When it comes to determining a person’s nationality, one of the most important factors is the place of their birth. In the United States, the principle of jus soli is applied, meaning that a person’s nationality is determined by the location of their birth. If you were born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, you would be a U.S. citizen at birth. The definition of being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States includes everyone born in the United States, with the only exception being the child of foreign diplomats (who have diplomatic immunity).
In this article, we will delve deeper into the concept of jus soli and explore what it means for those born in the United States to hold US citizenship. Additionally, we will examine some of the nuances and exceptions to the rule and the implications of holding US citizenship. Whether you’re a U.S. citizen by birth or by naturalization, it’s essential to understand the laws and regulations that govern citizenship and nationality in the United States.
Difference between Nationality and Citizenship
It is common for people to use the terms “U.S. national” and “U.S. citizen” interchangeably as if they represent the same thing. In reality, these terms have significantly different meanings and implications, despite a few similarities.
While most countries only have one category of citizenship, the U.S. has two (, and the U.K. has quite a few, from British subject to British national Overseas to British citizen):
- Citizenship: The 14th Amendment states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and the State wherein they reside.
- Nationality: U.S. law states a national is “a citizen of the United States or a person who, though not a citizen of the United States, owes permanent allegiance to the United States” and has “an outlying possession to the United States.”
In practice, this has been interpreted to refer to those born in the unincorporated territories of American Samoa or Swains Island. In the past, those born in other territories were U.S. nationals, but they are now also U.S. citizens.
In practice, the United States recognizes dual citizenship, taking the view that, by default, if someone acquires another citizenship, they did so without the intent of relinquishing U.S. citizenship.
Conversely, one can choose to renounce their citizenship.
All U.S. citizens are U.S. nationals; however, not every U.S. national is a U.S. citizen. The main difference between being a U.S. national and a U.S. citizen comes down to the rights and restrictions available to each group.
But for simplicity’s sake, the term U.S. national is usually only used to refer to such U.S. nationals who are not also U.S. citizens.
There is only a small number of people that fall into the category of non-citizen U.S. nationals as defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. For example, U.S. nationals (non-citizens) include individuals born in American Samoa, Swains Island, and certain former U.S. territories. Regardless of their circumstances, all U.S. nationals have an irrevocable right to legal residence in the territory of the United States without any limitations.
Rights and restrictions of a U.S. citizen
Being a U.S. citizen comes with many benefits and privileges. Hence, U.S. citizens have various rights that surpass those of U.S. nationals. One of these rights is the ability to vote freely in public elections. All U.S. citizens who are 18 years old or older have the right to vote in local, state, or federal elections.
U.S. citizens also have the right to hold public office and are entitled to protection from the U.S. government while abroad.
They have no restrictions when it comes to applying for any jobs within the United States and have the right to live and work permanently in the country. Additionally, they can receive federal benefits and access services, use amnesty programs and apply for financial aid.
They have access to jobs in the federal government that are not available to U.S. nationals.
Aside from having more rights than U.S. nationals, U.S. citizens also have more responsibilities, such as the obligation to serve on a jury, pay taxes to the United States, and the responsibility to obey all the laws of the country.
Rights and restrictions of a U.S. national
U.S. nationals are permitted to work and live anywhere in the United States if they want to, and they are eligible to apply for a U.S. passport. Such a passport would have a mention clarifying that they’re U.S. nationals (and not U.S. citizens)
After three months of residency in a U.S. state, they are also eligible to apply for citizenship through naturalization, using the same process as permanent residents.
In addition to these rights, U.S. nationals have their freedom of expression protected, freedom to worship the religion of their choice, and the right to consular protection of the United States while they are abroad.
While U.S. nationals have the right to live in the United States and even apply for citizenship, they are restricted in other ways. For example, they are not eligible to vote in the U.S. or to hold public office. They also don’t have the right to apply for any jobs that require applicants to be citizens of the United States, which can be a real problem in certain situations.
Concerning taxation, non-citizen nationals are exempt from paying a federal income tax or taxes to the federal government on wealth accrued within the territory. Territories, commonwealths, and possessions may, however, implement taxation plans which mirror those of the United States.
In addition, and maybe more importantly, U.S. nationals are not subject to citizenship based taxation and, if they were to live overseas, would only be subject to tax on their U.S. sourced income.
Types of U.S. Citizenship
When are you considered a U.S. citizen? It may seem like a simple question, but the reality is not always as straightforward as it seems. Depending on their specific situation, it can be tricky to figure out for some people.
