Chapter 3 - Oath of Allegiance Modifications and Waivers
The table below serves as a quick reference guide on general requirements for oath modifications and oath waiver. The sections and paragraphs that follow the table provide further guidance on each modification and oath waiver.
Permitted Modifications to Oath
Testimony or Evidence
Modified Oath for Religious or Conscientious Objections
Deletion of either or both of the following clauses:
Bearing arms on behalf of the United States if required by law [INA 337(a)(5)(A)]; and
Performing noncombatant service in the U.S. armed forces when required by law [INA 337(a)(5)(B)]
Must show opposition to clause (or clauses) based on religious training and belief or deeply held moral or ethical code. Applicant may provide an attestation or witness statement.
Affirmation of Allegiance in Lieu of Oath
Substitution of the words “solemnly affirm” for the words “on oath” and no recitation of the words “so help me God” [8 CFR 337.1(b)]
Waiver of the Oath
Requirement to take the Oath of Allegiance may be waived
Evaluation by medical professional stating inability to understand or communicate the meaning of the oath due to a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.
An applicant may request a modified oath that does not contain one or both of the following clauses:
To bear arms on behalf of the United States when required by the law; and
To perform noncombatant service in the U.S. armed forces when required by the law.
In order to modify the oath, the applicant must demonstrate, by clear and convincing evidence, that he or she is unwilling or unable to affirm to these sections of the oath based on his or her religious training and belief, which may include a deeply held moral or ethical code.
There is no exemption from the clause “to perform work of national importance under civilian direction when required by the law.”
In order for an applicant to qualify for a modification based on his or her “religious training and belief,” the applicant must satisfy a three-part test. An applicant must establish that:
He or she is opposed to bearing arms in the U.S. armed forces or opposed to any type of service in the U.S. armed forces;
The objection is grounded in his or her religious principles, to include other belief systems similar to traditional religion or a deeply held moral or ethical code; and
His or her beliefs are sincere, meaningful, and deeply held.
The applicant is not eligible for a modified oath when he or she is opposed to a specific war. Religious training or belief does not include essentially political, sociological, or philosophical views. An applicant whose objection to war is based upon opinions or beliefs about public policy and the practicality or desirability of combat, or whose beliefs are not deeply held, does not qualify for the modification of the oath.
Applicant is Not Required to Belong to a Church or Religion
In addition, qualification for the exemption is not dependent upon membership in a particular religious group, nor does membership in a specific religious group provide an automatic modification to the oath. The applicant is not required to:
Belong to a specific church or religious denomination;
Follow a particular theology or belief; or
Have religious training.
However, the applicant must have a sincere and meaningful belief that has a place in the applicant’s life that is equivalent to that of a religious belief. Because of this belief, for example, the applicant’s conscience may not rest or be at peace if allowed to become an instrument of war.
Evidence Establishing Eligibility
An applicant may provide, but is not required to provide, an attestation from a religious organization (or similar organization), witness statement, or any other evidence to establish eligibility. An applicant’s oral testimony or written statement may be sufficient to qualify for the modification. An officer may ask an applicant questions regarding the applicant’s beliefs in order to determine whether the applicant is eligible for the modification of the oath, to include, a review of the following factors:
General pattern of pertinent conduct and experiences;
Nature of applicant’s objection and principles on which objection is based;
Training in the home or a religious organization;
Participation in religious or other similar activities; and
Whether the applicant gained his or her ethical or moral beliefs through training, study, self-contemplation, or other activities comparable to formulating traditional religious beliefs in the home or through a religious organization.
An officer must not question the validity of what an applicant believes or the existence or truth of the concepts in which the applicant believes.
Failure to Provide Evidence During Interview
If, during the interview, the applicant does not provide any oral testimony or other evidence that the applicant’s objection to the oath is based upon sincere, meaningful, and deeply held beliefs such as religious, moral, or ethical beliefs, or the applicant refuses to explain the basis of the objection, the officer should provide the applicant an additional opportunity to establish eligibility for the modification before concluding the interview.
Officers should not conclude that an applicant is ineligible for the oath modification if the applicant fails to provide such oral testimony or other evidence at the interview. Officers should issue a Request for Evidence (RFE) to give the applicant an additional opportunity to provide testimony, a statement, or to submit evidence to demonstrate eligibility for the modification.
If an applicant qualifies for a modified oath, USCIS omits only the relevant clauses and the applicant recites the modified form of the oath at the regularly scheduled public naturalization ceremony. An applicant who does not qualify for the modification is required to take the full oath. Otherwise, the applicant is not eligible for naturalization.
An applicant may request an affirmation in lieu of an oath. The applicant may request this affirmation in lieu of an oath for any reason. In these cases:
The applicant substitutes the words “solemnly affirm” for the words “on oath”; and
The applicant does not recite the words “so help me God.”
USCIS grants this modification solely upon the applicant’s request. The applicant is not required to establish that the request is based solely on his or her religious training and belief. Applicants are not required to provide any documentary evidence or testimony to support a request to substitute the words “on oath” or “so help me God.”
USCIS must not require the applicant to recite the deleted portions of the Oath of Allegiance at the ceremony. The officer informs the applicant that he or she is not required to recite the deleted portions and that the applicant may take the oath in the modified form.
Oath Waiver Based on a Physical or Developmental Disability or Mental Impairment
USCIS may waive the Oath of Allegiance for an applicant who is unable to understand or to communicate an understanding of its meaning because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment.
An applicant for whom USCIS granted an oath waiver is considered to have met the requirement of attachment to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and be well disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States for the required period.
