House OKs Citizenship Fix For Kids Of Overseas Personnel

By Andrew Kragie

Law360, Washington (December 3, 2019, 6:17 PM EST) — The U.S. House of Representatives easily passed a bipartisan bill Tuesday that would ensure automatic citizenship for children born abroad to U.S. troops, diplomats and other personnel working for the government.

The measure would clarify that children born abroad to U.S. troops, diplomats and other government employees don’t need to establish U.S. residency to secure citizenship. It would roll back a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services policy change that took effect in October. Although it has a narrow impact, it caused widespread confusion and concern.

The new USCIS guidance requires American parents to apply for citizenship for their foreign-born kids under a different section of the Immigration and Nationality Act than before. That section requires parents to have spent five years living in the U.S. — two of which must be after age 14 — to pass their citizenship to their kids.

That would force anyone subject to the citizenship policy to file additional paperwork for their children, who would no longer acquire citizenship automatically, while potentially barring people who don’t meet the five-year residency requirement from conferring citizenship onto their kids.

The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee said Tuesday on the House floor that his bill will avert that outcome.

“This bipartisan legislation provides a simple solution to ease the burdens imposed by our current citizenship laws on those who have chosen to serve our great nation abroad, and their children,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. “Without access to a streamlined citizenship process, parents must either guide their children through a lengthy and expensive naturalization process or find some alternative way to establish U.S. residency — which may even require them to cut short their overseas service commitment.”

The Judiciary Committee’s top Republican co-sponsored the bill.

“American families bravely serving our country abroad shouldn’t have to fight through piles of bureaucracy to ensure their children are rightfully considered American citizens,” said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., adding that the bill should “give these parents peace of mind.”

A companion bill in the Senate also has bipartisan sponsors. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, an Illinois Democrat and military veteran wounded in combat, introduced the measure Oct. 23 along with retiring Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga. Another bipartisan pair joined as sponsors in November: Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., and Sen. Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina Republican who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, where the bill currently awaits consideration.

Then-USCIS acting Director Ken Cuccinelli in August defended the guidance as a simple adjustment.

“The policy update doesn’t deny citizenship to the children of US gov employees or members of the military born abroad,” Cuccinelli said on Twitter. “This policy aligns USCIS’ process with the Department of State’s procedures for these children — that’s it. Period.”