What Is an N-400 Background Check?

By Anna Assad - Updated June 20, 2017
FBI agent running a background check using laptop

An N-400 background check is part of the United States naturalization process which allows a foreign-born person to gain American citizenship. The security check comprises three different investigation methods and can take months to complete for some applicants. Failure to pass the background check can lead to a denial of American citizenship.

FBI Fingerprint Check

Most N-400 applicants must be fingerprinted by the FBI. A notice is mailed to the person with the date, time and location of the fingerprinting appointment. If the applicant misses the appointment, she may still be able to have the prints taken by walking into the designated location with the notice and valid proof of legal resident status, such as a green card. This check is used to search for any criminal records the person may have in the United States. The results are forwarded to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services for review. Criminal history can have a negative impact on a naturalization application.

FBI Name Check

In addition to fingerprinting, the FBI also checks the name of the applicant in the records of several law enforcement agencies. These records include personnel files, administrative notes or papers, and other legal files that may contain the candidate's name. Criminal records are also checked using this method. FBI name checks usually take up to two weeks to complete, but records that return matches to the applicant may take up to six months to investigate and resolve, when applicable.

Interagency Border Inspection System Check

The Interagency Border Inspection System is a database of records from multiple agencies in all 50 states used by border portal entities. This system allows a user to interface with the records from other government and law enforcement agencies instantly. The FBI also runs a naturalization candidate's name through the IBIS to determine other risks the person may pose, such as national security or public safety issues. These checks can usually be completed quickly, but if any possible concerns arise, delays may occur while the information is being investigated.

Good Moral Character

Background check information is used to determine if an applicant meets one of requirements for American citizenship: good moral character. Someone with a criminal record that includes convictions for murder or other aggravated felonies, which includes types of crimes involving illegal drugs, may be denied citizenship. If a person falsifies or conceals information about past criminal activity on the N-400, that person may be denied even if the hidden offense is not a crime that would have prevented citizenship. Other factors that may be considered when examining someone for good moral character are alcoholism, illegal gambling and prostitution.

About the Author

Anna Assad began writing professionally in 1999 and has published several legal articles for various websites. She has an extensive real estate and criminal legal background. She also tutored in English for nearly eight years, attended Buffalo State College for paralegal studies and accounting, and minored in English literature, receiving a Bachelor of Arts.

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