US Immigration News

What Are the Differences Between US Nationals and US Citizens?

4 minute read
"It is generally believed that anyone born in the United States and its territories is considered a US citizen. However, it is not true for everyone born within the US territory. Individuals born in American Samoa and Swains Island are considered US nationals. But what is the difference between a US citizen and a US national? "
Written by My Visa Source Team
Published on:  Sep 24, 2021
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It is generally believed that anyone born in the United States and its territories is considered a US citizen. However, it is not true for everyone born within the US territory. Individuals born in American Samoa and Swains Island are considered US nationals. But what is the difference between a US citizen and a US national? 

US nationals do not have the same rights and privileges as US citizens. However, if they want to transition, then they have a pretty straightforward path compared to foreign nationals. A US national residing in the US can apply to become a US citizen through the naturalization process. 

What Is the Difference Between a US National and a US Citizen?

Every US citizen is a US national, however, the same is not true for all US nationals. Individuals born in the outlying territories in possession of the United States acquire US nationality at birth, but do not get citizenship automatically. Currently, the only 2 outlying territories possessed by the US are American Samoa and Swains Island. Individuals born outside these territories to one or more US nationals are also given US national status at birth. 

Historically, persons born in the possession of the US during the following periods were considered as US national: 

  • Guam: 1898-1950, citizenship granted by an Act of Congress through the Guam Organic Act of 1950

  • The Philippines: 1898-1917, immigration rights of national status were revoked as a part of the Philippine Independence Act when it gained full independence in 1946

  • Puerto Rico: 1898-1917, citizenship granted through the Jones-Shafroth Act of 1917

  • The US Virgin Island: 1917-1927, citizenship granted by an act of Congress in 1927

Now, the residents of US territories including Guam, Puerto Rico, Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands acquire US citizenship at birth. 

How Can You Prove US Nationality?

Individuals from American Samoa and Swains Island can prove their US nationality with their birth certificate. US nationals are authorized to obtain a US passport. The US Department of State considered coming up with a special certificate for US nationals, but since it was such a small group of people, the action seemed a bit cost-prohibitive. 

The law, however, authorizes US nationals to apply for a certificate, therefore, the Department of State created a special version of the US passport. US nationals may apply for a special passport that declares their status as a national and not a citizen of the United States. 

What Are the Benefits of US Citizenship for US Nationals?

US nationals can live and work in the US without any restrictions and get a US passport that declares their special status as a non-citizen national. However, it is still not the same as being a US citizen. US nationals can not vote in federal elections. US citizenship opens up a whole new door with additional benefits including:

  • A US passport without restrictions

  • Voting rights in all federal elections

How Can US Nationals Become US Citizens?

US nationals can acquire US citizenship through the naturalization process. To apply, they must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization to the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The same rules and processes apply to US nationals as lawful permanent residents.

However, the citizenship requirements are different for US nationals in regards to continuing and physical residence in the country.

US nationals do not need to apply for a Green Card to be eligible for US citizenship. However, to file the Form N-400, they must become a resident of any US state. This includes all 50 states of the US or the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam and the US Virgin Islands.

They will be required to meet the following requirements for US citizenship:

  • Be of 18 years or older

  • Have 5 years of continuous residence in the US, meaning not taking any trips abroad for more than 6 months. Your residence in an outlying territory of possession is considered as residence in the US

  • Be physically present in the US for at least 30 months in the last 5 years

  • Pass English and Civics test for citizenship

  • Be of good moral character

What Reflects a Lack of Good Moral Character and Can Cause Denial?

Not being able to demonstrate a good moral character may lead to denial of your citizenship application. This can happen if you are:

  • Convicted of crime against a person with the intent to harm

  • Convicted of crime against property or government that involves fraud or evil intent

  • 2 or more crimes that resulted in an aggregated sentence of 5 years or more

  • Violating any law for controlled substance use of the US, any state or foreign country

  • Habitual drunkenness

  • Illegal gambling

  • Prostitution

  • Polygamy

  • Misrepresenting facts to gain immigration benefits

  • Failing to pay court-ordered child support or alimony

  • Confinement in jail, prison or another institution which lasted for 180 days or more in the last 5 years

  • Failure to complete any probation, parole or suspended sentence 

  • Terrorist acts

  • Persecution of anyone because of race, religion, national origin, political affiliation or social group

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