Citizenship for Military Children Born Outside of the U.S.

Updated: November 2, 2022
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    Overseas assignments are not uncommon for military families, and there is always the potential that a child may be born while a family is stationed in another country. Previously, children born on military bases overseas were usually granted United States citizenship automatically. Recently, however, the requirements for citizenship for children born to U.S. troops or other government employees overseas have been changed.

    This issue stems from an update to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services manual. This agency is part of the Department of Homeland Security, and oversees lawful immigration to the United States. In October 2019, changes were made to this manual that may impact how children who are born overseas to U.S. service members and other government employees can obtain U.S. citizenship.

    What was the previous policy?

    In the past, children who were born U.S. citizens on U.S. military hospitals or diplomatic facilities abroad were considered to be “residing in the United States,” and were automatically granted citizenship under Immigration and Nationality Act 320.

    Under the previous policy, if a service member or other government employee who was not a U.S. citizen had a child with another non-U.S. citizen while living overseas, their child would not be automatically given citizenship. The child would have been considered as “residing in the United States,” potentially making it less complicated for them to obtain citizenship. Under the new policy, children born overseas to parents who are not U.S. citizens are no longer considered to be residing in the U.S.

    What has changed?

    While the policy change may be concerning for troops and their families who are stationed overseas, only a small number of people are likely to be affected.

    This change does not completely revoke automatic citizenship for children born overseas to United States citizens; it may make filing paperwork to establish citizenship for a child, and adopting a child more difficult for some U.S. service members and government workers living abroad.

    The new rules under the updated policy have been changed to reflect the following:

    • That temporary visits to the United States do not establish residence in the U.S.
    • To differentiate between physical presence and residence in the United States
    • To explain that USCIS no longer considers children living abroad with a parent who is a U.S. service member or government employee as “residing in the United States”

    The policy update refers to the definition of “residence” in the USCIS policy manual, and how “residence” applies to children of U.S. government employees and members of the military who are stationed outside of the U.S.

    Previously, children born outside of the United States on military bases or at other diplomatic sites were considered to be “residing in” the United States. According to the new change, the definition of residence will now conform to the definition of residence as it appears in the Immigration and Nationality Act .

    Due to the fact military bases outside of the U.S. are not considered part of the United States in regards to birthright citizenship, the sole way that children born abroad can acquire citizenship at birth is through their parents. If the parent is a U.S. citizen and their child is born abroad while they are on military orders, that child is most likely considered a U.S. citizen. For parents who met residence or physical presence requirements before the child was born, the policy update will not affect their child’s citizenship. These parents may apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for their child, and/or a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS.

    Additionally, the process that parents must follow if their children are born overseas to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship has changed. Previously, there were two forms that could be filed:

    Who does this policy update affect?

    For the most part, this policy change impacts children of parents who are not U.S. citizens at the time of the child’s birth. The children affected include:

    • Children born to non-citizens, or adopted by a U.S. citizen after birth
    • Children born to non-citizen parents including lawful permanent residents or those naturalized after the child’s birth
    • Children born to non-citizen parents who do not meet residence or physical presence requirements to transmit citizenship to their child at birth

    The following groups are not affected by this policy update:

    • Children who were born outside of the United States to U.S. citizens
    • Children who are eligible for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad or Certificate of Citizenship
    • Currently reside in the United States with a parent who is a U.S. citizen, after the child has been legally admitted to the U.S. as a permanent resident

    Reason for the Policy Update

    There are several laws around citizenship and United States residence; this policy is designed to provide a better and more consistent definition of residence. Ultimately, this policy was updated because the definition of “residence” in the old policy conflicted with the INA and the INA 322(d), which refers to children who live abroad with service members as “residing outside of the United States.” The previous policy also conflicted with guidance from the Department of State; due to the fact that conflicting policies can impact the consistency of citizenship claims decisions, the policy was updated to reflect this guidance.

    For more information on citizenship for military children who are born overseas, check out the U.S. Department of State Bureau of Consular Affairs. You can also check out Stateside Legal if you are stationed overseas and have questions about your child’s citizenship.

    Written by Team