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

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • U.S. citizens are both citizens and nationals.
  • U.S. nationals may not be citizens, born or having parents born in certain U.S. territories.
  • U.S. nationals have entitlements like consular protection but cannot vote or have the same benefits as citizens.
  • U.S. citizens can be naturalized or have birthright citizenship, with more rights including voting and job eligibility.

U.S. National vs. U.S. Citizen: Overview

The terms “U.S. national” and “U.S. citizen” are often used interchangeably, but they represent different relationships with the United States. Let’s delve into the nuances of each.

U.S. National

A U.S. national is typically someone born in specific U.S. territories, notably American Samoa and Swains Island. Some individuals from the Northern Mariana Islands may also fall under this category, depending on certain conditions. While U.S. nationals can freely live and work anywhere in the U.S., they don’t enjoy the full spectrum of rights that U.S. citizens do. For instance, they can’t vote in federal elections or run for federal office. However, they are still under the protective umbrella of U.S. law and are considered part of the American fabric.

U.S. Citizen

Becoming a U.S. citizen can be innate or achieved. If you’re born within the U.S. or to at least one U.S. citizen parent (even if born abroad), you’re automatically a citizen. Alternatively, citizenship can be pursued through naturalization. This process, overseen by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), involves fulfilling residency prerequisites, showcasing good moral character, clearing an English and civics examination, and pledging allegiance to the U.S. Once you’re a citizen, you’re not just entitled to rights like voting or running for office; you’re also bound by duties, including tax obligations and adherence to U.S. laws.

While both U.S. nationals and citizens are integral to the American mosaic, the rights, privileges, and paths to each status differ considerably.

Becoming a U.S. Citizen vs. Becoming a U.S. National

The statuses of U.S. Citizen and U.S. National are distinct, each with its own set of criteria for attainment. And while both can be achieved through birth and/or naturalization, the circumstances and eligibility for these options differ. Below, we’ll look at how to become a U.S. citizen and a U.S. national.

How to Become a U.S. Citizen

To attain U.S. citizenship, one must navigate a series of steps. Initially, you should hold the status of a lawful permanent resident in the U.S. for a minimum of five years. However, if you’re wedded to a U.S. citizen, this duration shortens to three years.

Your next move is to file a naturalization application, followed by an interview scheduled with an officer from the USCIS. This interview assesses your proficiency in English and your grasp of U.S. civics.

Upon successfully clearing the interview and fulfilling all prerequisites, which encompass maintaining a commendable moral character and showcasing a commitment to the U.S. Constitution’s ideals, you’ll be beckoned to a naturalization ceremony. Here, by reciting the Oath of Allegiance, you’ll formally embrace U.S. citizenship.

This esteemed status grants you the privilege to cast your vote in federal elections, contend for public office, and partake in the myriad rights and duties intrinsic to a U.S. citizen.

How to Become a U.S. National

Becoming a U.S. National is primarily determined by one’s place of birth. Individuals born in American Samoa or Swains Island automatically acquire the status of a U.S. National at birth. These territories are outlying possessions of the United States, and their inhabitants are recognized as U.S. Nationals but not U.S. Citizens. This means they owe allegiance to the U.S., can travel with a U.S. passport, and can live and work in the U.S. without restriction. However, they do not have the right to vote in federal elections unless they become naturalized U.S. Citizens. It’s important to note that being a U.S. National is distinct from being a U.S. Citizen, with each status carrying its own set of rights and responsibilities.

U.S. Citizen vs. U.S. National: Rights

While citizens and nationals enjoy many of the same rights, such as freedom of expression and due process, U.S. Nationals do not have the right to vote in federal elections or run for elected federal office. Additionally, their ability to apply for federal employment is limited compared to U.S. citizens. Here’s an overview of each groups rights:

RightU.S. CitizenU.S. National
Freedom of ExpressionYesYes
Freedom of ReligionYesYes
Right to VoteYesNo (Federal elections)
Right to a Fair TrialYesYes
Right to Bear ArmsYesYes
Right to PrivacyYesYes
Right to Remain SilentYesYes
Right to Due ProcessYesYes
Right to Live and Work in the U.S.YesYes
Right to Apply for Federal EmploymentYesLimited
Right to Run for Elected OfficeYesNo

U.S. Citizen vs. U.S. National: Responsibilities

As with rights, citizens and nationals share many, but not all, responsibilities. Both groups are expected to obey the law, pay taxes, and support and defend the Constitution. However, U.S. Nationals cannot vote in federal elections and their participation in the democratic process and jury service is limited compared to U.S. citizens. Here’s an overview of each group’s responsibilities:

ResponsibilityU.S. CitizenU.S. National
Obey the LawYesYes
Pay TaxesYesYes
Serve on a JuryYesLimited
Defend the CountryYesYes (if residing in the U.S.)
VoteYesNo (Federal elections)
Stay InformedYesYes
Participate in the Democratic ProcessYesLimited
Respect the Rights of OthersYesYes
Support and Defend the ConstitutionYesYes
Participate in Local CommunityYesYes

Dual Citizenship: Navigating the Nuances for U.S. Nationals and U.S. Citizens

The concept of dual citizenship is intriguing for many, as it signifies an individual’s legal membership in two nations. However, when it comes to U.S. Nationals and U.S. Citizens, the waters can get a bit murky.

