New USCIS Form N-400: An Analysis of Part 9 Information Questions

Bill Bliss
6 min readMay 14, 2024


USCIS Citizenship Resource Center

The new U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Application for Naturalization (Form N-400) issued in April 2024 is shorter than its previous version, simpler in some respects, and more complicated in others. This article focuses on just one aspect — the “Additional Information About You” section (Part 9) related to moral character, the applicant’s admissibility, and the inappropriate use of this section’s content in the evaluation of an applicant’s English skills.

Comparing the New and Previous Questions

About one-third of the questions in the new Part 9 section are the same as in the previous form’s Part 12; just their sequence has changed. Two-thirds of the questions are revised — some slightly, some substantially or entirely. One question is new.

In an apparent effort to reduce the length of Part 9, some questions have been combined, which results in a new question that is wordier or somewhat more confusing than the earlier versions. Other questions are lengthier due to an expansion of terminology to either cover more examples of inadmissible behaviors or to provide synonyms or explanations for certain terms. For example, consider the following previous and new questions:

  • Previous Question 30.c: Have you EVER sold or smuggled controlled substances, illegal drugs, or narcotics?
  • New Question 17.b: Have you EVER manufactured, cultivated, produced, distributed, dispensed, sold, or smuggled (trafficked) any controlled substances, illegal drugs, or drug paraphernalia in violation of any law or regulation of a U.S. state, the United States, or a foreign country?

You can view a question-by-question comparison of the new and previous questions in this chart.

Part 9 Vocabulary: NOT Words in Ordinary Usage

As in the previous N-400, the questions in the new form’s Part 9 contain complex vocabulary, including legal terminology, that goes beyond what is considered “words in ordinary usage in the English language” for the purposes of the literacy requirement for citizenship (8 CFR Section 312.1 — Literacy Requirements for Naturalization). According to USCIS Policy Manual Volume 12, Part E, Chapter 2 — English and Civics Testing — Section D: “A naturalization applicant must only demonstrate an ability to read, write, speak, and understand words in ordinary usage. Ordinary usage means comprehensible and pertinent communication through simple vocabulary and grammar, which may include noticeable errors in pronouncing, constructing, spelling, and understanding completely certain words, phrases, and sentences.”

Further, according to the updated USCIS Scoring Guidelines for the U.S. Naturalization Test: “The ability to understand English will not be based on being asked to provide a definition of a word or phrase found in the Form N-400.” While this might rule out questions such as “Tell me what (legal term) means,” citizenship applicants sometimes report that eligibility questions about Part 9 topics still occur during their interviews and believe this is the reason they failed the speaking test. Given this situation, citizenship preparation classes often include an inordinate amount of time preparing students to comprehend and answer such questions at the expense of instruction focused on history, government, and civics.

An analysis of Part 9 vocabulary is possible using the New General Service List — a list of the 2801 most important high-frequency words in English, providing over 90% coverage of vocabulary in use. Part 9 contains 99 lexical items that fall outside this list of words in ordinary usage, including legal terminology such as disposition, intent, and rescission. An additional 88 lexical items are in the lowest and mid-frequency bands of the list (2nd 1000 and 3rd 1000 words), including many terms not reasonably considered vocabulary in ordinary usage, such as characterized, suspended, and trafficked. For English language learners, many items in the highest-frequency band of the list are also beyond the vocabulary knowledge associated with beginning- and intermediate-level English, including terms such as facility, stationed, and suffering.

Close to half of all vocabulary in Part 9 is significantly beyond what can be considered words in ordinary usage for naturalization applicants who are English language learners. Therefore, while an applicant’s submitted answers in Part 9 of the actual Form N-400 are critically important, the use of this subject matter as part of an evaluation of an applicant’s ability to speak English during the interview is not appropriate.

An analysis of Form N-400 Part 9 terms and a complete annotated version of the questions indicating complexity of the vocabulary is available here.

Recommendations for USCIS

In keeping with the 8 CFR Section 312.1 Literacy requirement, the USCIS officer’s determination of an applicant’s ability to speak English should be based on questions normally asked during the interview that pertain to basic personal information topics that are covered in Form N-400 Parts 2 through 8. The vocabulary required to understand and answer such questions can be considered words in ordinary usage. While the applicant’s written responses to Part 9 questions are clearly an important component of the evaluation of the applicant’s admissibility and moral character, these topics and their complex vocabulary should not be part of the English evaluation.

Therefore, 8 CFR Section 312.1 should be modified as indicated here in boldface:

— (1) Verbal skills. The ability of an applicant to speak English will be determined by a designated immigration officer from the applicant’s answers to questions about the applicant’s basic personal information normally asked in the course of the examination. Such basic personal information may include asking for or verifying the applicant’s name, address, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship or nationality, contact information, family members (parents, children), marital status, and absences from the country.

In addition, in Policy Manual Volume 12, Part E, Chapter 2 (English and Civics Testing), Part D (English Portion of the Test), Section 1 (Speaking Test), the second sentence should be replaced with the following:

The officer’s questions relate to the applicant’s basic personal information, including asking for or verifying the applicant’s name, address, date of birth, country of birth, country of citizenship or nationality, contact information, family members (parents, children), marital status, and absences from the country.

And the following sections should be revised as indicated in boldface:

Passing the Speaking Test

If the applicant generally understands and responds meaningfully to questions about basic personal information relevant to his or her naturalization eligibility, then he or she has sufficiently demonstrated the ability to speak English.

Failing the Speaking Test

An applicant fails the speaking test when he or she does not understand sufficient English to be placed under oath or to respond meaningfully to questions about basic personal information relevant to his or her naturalization eligibility. The officer must still administer all other parts of the naturalization test, including the portions on reading, writing, and civics.

Recommendations for Citizenship Preparation Professionals

The citizenship preparation professional community should continue its advocacy for fair English and civics evaluations that do not create unnecessary barriers to naturalization.

Citizenship educators should consider incorporating in their lessons some practice with Part 9 topics if students have sufficient language skills to benefit from this instruction. This will be especially useful until such time that USCIS more clearly proscribes the use of Part 9 content in the English evaluation through modifications such as those suggested above.

Organizations and schools serving naturalization applicants should report to USCIS any instances in which applicants believe they have failed the English evaluation due to their inability to comprehend or provide answers to questions based on the content of Part 9 of Form N-400.

Bill Bliss has worked in English language and civics education since 1974 as a teacher, trainer, curriculum developer, and consultant, and has provided technical assistance on citizenship training and testing since the 1980s legalization program. He serves as a member of the Naturalization Working Group and the Citizenship Test Working Group. He is the author of two civics courses: Voices of Freedom, for learners preparing for the naturalization process; and Basic Civics for U.S. Citizenship, a review text for secondary school students in states that require a civics exam for high school graduation. The views expressed in this report are solely those of the author.



Bill Bliss

Bill Bliss is a language and civics educator based in Massachusetts.