U.S. National vs. U.S. Citizen

Posted by in Immigrants | Updated on November 15, 2022
At a Glance: U.S. citizens are both a citizen and a national. There are individuals that are born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Swains Island, and American Samoa who are U.S nationals.

People tend to use the terms “citizen” and “national” while referring to the same category. In reality, they are two different things holding different meanings. So, what is the difference between a U.S. national vs U.S. citizen?This article will shed some light on the matter and explain your rights as both types of citizens.

U.S. National, U.S. Citizen, or Both?

Are you a U.S. national, U.S. citizen, or both? U.S. citizens are both a citizen and a national. People who are born or naturalized in the U.S. are immediately citizens of the States, as well as the state they live in. When it comes to U.S. nationals, though, some of them may not be U.S. citizens.

That is because there are individuals that are born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Swains Island, and American Samoa who are U.S. nationals. Both these places are possessed by the U.S., which is why people living there have U.S. national status and are protected by the U.S. government. Therefore, they are nationals but do not hold U.S. citizen status.

Apart from that, there are situations that can make you a U.S. national. If both of your parents were born in either Swains Island or American Samoa and they also lived in the U.S. before your birth, then you might be a U.S. national. Even having one parent that was born in any of these places and then lived in the U.S. would make it possible for you to be a U.S. national. In this situation, though, the parent would have to meet some specific requirements for residency.

If a U.S. national wants to travel abroad, applying for a U.S. passport is possible, even if they are not U.S. citizens. When they travel to another country, they have the right to be protected by consular offices. One of their options is to travel to the United States and live there. The downside is that a national doesn’t have the same benefits as a U.S. citizen.

U.S. National vs U.S. Citizen

What are U.S. nationals and U.S. citizens, and what’s the difference between the two? Let’s look into it.

What Is a U.S. National?

A U.S. national, specifically a non-citizen U.S. national, is someone who is either born in one of the U.S. outlying possessions or has parents that were born in one of these places. As mentioned earlier, Swains Island and American Samoa are the outlying possessions of the States.

The U.S. national group includes every U.S. citizen, as well as just any individual who owes allegiance to the States. Also, the same people should not have been granted the privilege of being citizens.

There are some entitlements that U.S. nationals have. These include obtaining U.S. passports or other types of documentation from the U.S. The passport would also mention the fact that the individual is of national status. On top of that, U.S. nationals have the benefit of getting consular protection from the U.S. when they are traveling in a different country.

What Is a U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizens are people who either got citizenship by being naturalized or obtained birthright citizenship. Birthright citizenship means that a person becomes a citizen if they are born in the United States. They can also be citizens if they are the child of U.S. citizen parents. Not to mention that there are people who are born in specific U.S. territories that obtain U.S. citizenship automatically.

These territories include the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Marianas, and Puerto Rico. It’s also important to bring up the fact that Swains Island and American Samoa natives do not automatically get U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship status can be obtained if the person is eligible for it. One has to go through a whole process to become a citizen. First, he/she would have to file Form N-400 and also submit photographs with it. Then, the individual has to attend a biometrics appointment, after which an interview and test take place.

These evaluate the language proficiency and civics knowledge. Once all this is done, the applicant has to wait for a notification mentioning the date and time he/she will have to take the U.S. oath of allegiance.

What’s the Difference?

Many people tend to use the phrases “U.S. national” and “U.S. citizen” interchangeably. In reality, the two terms have different meanings, and there are significant differences between these categories.

The main difference is that all U.S. citizens are U.S. nationals, while not all U.S. nationals are U.S. citizens. But apart from that, there are also differences in terms of rights and restrictions.

While U.S. nationals have the right to live in the United States and even apply for citizenship by naturalization, they are restricted in other ways. They are not allowed to vote in any U.S. election. Not to mention that they do not have the right to apply for any job that requires the employees to be citizens of the United States.

That being said, the terms are wrongly used to represent the same thing but they have different meanings and implications, despite a few similarities.

Rights and Restrictions of a U.S. National

U.S. nationals have a few rights and benefits, despite not having U.S. citizen status. First of all, they can reside in the United States if they want to, and live a nice life there. After three months of residency, they will also have the right to apply for citizenship by naturalization.

There are a few cons, though, which are the restrictions of being a U.S. national. If you have this status, you will not be able to vote for representation in Congress. Furthermore, you will not be allowed to vote in local, state, or federal elections. The only place you will be able to vote is your birthplace, so you should not make plans to participate in the U.S. election voting.

The one thing U.S. non-citizen nationals can do is vote in order to send a delegate to Congress. However, that individual is a non-voting delegate.

Also, you can apply to obtain a certificate of non-citizen national status. The application has to be submitted to the Secretary of State.

Rights and Restrictions of a U.S. Citizen

U.S. citizens have a series of rights, which is what makes being a citizen so convenient. They have more rights than U.S. nationals.

One of these rights is that they can freely vote in public elections. All U.S. citizens who are 18 years old or older have the right to vote in local, state, or federal elections. Furthermore, they can vote for representation in Congress.

A U.S. citizen will also have the right to apply for any job since they already have citizenship status.

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Final Thoughts

Even though they are used interchangeably, the terms U.S. national and U.S. citizen mean different things. Someone who is a U.S. citizen will be a U.S. national at the same time, but U.S. nationals are not always U.S. citizens. U.S. nationals also have some restrictions, while U.S. citizens are less restricted and have more benefits. However, U.S. nationals can apply for citizenship after three months of residency.

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