U.S. Nationals and Dual Citizenship

U.S. Nationals, primarily from places like American Samoa, hold a unique status. They’re not full-fledged U.S. citizens but are still under the U.S.’s protective umbrella. While they can possess dual citizenship, it’s essential to understand that their rights in the U.S. differ from those of U.S. Citizens. For instance, they can’t vote in federal elections. However, if they acquire full citizenship in another country, their rights in that nation would be determined by its laws.

Dual Nationality for U.S. Citizens

For U.S. Citizens, dual nationality can be a more straightforward affair. They can become dual citizens through various avenues:

  • Birthright: Being born in the U.S. to foreign parents or being born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Marriage: Marrying a citizen of another country might grant you the right to apply for citizenship there.
  • Naturalization: Becoming a citizen of another country while retaining U.S. citizenship.

However, it’s crucial to remember that while the U.S. recognizes dual citizenship, not all countries do. Moreover, dual citizens must adhere to the laws of both countries they belong to, which can sometimes lead to complex legal situations.

In any case, if you’re considering dual citizenship, it’s always wise to seek guidance from legal or immigration experts to ensure you’re well-informed about the rights, responsibilities, and potential challenges.

Choosing Between U.S. National and U.S. Citizen Status

Navigating the intricacies of U.S. legal statuses can be daunting. With terms like “U.S. National” and “U.S. Citizen” floating around, you might find yourself wondering which path aligns best with your aspirations and circumstances. Here’s a guide to help you make an informed decision.

Understanding the Basics

Before diving into the decision-making process, it’s essential to make some key considerations:

Factors to Consider

  1. Rights and Privileges: If participating in the democratic process is crucial for you, U.S. citizenship, with its voting rights, might be more appealing.
  2. Residency and Mobility: Both U.S. Nationals and Citizens can live, work, and travel freely within the U.S. However, certain international travel or residency benefits might be more accessible to U.S. Citizens, depending on treaties and agreements with other countries.
  3. Naturalization Process: If you’re a U.S. National considering U.S. Citizenship, you’ll need to undergo the naturalization process, which involves residency requirements, tests, and an oath of allegiance.
  4. Personal and Emotional Connection: Sometimes, the decision isn’t just about rights or logistics. It’s about where you feel you belong. Reflect on your emotional and personal ties to the U.S. and its territories.
  5. Future Aspirations: Consider your long-term goals. Do you see yourself running for public office, or are you more focused on other forms of civic participation? Your aspirations can guide your decision.
  6. Legal Implications: Each status comes with its own set of legal rights and responsibilities. It’s essential to be aware of these, especially if you’re considering dual citizenship.

Seek Guidance

Remember, while introspection is vital, seeking external advice can be invaluable. Consider consulting with immigration lawyers or individuals who’ve walked this path before. They can offer insights that might not be immediately apparent.

Whether you lean towards U.S. National status or U.S. Citizenship, the decision is deeply personal. Take your time, weigh the pros and cons, and choose the path that aligns best with your life’s vision.

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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.

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

What is a U.S. National?

A U.S. National is someone who owes allegiance to the United States and is entitled to its protection but doesn’t have the full rights of a U.S. Citizen. This status is primarily for individuals born in American Samoa and Swains Island.

How does a U.S. National differ from a U.S. Citizen?

A U.S. National does not have the right to vote in federal elections or run for federal office, whereas a U.S. Citizen does. U.S. Citizens also have additional rights and responsibilities that U.S. Nationals do not.

Can a U.S. National become a U.S. Citizen?

Yes, U.S. Nationals can apply for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process, similar to lawful permanent residents.

Do U.S. Nationals need visas to live in the U.S.?

No, U.S. Nationals can live and work anywhere in the U.S. without restrictions.

Can U.S. Nationals obtain U.S. passports?

Yes, U.S. Nationals can obtain U.S. passports, but these will indicate their status as a National and not a Citizen.

How does one become a U.S. Citizen?

One can become a U.S. citizen either by birth within the U.S., by being born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, or through the process of naturalization, which involves meeting certain requirements and taking an oath of allegiance.

Can a U.S. Citizen hold dual citizenship with another country?

Yes, the U.S. allows dual citizenship. However, it’s essential to be aware of the rights and responsibilities in both countries, as not all nations recognize or allow dual citizenship.

Are U.S. Nationals protected by the U.S. Constitution?

Yes, U.S. Nationals are protected by the U.S. Constitution, but they do not have all the rights granted to U.S. Citizens, such as voting in federal elections.

Do U.S. Nationals pay U.S. taxes?

Yes, U.S. Nationals are subject to U.S. tax laws and must pay taxes on their global income, similar to U.S. Citizens.

Can U.S. Nationals serve in the U.S. military?

Yes, U.S. Nationals can serve in the U.S. military. In some cases, serving may expedite the process of becoming a U.S. Citizen.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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