks. The background and security checks include collecting fingerprints and requesting a “name check” from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). In addition, USCIS conducts other inter-agency criminal background and security checks on all applicants for naturalization. The background and security checks apply to most applicants and must be conducted and completed before the applicant is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview.
USCIS must collect fingerprint records as part of the background check process on applicants for naturalization regardless of their age. In general, applicants receive a biometric service appointment at a local Application Support Center (ASC) for collection of their biometrics (fingerprints, photographs, and signature).
USCIS notifies applicants in writing to appear for fingerprinting after filing the naturalization application. Fingerprints are valid for 15 months from the date of processing by the FBI. An applicant abandons his or her naturalization application if the applicant fails to appear for the fingerprinting appointment without good cause and without notifying USCIS.
Previously, USCIS had waived the fingerprint requirements for applicants 75 years old or older because it was difficult to capture readable fingerprints from this age group. As a result, applicants 75 years old or older were not required to appear at an ASC. Electronic processing of applications and improved technology now allows USCIS to capture fingerprints for applicants of all ages and enhances the ability to confirm identity and perform required background checks.
Once an ASC collects an applicant’s biometrics, USCIS submits the records to the FBI for a full criminal background check. The response from the FBI that a full criminal background check has been completed includes confirmation that:
The applicant does not have an administrative or a criminal record;
The applicant has an administrative or a criminal record; or
The applicant’s submitted fingerprint records have been determined unclassifiable for the purpose of conducting a criminal background check and have been rejected.
USCIS makes special arrangements to accommodate the needs of applicants who are unable to attend an appointment, including applicants with disabilities and homebound or hospitalized applicants. All domestic USCIS facilities are accessible to applicants with disabilities. Applicants who are homebound or hospitalized may request an accommodation when unable to appear at an ASC for biometrics processing. Applicants should submit a copy of the appointment notice and medical documentation verifying the need for an in-home appointment with the local field office.
Applicants who need to request an accommodation for their appointment can submit a request online or call the USCIS Contact Center at any time at 800-375-5283 (TDD: 800-767-1833).
Applicants with Certain Medical Conditions
An applicant may qualify for a waiver of the fingerprint requirement if the applicant is unable to provide fingerprints because of a medical condition, to include birth defects, physical deformities, skin conditions, and psychiatric conditions. Only certain USCIS officers are authorized to grant a fingerprint waiver.
An officer responsible for overseeing applicant fingerprinting may grant the waiver in the following situations:
The officer has met with the applicant in person;
The officer or authorized technician has attempted to fingerprint the applicant; and
The officer determines that the applicant is unable to be fingerprinted at all or is unable to provide a single legible fingerprint.
An applicant who is granted a fingerprint waiver must bring local police clearance letters covering the relevant period of good moral character to his or her naturalization interview. All clearance letters become part of the record. In cases where the applicant is granted a fingerprint waiver or has two unclassifiable fingerprint results, the officer must take a sworn statement from the applicant covering the period of good moral character.
An officer should not grant a waiver if the waiver is solely based on:
The applicant has fewer than 10 fingers;
The officer considers that the applicant’s fingerprints are unclassifiable; or
The applicant’s condition preventing the fingerprint capturing is temporary.
An officer’s decision to deny a fingerprint waiver is final and may not be appealed.
The FBI conducts “name checks” on all naturalization applicants, and disseminates the information contained in the FBI’s files to USCIS in response to the name check requests. The FBI’s National Name Check Program (NNCP) includes a search against the FBI’s Universal Index (UNI), which contains personnel, administrative, applicant, and criminal files compiled for law enforcement purposes. The FBI disseminates the information contained in the FBI’s files to USCIS in response to the name check requests.
The FBI name check must be completed and cleared before an applicant for naturalization is scheduled for his or her naturalization interview. A definitive FBI name check response of “NR” (No Record) or “PR” (Positive Response) is valid for the duration of the application for which they were conducted. Definitive responses used to support other applications are valid for 15 months from the FBI process date. A new name check is required in cases where the final adjudication and naturalization have not occurred within that timeframe or the name check was processed incorrectly.