An applicant who needs an oath waiver because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment, may make this request, with the assistance of a legal guardian, surrogate, or designated representative, on a Medical Certification for Disability Exceptions (Form N-648). An applicant is not required to submit a specific form to request an oath waiver, and may instead provide a written request and a written evaluation by an authorized medical professional.
USCIS reserves the right to request documentation if there is a question upon examination about the applicant’s disability and ability to understand or communicate an understanding of the oath. If USCIS approves the oath waiver, USCIS does not require the applicant to appear in a public ceremony.
USCIS accepts an oath waiver request at any point of the naturalization process, until the time of the oath ceremony. Field offices should work with the legal guardian, surrogate, or designated representative before the initial examination to obtain all the necessary documentation.
Oath Waiver for Children under 14 Years of Age
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) permits USCIS to waive the taking of the Oath of Allegiance if USCIS determines the person is unable to understand its meaning. USCIS has determined that children under the age of 14 are generally unable to understand the meaning of the oath. Accordingly, USCIS waives the oath requirement for a child younger than 14 years of age, at the time of naturalization. If USCIS waives the oath requirement, USCIS issues a Certificate of Citizenship after the officer approves the application.
When an applicant is unable to undergo any part of the naturalization examination because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment, a legal guardian, surrogate, or an eligible designated representative completes the naturalization process for the applicant. USCIS waives the Oath of Allegiance and the legal guardian, surrogate, or designated representative attests to the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization. In addition to an oath waiver, this process may require accommodations including off-site examinations.
When an oath waiver is provided, a legal guardian, surrogate, or designated representative signs on behalf of an applicant who is unable to understand or communicate an understanding of the Oath of Allegiance because of a physical or developmental disability or mental impairment. The legal guardian, surrogate, or representative acts on behalf of an applicant with a disability at every stage of the naturalization examination. The legal guardian, surrogate, or representative files the application on behalf of the applicant and must have knowledge of the facts supporting the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization.
The guardian, surrogate, or representative addresses every requirement for naturalization and bears the burden of establishing the applicant’s eligibility for naturalization.
Persons eligible to act on behalf of the applicant include:
A person who a proper court has designated as the applicant’s legal guardian or surrogate and who is authorized to exercise legal authority over the applicant’s affairs; or
In the absence of a legal guardian or surrogate, a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or adult brother or sister, who is the primary custodial caregiver and who takes responsibility for the applicant.
USCIS will only recognize one designated representative in the following order of priority:
Legal guardian or surrogate (highest priority)
U.S. citizen spouse
U.S. citizen parent
U.S. citizen adult son or daughter
U.S. citizen adult brother or sister (lowest priority)
The person acting on behalf of the applicant must provide proof of legal guardianship, or documentation to establish the familial relationship, such as a birth certificate, marriage certificate, or adoption decree. In addition, the person must provide documentation to establish that he or she has the primary custodial care and responsibility for the applicant (for example, income tax returns, Social Security Administration documents, and affidavits from other relatives). A spouse, parent, adult son or daughter, or adult brother or sister who is not the legal guardian or surrogate must provide evidence of U.S. citizenship.
USCIS continues an application where the family member acting as a designated representative is not a U.S. citizen. USCIS explains to the family member why he or she is not qualified to act as a designated representative and offers the applicant an opportunity to bring another person who may qualify.
[^ 2] The Supreme Court has addressed the meaning of “religious training and belief” in the context of exemptions from military service under section 6(j) of the Universal Military Training and Service Act.” See Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970) (holding that Welsh, who characterized his beliefs as nonreligious and expressed doubt in the existence of a Supreme Being, was entitled to a conscientious objector exemption to military service because his beliefs occupied a parallel place in his life to that of religious convictions); United States. v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965) (stating that the applicable test for determining whether someone’s belief was based on religious training and belief was whether the belief was sincere and meaningful and “occup[ied] in the life of its possessor a place parallel to that filled by the God of those admittedly qualifying for the exemption”). See INA 337(a) which contains virtually the same language regarding religious training and belief as was addressed by the Supreme Court in Welsh and Seeger.
[^ 5] See Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970). See United States. v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965).
[^ 6] See Welsh v. United States, 398 U.S. 333 (1970).
[^ 7] See United States. v. Seeger, 380 U.S. 163 (1965): “The validity of what he believes cannot be questioned. Some theologians, and indeed some examiners, might be tempted to question the existence of the registrant’s ‘Supreme Being’ or the truth of his concepts. But these are inquiries foreclosed to Government.”
[^ 13] The oath waiver requirements are distinct from the requirements for the medical disability exception to the English and civics requirements for naturalization under INA 312(b). See Part E, English and Civics Testing and Exceptions, Chapter 3, Medical Disability Exception (Form N-648) [12 USCIS-PM E.3].
[^ 14] The written evaluation establishes the applicant’s inability to take the Oath of Allegiance. The written evaluation must be completed and signed by an authorized medical professional and explain how the applicant’s physical or developmental disability or mental impairment prevents the applicant from being able to understand or communicate an understanding of the meaning of the Oath of Allegiance. The applicant is still required to submit Form N-648 to be exempted from the educational requirements.
[^ 15] For information on who is an authorized medical professional, see Part E, English and Civics Testing and Exceptions, Chapter 3, Medical Disability Exception (Form N-648), Section D, Authorized Medical Professionals [12 USCIS-PM E.3(D)].
[^ 19] A legal guardian or surrogate may act on behalf of an applicant regardless of the legal guardian or surrogate’s immigration status or whether he or she is a family member.
[^ 20] If there is a conflict in priority between two or more persons seeking to represent the applicant, and the individuals share the same degree of familial relationship, USCIS gives priority to the person who is older.