The End of Automatic Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Government Employees

On August 28, 2019, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services released a policy alert that announced children born or adopted to U.S. military members and government employees stationed overseas will soon no longer be granted automatic citizenship. The USCIS’s “Defining ‘Residence’ in Statutory Provisions Related to Citizenship” said this policy will go into effect October 29, 2019. According to the USCIS, the policy change is designed to end what the Trump Administration sees as the agency’s inconsistent use of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In practice this policy would force U.S. service members to apply their children for citizenship if those children were born or adopted overseas, whereas in the past the INA would have granted them automatic citizenship.

What is the Immigration and Nationality Act?

The Immigration and Nationality Act was passed under President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. It was the first major piece of legislation to update immigration law since the 1920s. The U.S. government has used the law to consider children born or adopted overseas to U.S. service members “residents” of the U.S., allowing them to both live in a foreign country and reside in the U.S. A new reading of the law under the Trump Administration claims that that reasoning is inconsistent with some of the INA’s other provisions, which is at the heart of this change in policy.

Who This Policy Change Will and Won’t Affect

This would be yet another policy change from the Trump Administration that complicates the immigration process, forcing those affected to go through difficult bureaucratic hurdles to ensure their children’s citizenship.

“For them [children born or adopted overseas to U.S. service members] to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship, their U.S. citizen parent must apply for citizenship on their behalf,” USCIS spokesperson Meredith Parker said. This process must be finished before the child reaches the age of 18.

This change in policy will affect families of U.S. service members who birth or adopt children after October 29, 2019, in the countries of which they are stationed. However, children born or adopted before that date will continue to have automatic citizenship, so long as they have already been given a Certificate of Citizenship. It is important to stress this policy does not eliminate the possibility of U.S. citizenship for children born into these circumstances, it only makes it so their parents must apply for it. This creates new bureaucratic hurdles for the families affected.

According to a Department of Defense official, this policy will affect approximately 100 families every year. But for those who experience this issue, it could seem like another way the Trump Administration is leveraging family ties to force immigration change.

Why This Policy Change Was Implemented

According to the USCIS, the change will be enacted because the previous policy of automatic citizenship conflicted with other policies outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act. These conflicts were:

  • Language in the INA already says that U.S. service parents living outside the U.S. may apply for citizenship for their child, which suggests the children are not automatically given it
  • Claiming that children living outside the U.S. could “reside” in the U.S. conflicts with the INA’s definition of “residence,” which is a person’s “principal, actual dwelling place in fact”
  • The current administration believes it is “significant” that the INA says spouses of U.S. service members living outside the U.S. in the course of their service are considered to be residing in the U.S., without explicitly giving the same consideration to their children

Put together, the USCIS said the previous policy was unclear and made it difficult for their officers to consistently assign Certificates of Citizenship to children. They see this change as a correction that more closely follows the law.

How Parents Affected Can Apply Their Children for Citizenship

Parents affected will now be forced to apply for their children’s citizenship with an N-600K form through the USCIS before the child turns 18. If the child’s parents have died, the form must be filed within five years of their deaths by a grandparent or legal guardian. According to the USCIS’s website, the filing fee for this form is $1,170. The N-600K can be filed to the USCIS online or in the mail. Some materials that must be given with the application include:

  • The child’s birth certificate or record
  • The parent’s birth certificate or record 
  • The parent’s marriage certificate 
  • Documents showing the parent’s divorce (if applicable)
  • Proof of qualifying parent’s U.S. citizenship

If some of these materials are unavailable, parents filing can use “secondary evidence,” such as the child’s school records, baptismal certificate, and census records, along with a written explanation for why the requested evidence could not be collected.