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US to change citizenship policy for some US service members’ foreign-born kids

A Navy midwife from Miami, Fla. holds a newborn baby during Pacific Partnership 2015. (Sgt. Valerie Eppler/U.S. Marine Corps)
August 29, 2019

Some children of U.S. service members born overseas may no longer receive U.S. citizenship effective Oct. 29, 2019, according to new policy.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a policy alert Wednesday in which they defined a change in policy that no longer considers some — but not all — children of U.S. citizens in overseas assignments as “residing in the United States,” which was a key requirement in them receiving U.S. citizenship.

“USCIS is updating its policy regarding children of U.S. government employees and U.S. armed forces members employed or stationed outside the United States to explain that they are not considered to be ‘residing in the United States’ for purposes of acquiring citizenship under INA 320,” the policy alert said, referring to the Immigration and Nationality Act.

USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli clarified the change, which had prompted confusion among the public.

“The policy manual update today does not affect who is born a U.S. citizen, period. It only affects children who were born outside the US and were not US citizens. This does NOT impact birthright citizenship,” he tweeted.

“The policy update doesn’t deny citizenship to the children of US gov employees or members of the military born abroad. This policy aligns USCIS’ process with the Department of State’s procedures for these children – that’s it. Period,” he added.

“US laws allow children to acquire US citizenship other than through birth in the US. Children born outside of the US to a US citizen parent or parents may be US citizens at birth under INA 301 or 309, or before age 18 through their US citizen parent(s) under INA 320.,” he concluded.

The policy was first reported by Tal Kopan of the San Francisco Chronicle, and then detailed by Task & Purpose.

The policy change affects the definition of “residence” and “reside” to establish which term refers to a physical presence, which is required for citizenship.

Previously, U.S. service members and employees were considered “residing in the United States” despite being stationed abroad and having no physical presence in the U.S., however, the USCIS determined that such a consideration conflicted with other parts of INA policies.

The USCIS cited confusion and inconsistency in citizenship applications, dates of acquired citizenship, and forms to be filed for citizenship. The agency cited an example where children acquiring citizenship automatically under INA 320 would have a different official date of citizenship than children naturalized under INA 322.

The policy change is intended to resolve those issues, the USCIS claimed.

“Effective October 29, 2019, children residing abroad with their U.S. citizen parents who are U.S. government employees or members of the U.S. armed forces stationed abroad are not considered to be residing in the United States for acquisition of citizenship,” the policy explained.

“Similarly, leave taken in the United States while stationed abroad is not considered residing in the United States even if the person is staying in property he or she owns,” the policy noted.

When the change goes into effect, children born to U.S. citizen parents under the new policy will be required to file naturalization paperwork before the child turns 18.

Instead of filing under INA 320, the filing will be under INA 322, which specifies children born and residing outside of the U.S. who must apply for citizenship through certain circumstances.

“The child of a member of the U.S. armed forces accompanying his or her parent abroad on official orders may be eligible to complete all aspects of the naturalization proceedings abroad. This includes interviews, filings, oaths, ceremonies, or other proceedings relating to naturalization,” the policy noted