There are two categories of citizenship in the United States, depending on how citizenship is acquired – citizenship by birth or citizenship acquired through the naturalization process.
U.S. Citizen by Birth
Generally, if you are born in the United States, or born to U.S. citizens, you are considered to be a US citizen at birth (unless your parent is an accredited foreign diplomat).
In addition, there are rules related to transmitting U.S. citizenship to one’s child born overseas.
You can find them on the USCIS and the Department of State websites.
Why does it matter?
The U.S. is one of the few countries in the world that applies its tax laws to citizens overseas. If you’re a U.S. citizen, you have the same tax filing requirements whether you live in the U.S. or abroad. Also, moving abroad does not exempt you from having to file a tax return, even if you made 100% of your income in another country.
If you’re unsure about your citizenship status and tax filing obligations, refer to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USICS) to find out more information about your specific case. If you live in another country, you can also check your citizenship status by contacting the U.S. embassy or a U.S. consulate.
U.S. Citizen via Naturalization
Aside from citizenship by birth, the other way to become an American citizen is through naturalization. This is the process that grants U.S. citizenship to lawful permanent American residents after they meet the legal requirements defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services require that most individuals applying for naturalization have been physically present and continuously residing in the United States for at least five years at the time of application. They also need to be at least 18 years old and of good moral character and merit, among other requirements.
If you meet these legal requirements, you will need to complete the Application for Naturalization form (N-400), attend an interview, and pass a civics and English test before receiving your U.S. citizenship
The Eligibility Worksheet provided by USCIS will help you figure out your citizenship eligibility and decide if you qualify for naturalization. Another detailed list of the requirements for the naturalization process, along with the specific situations in which they apply can be found here.
Dual nationality refers to having citizenship in two separate countries simultaneously. Dual nationals owe allegiance to both the United States and the foreign country and are required to obey the laws of both countries. The laws and policies regarding nationality can vary between countries, and each country has its own set of regulations governing the acquisition and maintenance of citizenship.
When it comes to dual nationality, the United States does not require individuals to renounce one nationality in favor of another. Anyone holding U.S. citizenship by birth is allowed to naturalize in another country and become a dual national, without any risk to their U.S. citizenship.
U.S. nationals, including dual nationals, must present a U.S. passport when entering and leaving the U.S. However, the foreign country in which a U.S. citizen holds dual citizenship may require dual nationals to use a non-U.S. passport when traveling.
Disadvantages of dual nationality
As we previously mentioned, if you own American citizenship, you will automatically be considered U.S. national as well. It’s important to be aware of the potential issues associated with dual citizenship and to avoid conflicts or challenges that may arise.
For example, dual citizens may face conflicts of loyalty when their responsibilities to one country go against the laws of another country. Additionally, dual citizenship becomes particularly problematic when observed from the tax perspective.
All dual citizens are facing the complex issue of double taxation, which occurs when they are required to pay taxes in both the United States and the other country in which they hold citizenship. This can be a horrendous financial burden and the reason why many of them decide to renounce their U.S. citizenship.
You can even have dual citizenship without consciously choosing to do so, which is the case for Accidental Americans. Take, for example, a child born in a foreign country to American citizen parents. They would automatically be granted citizenship in both the U.S. and their country of birth, even if they have never set foot in the United States. Many of these people are completely unaware of their U.S. citizenship, or tax filing obligation to the United States.
Related: IRS Amnesty Programs for Accidental Americans and other late filers
You can find additional information on dual nationality and the potential challenges for international travelers here.
- Can U.S. nationals become U.S. citizens?
Yes, U.S. nationals who have lived continuously in the United States for at least three months are eligible to apply for the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens.
- Is a green card holder a U.S. national?
No, a green card holder is not the same as a U.S. national. A Green card holder also referred to as a lawful permanent resident (LPR), is a foreign individual granted permission to work and reside permanently in the United States.
- What counts as proof of citizenship?
Proof of citizenship can be established through various documents, such as a U.S. passport, a certificate of naturalization, or a citizenship certificate, according to U.S. citizenship laws and citizenship rules provided by the USCIS. Additionally, a consular report of birth abroad (CRBA) issued by the U.S. Department of State, or a birth certificate issued by a U.S. state or territory, can also be used as proof of citizenship.
- What if I lost my naturalization certificate?
If your naturalization certificate was lost, stolen or damaged beyond repair, you may request a replacement by filing form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.