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Congress should restore equal access to citizenship for children of Americans serving overseas

UPDATE 3/9/20: On March 26th, 2020, the President signed H.R. 4803, the “Citizenship for Children of Military Members & Civil Servants Act,” into law.

a href="https://www.fwd.us/news/fwd-us-statement-on-the-citizenship-for-children-of-military-members-civil-servants-act-s-2679/" target="_blank" rel="noopener">You can read FWD.us statement on the bill's passage from the Senate here.


Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act

H.R. 4803
Passed the House on 12/03/19

S. 2679
Passed the Senate on 3/5/20

The House of Representatives recently passed via the Suspension Calendar the bipartisan H.R. 4803, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act, legislation that would make it easier for families living overseas, specifically those in military or government service, to secure citizenship for their children. Senators Duckworth and Graham introduced similar legislation (S.2679) in the Senate, which passed by Unanimous Consent in March of 2020. On March 26, 2020, the President signed the bill into law.

Current law allows foreign-born children under age 18 with at least one U.S. citizen parent to automatically acquire citizenship if the child is residing in the U.S. in the custody of the parent and was admitted as a lawful permanent resident. Since 2005, the Department of State (DoS) provided an exception to the residency requirements for individuals temporarily stationed abroad while serving in the military or working for the U.S. government, considering their children to be “residing in the United States” for purposes of acquiring citizenship.

This policy acknowledged that military and government service requires individuals to be outside of the United States for an extended period of time, rightfully sparing military and government families the time and costs of returning to the U.S. or finding another way to satisfy the residency requirement for their children to acquire citizenship. In 2015, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) affirmed DoS’ interpretation.

While USCIS may be following the “letter of the law,” America’s men and women in uniform will bear the cost.This is an easy wrong for Congress to right.

However, USCIS reversed course in late 2019 and eliminated the exception. Under new guidance, certain children (such as adoptees) whose parents are deployed or working for the government abroad would not have access to the same citizenship process as children living in the U.S.; instead, their parents would have to undergo a lengthy, difficult, and costly process to secure citizenship for their children.

Recent changes have made access to immigration and naturalization services increasingly more difficult for servicemembers, exacerbating the obstacles created by this new policy. In 2018, USCIS closed all but four of its international field offices, making it much harder for deployed servicemembers to get assistance and file necessary paperwork. And government employees won’t be able to use the overseas field offices at all; they will have to re-enter the United States with their children to complete the citizenship process.

While USCIS may be following the “letter of the law,” America’s men and women in uniform would bear the cost. This is an easy wrong for Congress to right.

The House of Representatives passed the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act in December of 2019 to codify that children born abroad who have a U.S. citizen parent living overseas as a government employee or member of the Armed Forces will derive citizenship the same as a child living in the U.S., restoring the fair and just citizenship acquisition process previously adopted under both Republican and Democratic administrations. In March 2020, the Senate passed a bipartisan companion by Unanimous Consent. On March 26, 2020, the President signed the legislation into law.

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