FederalImmigration & BorderIssuesTrump Administration Issues Policy Clarifying ‘Residence’ for Children of Certain Service Members Abroad

On Wednesday, the Trump administration issued a policy update regarding citizenship for some children of U.S. service members and government employees stationed abroad.
August 29, 2019
On Wednesday, the Trump administration issued new regulatory guidance under which some children born to U.S. military members and government employees stationed abroad will no longer automatically qualify for U.S. citizenship.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the guidance “rescinds previously established USCIS policy, which stated that certain children who were living outside the United States were considered ‘residing in’ the United States” and in doing so, “changes the process that parents of children must follow to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship for their children.”

According to USCIS, the new policy update will affect children living outside the U.S. who were born to:

  • Non-citizen parents and adopted by a U.S. citizen, U.S. government employee, or U.S. service member after their birth;
  • Non-citizen parents, such as a lawful permanent resident, U.S. government employee, or U.S. service member who naturalized only after their child’s birth;
  • Two U.S. citizen government employee or U.S. service member parents who do not meet the residence or physical presence requirements to transmit citizenship to their child at birth.

Children born to non-military and non-government parents abroad will still automatically qualify for American citizenship as long as at least one parent is a citizen and has lived in the country for at least five years.

The new clarifying language now essentially applies that same standard to U.S. citizen government employees and service members.

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Additionally, the clarification language does not apply to children who acquire citizenship at birth or while living in the U.S.

Plainly stated, the language clarification will only affect children born outside the U.S. who are not citizens. 

Moreover, non-citizen children who are adopted by government employees and service members abroad will not automatically qualify for citizenship just because they live with citizen parents living outside the U.S.

Birthright citizenship will not be affected, as emphasized by Director of USCIS Ken Cuccinelli.

Cuccinelli said of this matter, “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 U.S. and were not U.S. citizens. This does NOT impact birthright citizenship.”

The purpose of the policy update is to clarify conflicting definitions of “residence” as defined by the Department of State and the Department of Homeland Security. 

Previously, under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, children of U.S. military members and government employees were considered “residing in the United States” and therefore qualified for citizenship automatically. 

Under the new guidance, however, children born outside the United States under these circumstances will not be considered residing in the U.S. and thereby receive automatic citizenship.

For children who fall under this category to acquire citizenship, the U.S. citizen parent(s) living abroad must go through a formal application process before their child’s 18th birthday as stipulated by INA 322.

Addressing those with concerns that the new policy would deny citizenship to the children of government employees and service members born abroad, Director Cuccinelli said, “The policy update doesn’t deny citizenship to the children of U.S. 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.”

While certain exceptions do apply, the policy guidance issued by USCIS will be effective beginning October 29.


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Sarah McConnell

Sarah McConnell is a reporter for The Texan. Previously, she worked as a Cyber Security Consultant after serving as a Pathways Intern at the Department of Homeland Security – Citizenship and Immigration Services. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Political Science from Texas A&M as well as her Master of Public Service and Administration degree from the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M. In her free time, Sarah is an avid runner, jazz enthusiast, and lover of all things culinary.