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Can I Change My Name When I Apply to Be a U.S. Citizen?

Many immigrants decide to change their names upon becoming naturalized citizens of the United States. The reasons for doing so are numerous: in many cases, traditional names in other languages don’t always translate well into English, or perhaps a Latin American woman has decided to follow common law and take her husband’s name. It so happens that the naturalization process takes this into consideration and asks immigrants if they’d like to change their names upon becoming American citizens. If you need more information about making a name change, seek the advice of an experienced San Diego immigration attorney for guidance about how to proceed.

When a green card holder files Form N-400, one of the personal information questions is the current legal name, which should ideally match the name indicated on all previous applications and petitions unless it has been legally changed by order of a state court judge. Other names used by the applicant since birth must also be included, and then there is the option to change names, which consists of a check box and a line where the new name can be written in. Members of the U.S. armed forces cannot change their names in this fashion, and this restriction applies to their spouses as well.

It should be noted that the option to change names upon naturalization is a service that may not always be available to immigrants. All legal name change proceedings must be conducted through the court system, and this includes requests to change names through the naturalization process. As long as the oath ceremony, the final step of the process, is presided over by a judge in a courtroom, the name change can proceed. However, this isn’t always the procedure used to administer the oath of citizenship. In large metropolitan areas such as Miami and Los Angeles, for example, hundreds of green card holders appear at a mass ceremony where the oath is administered by elected officials, thus making the name change impossible at that point.

The key to a successful name change during naturalization hinges upon the interview, because this is when a petition for name change can be requested and completed, and this is also when the immigration case adjudicator can check to see when a judge will be presiding at the naturalization ceremony. It’s up to applicants to wait for this opportunity, which can save time and court costs versus doing it at the state level, but there may be cases in which green card holders want to get their certificates more quickly so they can exercise their right to vote, obtain a U.S. passport, sponsor a foreign relative’s visa application, get a federal job, or apply for a military commission.

When a name change takes place after the swearing-in ceremony, new citizens may want to consult with an immigration law firm to file form N-565 for the purpose of amending the naturalization certificate and other documents, such as U.S. passports and border crossing cards. Whether the name change is done at the federal immigration or state level, certain restrictions apply, with the most common being attempting to change names for fraudulent reasons.

Potential immigrants can easily get confused about how to correctly complete paperwork and follow guidelines so they can change their names legally. Reach out to KS Visa Law for guidance on how to make a name change or any other issue related to U.S. citizenship and immigration services. San Diego residents should call us at 858-874-0711 today to schedule an appointment.

November 2019
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