Expert Clarifies Confusion Over New Policy Alert on Citizenship for Children of Personnel Working Abroad

By Venus Upadhayaya, Epoch Times
August 29, 2019 Updated: August 29, 2019

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued a new policy alert on Aug. 28 that will limit how children born to military personnel and government employees working outside the United States automatically acquire citizenship.

The new policy made few changes to the old one that naturally gave U.S. citizenship to any child born to U.S. citizens working with the government or military while abroad.

It doesn’t impact anyone born inside the United States. A child can become a citizen of the United States in a few ways, including by being born inside the country. Children born abroad can acquire citizenship through their U.S. citizen parents either at birth or before they turn 18.

According to a policy alert released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, USCIS, the administration has issued “policy guidance in the USCIS Policy Manual to address requirements for ‘residence’ in statutory provisions related to citizenship, and to rescind previous guidance regarding children of U.S. government employees and members of the U.S. armed forces employed or stationed outside the United States.”

The technical language of the policy guidance made it “very challenging” to read, said Constance MacIntosh, an Associate Professor in Law at Dalhousie University and an expert in immigration policy.

MacIntosh said the changes mean children born to government employees and military personnel abroad will no longer be automatically deemed citizens of the United States.

“Instead, their parents need to go through an application process.  They now must comply with the criteria that U.S. parents must meet when they give birth to a child abroad. The result is that the U.S. government is no longer giving special treatment to members of the military or its employees, which as a Canadian, I find surprising,” she explained in a written interview with The Epoch Times.

The new policy alert has caused a lot of confusion and the acting USCIS Director, Ken Cuccinelli clarified in a message on Twitter that no changes have been made to citizenship.

“Folks who are going crazy rt now in the media, no changes have been made to citizenship—statement coming shortly. For those of you wondering what I’m talking about the highly technical policy manual used by career employees here as a reference was updated today to conform USCIS practices with the Dept. of State—that’s it.”

Cuccinelli later offered a statement that said: “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.”

Cuccinelli said in a subsequent message on Twitter that the changes don’t impact children of government employees and military personnel working abroad.

“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,” he wrote.

Constance said that with the new guidance, those parents working with the U.S. Government or military will now have to follow the same process for their children born abroad as the others did earlier.

“The parent must make an application and the following criteria must be met: 1) At least one parent is an American citizen 2) The parent was physically present in the United States for at least 5 years of their life, with at least 2 of these years being after they had turned 14. 3) The application must be brought before the child turns 18,” she said.

Cuccinelli offered a background to the situation in his last message about the issue on Twitter.

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

Who Could Suffer the Consequences of This?

Constance explained who could be excluded from citizenship with the new guidance: “Any child whose parent does not manage to file that application before the child turns 18.  How could that happen?

“The parent may not know about the policy, the parent may forget about the policy, the parent may have a hard time collecting the paperwork to prove where they lived in the U.S., especially if their own family moved around a lot. ”

Another category of children who could get excluded from citizenship as per the new guidelines would be those whose parents don’t meet the physical presence requirements.

“That could happen if, for example, the parent moved with their own family outside of the U.S. when the parent was themselves young, & who subsequently chose to enlist in the U.S. military or serve the U.S. Government Employment,” she said.

Follow Venus on Twitter: @venusupadhayaya