Editor's Note: This story has been updated with additional information and a statement from the acting director of USCIS.
This article originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues.
Children born to U.S. service members and government employees overseas will no longer be automatically considered citizens of the United States, according to policy alert issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Wednesday.
Previously, children born to U.S. citizen parents were considered to be "residing in the United States," and therefore would be automatically granted citizenship under Immigration and Nationality Act 320. Now, children born to U.S. service members and government employees, such as those born in U.S. military hospitals or diplomatic facilities, will not be considered as residing in the U.S., changing the way that they potentially receive citizenship.
The change was first reported by San Francisco Chronicle reporter Tal Kopan.
"The policy change explains that we will not consider children who live abroad with their parents to be residing in the United States even if their parents are U.S. government employees or U.S. service members stationed outside of the United States, and as a result, these children will no longer be considered to have acquired citizenship automatically," USCIS spokesperson Meredith Parker told Task & Purpose on Wednesday, when asked how the policy changes how the government views children of U.S. service members.
"For them to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship, their U.S. citizen parent must apply for citizenship on their behalf," she added. The process under INA 322 must be completed before the child's 18th birthday.
According to USCIS, previous legislation also explicitly said that spouses of service members who were living outside the U.S. because of their spouses were considered residing in the U.S., but "that no similar provision was included for children of U.S. armed forces members in the acquisition of citizenship context is significant."
That is one of the reasons why USCIS has now decided that those children are not considered to be residing in the U.S., and therefore will not be automatically given citizenship. Instead, they will fall under INA 322, which considers them to be residing outside the U.S. and requires them to apply for naturalization.
They will be allowed to complete all naturalization proceedings while living abroad, the document said.
Following publication of this story, U.S. government officials were forced to address widespread concern about how this policy change affects children of U.S. service members. Ken Cuccinelli, Acting Director of USCIS, said in a statement that "this policy update does not affect who is born a U.S. citizen, period."
"This only affects children who were born outside the United States and were not U.S. citizens. This does NOT impact birthright citizenship. This policy update does not deny citizenship to the children of US government employees or members of the military born abroad," he added, though Task & Purpose did not report that citizenship would be denied. "This policy aligns USCIS' process with the Department of State's procedure, that's it."
While children of service members will be allowed to complete the citizenship process outside of the U.S., Parker added, children of government employees "must enter the U.S. lawfully with an immigrant or nonimmigrant visa and be in lawful status when they take the Oath of Allegiance."
Read the full policy update here.
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