[^ 3] See 8 CFR 103.2(b)(9), 8 CFR 335.1, and 8 CFR 335.2. See Part I, Military Members and their Families, Chapter 6, Required Background Checks [12 USCIS-PM I.6], for guidance on the background and security check procedures for members or veterans of the U.S. armed forces.
INA 318 - Prerequisite to naturalization, burden of proof
Before October 29, 2019, USCIS considered children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees, who were stationed outside of the United States, to meet the requirement of “is residing in” the United States for the purpose of acquiring citizenship under INA 320. This interpretation was consistent with the definition of “residence” for purposes of naturalization under INA 316. Based on this treatment of U.S. government employees and their children in the context of naturalization under INA 316, USCIS determined that “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquisition of citizenship under INA 320 should likewise be interpreted to include children of U.S. military and government employees stationed outside of the United States who were residing with their parents.
This interpretation, however, was inconsistent with other provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), including the definition of “residence” at INA 101(a)(33) and language in INA 322(a) and INA 322(d), which suggested that the citizenship of military children residing outside of the United States should be considered under that provision rather than under INA 320. Effective October 29, 2019, USCIS amended its policy guidance to address these concerns, and determined that children of members of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employees stationed outside of the United States would not be eligible for citizenship acquisition under INA 320.
On March 26, 2020, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act was enacted, amending INA 320, so that a child residing with his or her U.S. citizen parent, who is stationed outside of the United States as a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee, or is residing in marital union with a member of the U.S. armed forces or a U.S. government employee who is stationed outside of the United States, acquires citizenship under INA 320 if all requirements of INA 320(c) and INA 320(a)(1)-(2) are met. In line with the statute, USCIS rescinds its previous guidance, clarifying that these children are eligible to acquire citizenship under INA 320 if all other requirements under INA 320 are met.
The amendment to INA 320 applies to children who were under the age of 18 on March 26, 2020.
[^ 1] Even though the child of a member of the U.S. armed forces or U.S. government employee stationed outside of the United States may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 322 since he or she resides outside of the United States, USCIS interpreted the child to meet residency requirements under INA 320 as well, which formerly required the child to be residing in the United States with his or her parent to acquire citizenship.
[^ 2] For example, U.S. government employees, including members of the U.S. armed forces, are eligible to apply for an exception to the continuous residence requirement for naturalization under INA 316 as long as their residency outside of the United States was on behalf of the U.S. government. See INA 316(b). See INA 316(a). See Part D, General Naturalization Requirements, Chapter 3, Continuous Residence [12 USCIS-PM D.3].
[^ 3] See Policy Manual Technical Update, Child Citizenship Act and Children of U.S. Government Employees Residing Abroad (July 20, 2015); and Acquisition of Citizenship by Children of U.S. Military and Government Employees Stationed Abroad under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), No. 103, issued May 6, 2004.
[^ 4] See USCIS Policy Alert, Defining “Residence” in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship [PA-2019-05] (PDF, 308.45 KB). This Policy Alert has been superseded by Policy Manual updates to reflect changes made under Pub. L. 116-133 (PDF).
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating and incorporating relevant Adjudicator’s Field Manual (AFM) content into the USCIS Policy Manual. As that process is ongoing, USCIS has moved any remaining AFM content to its corresponding USCIS Policy Manual Part, in PDF format, until relevant AFM content has been properly incorporated into the USCIS Policy Manual. To the extent that a provision in the USCIS Policy Manual conflicts with remaining AFM content or Policy Memoranda, the updated information in the USCIS Policy Manual prevails. To find remaining AFM content, see the crosswalk (PDF, 327.05 KB) between the AFM and the Policy Manual.
This technical update replaces all instances of the term “foreign national” with “alien” throughout the Policy Manual as used to refer to a person who meets the definition provided in INA 101(a)(3) [“any person not a citizen or national of the United States”].
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is updating policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to specify that every naturalization applicant must provide biometrics regardless of age, unless the applicant qualifies for a fingerprint waiver due to certain medical conditions.
USCIS is issuing updated and comprehensive citizenship and naturalization policy guidance in the new USCIS Policy Manual.