U.S. “Citizen” versus “National” – What is the difference? Guest Post from Immigration Lawyer Ms. Teodora Purcell

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Today’s post is a description of the difference between what is a “citizen” versus a “national” for U.S. immigration law purposes.  They are not the same. The post is written by immigration lawyer Teodora Purcell at the immigration law firm of Fragomen, with her contact details below.


US Citizens and US Nationals

Most people use these terms interchangeably but there is a difference. Specifically, section 101(a)(21) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (‘INA”) defines the term “national” as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” Section 101(a)(22) of the INA provides that the term “national of the United States” includes all U.S. citizens as well as persons who, though not citizens of the United States, owe permanent allegiance to the United States (non-citizen nationals).

Further, section 308 of the INA confers U.S. nationality but not U.S. citizenship, on persons born in “an outlying possession of the United States” or born of a parent or parents who are non-citizen nationals who meet certain physical presence or residence requirements. The term “outlying possessions of the United States” is defined in Section 101(a)(29) of the INA as American Samoa and Swains Island. No other statutes define any other territories or any of the states as outlying possessions.
Non-citizen U.S. nationals may reside and work in the United States without restrictions, and may apply for citizenship under the same rules as lawful permanent residents (green card holders). Like resident aliens, they are not presently allowed by any U.S. state to vote in federal or state elections.

Like U.S. citizens, non-citizen U.S. nationals may transmit their non-citizen U.S. nationality to children born abroad, although the rules are somewhat different than for U.S. citizens.

Lastly, non-citizen nationals can obtain US passports that contain the following annotation: “THE BEARER IS A UNITED STATES NATIONAL AND NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN.”

Teodora Purcell | Attorney at Law

11238 El Camino Real, Suite 100, San Diego, CA 92130, USA
Direct: +1 (858) 793-1600 ext. 52424 | Fax: +1 (858) 793-1600



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