Frequently Asked Questions Related to Spouses Who Are Not U.S. Citizens
The Family Liaison Office frequently receives questions from employees and prospective employees who wonder what impact it will have on their assignments overseas if their spouse is not a United States citizen. The following summary is provided to address some of the more frequently asked questions.
Please be aware this brief Q and A is not all-inclusive and is meant to provide general guidance, not individual legal advice. For example, information provided may not apply if the non-citizen spouse is accompanying the employee to his/her birth country on assignment. Also, naturalized U.S. citizens holding dual nationality should consult with post HR officers to determine how dual nationality may impact the assignment. And finally, employees of agencies other than the Department of State should refer to their own agency headquarters for guidance on these issues.
Q: Does the Department of State require spouses to become U.S. citizens?
A: No, not any longer.
Q: Does the Department offer help to spouses who wish to naturalize?
A: Yes. The Family Liaison Office assists Department of State family members eligible for expeditious naturalization under Section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which exempts certain spouses of U.S. Government employees from the otherwise-applicable residence and physical presence requirements of naturalization. (Naturalization under Section 319(b) does not exempt applicants from other requirements of naturalization, such as good moral character, knowledge of United States history and government, and English language skills.) For a Department employee's spouse to qualify under Section 319(b), the employee must be a U.S. citizen "regularly stationed abroad" as part of his or her employment. The U.S. citizen employee must have been paneled for an overseas posting or be serving on an overseas assignment that is at least one year long. Additionally, the applicant must have Lawful Permanent Resident Alien (LPR) status and must be in the United States at the time of naturalization. The applicant must make a good faith declaration of intent to take up residence within the United States immediately upon the termination of employment abroad by the U.S. citizen spouse. For more details on the application process, visit our Naturalization page and read FLO's Guidelines for Expeditious Naturalization.
Q: How long does the expeditious naturalization process take?
A: Once the completed paperwork has been submitted to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through FLO, the process takes on average five months.
Q: Why is this process called "expeditious?" The applicant still has to wait on average five months and the procedure is cumbersome.
A: The term "expeditious" refers to the fact that an applicant eligible for naturalization under Section 319(b) is not required to satisfy the normal three-year residency requirement generally applicable to applicants with U.S. citizen spouses. Many foreign-born spouses are newly married, have never lived in the United States and, because of overseas assignment, may have difficulty meeting the continuous three year residency requirement.
Q: Can my foreign national mother-in-law (or other relative) get assistance to be naturalized through FLO? She will be at post with us.
A: No. Only spouses qualify for expeditious naturalization under Section 319(b). (In order to naturalize, a relative would generally have to establish residency in the U.S. for five years after having acquired LPR status, in addition to meeting all other requirements of naturalization.)
Q: My wife who qualifies for expeditious naturalization has two children, age 11 and 16. Can they also apply?
A: Children who have not yet reached their 18th birthday will automatically become U.S. citizens when their mother naturalizes, if the children are residing in the United States in her legal and physical custody pursuant to a Legal admission for permanent residence. If the American citizen father adopts his wife's children, they too would automatically naturalize as U.S. citizens provided that (a) they had been adopted prior to reaching the age of 16;(b) had been in his legal custody and had resided with him for two years; and(c) were in his legal and physical custody in the United States as Legal permanent resident aliens.
Q: My spouse applied for regular naturalization. Can FLO assist with expediting the case and scheduling the interview?A: FLO is not able to expedite any case. All expedite requests must be made to USCIS directly. Additionally, cases filed as regular naturalization follow different processing than 319(b) cases; therefore FLO’s USCIS contacts are unable to assist with scheduling the interview. Please go to USCIS’s website for case status updates.
Q: Are non U.S. citizen spouses on travel orders factored into the allowance structure paid the employee?
A: Yes. The nationality of the spouse is not a factor.
Q: Are non-U.S. citizen spouses eligible for administrative support and the services of the Community Liaison Coordinator at post?
Q: During a post evacuation, either authorized or ordered, are non-U.S. citizen spouses eligible for evacuation travel and subsistence expense allowances?
A: Yes, those on official orders are eligible for evacuation travel and subsistence expense allowances.
Q: Many non-U.S. citizen spouses do not feel comfortable returning to the U.S. during an evacuation, but would rather be reunited with family abroad. May they travel to a foreign safe haven during an evacuation at Department of State expense?
A: All foreign safehaven requests must be approved on a case-by-case basis by the Under Secretary for Management. Requests are made through the regional bureau.
Q: What benefits are available for evacuees going to an alternate foreign safehaven?
A: Benefits are available only if the safehaven request is approved by the Under Secretary for Management, U.S. Department of State. The benefits include cost constructive travel and payment of the Subsistence Expense Allowance (SEA) based on CONUS rate or local per diem which ever is lower. No education allowance of any type may be authorized, nor are any diplomatic immunities, privileges, or services (such as use of the commissary or medical unit) extended to the evacuees at the foreign designated safehaven. Link to information on evacuations and benefits.
Q: Are non-U.S. citizen spouses eligible to apply for U.S. Government employment in the mission at their regular post of assignment overseas?
A: Yes, depending on the level of security clearance required by the position. Non-U.S. citizen spouses with the required job skills may apply for non-sensitive positions.
Q: Are non-U.S. citizen spouses eligible for family member preference in hiring for mission positions?
A: No. Under the Foreign Service Act of 1980 as amended, only U.S. citizen spouses get preference.
Q: Are non-U.S. citizen spouses covered under bilateral work agreements or de facto work arrangements?
A: Bilateral work agreements and de facto work arrangements are negotiated individually and therefore must be looked at on a country-by-country basis. However, generally, citizenship is not a criterion for eligibility under an agreement. (There are a few exceptions such as Israel that specify the spouse seeking to work under the agreement must be a citizen of the sending state.) Individuals may consult the Family Liaison Office Employment Program Coordinator, or the Community Liaison Coordinator or HR Officer at post.
Q: What if the spouse who wishes to work at post or on the local economy is a citizen of the country to which the employee is assigned?
A: During such assignments, the spouse who is a citizen of the country to which the employee is assigned would be subject to local tax, labor, and other laws that apply to nationals of the country. If working at post, the spouse would be employed as a Locally Employed Staff and paid under the Local Compensation Plan (LCP).
Q: Will the Department of State assist my non-US Citizen spouse in securing the required visa in his/her passport prior to assignment?
A: Passport Services, Special Issuance Agency, will gladly assist non-US citizen family members of Foreign Service personnel who are on assignment or preparing for assignment abroad. If a visa is required for the country of assignment and the spouse applies simultaneously with the employee on official assignment orders, his or her passport will be forwarded to the appropriate embassy/embassies for the required visas, together with that of the employee. (The Department of State cannot control whether or not another embassy levies fees, requires additional paperwork, etc. But we will communicate such information to the spouse.) If the spouse is not leaving the United States at the same time as the employee, he or she may still request assistance from the Special Issuance Agency. The spouse should be sure to keep copies of the travel orders and the employee's passport and visa pages. The spouse should provide the Agency with current contact information for the employee. If the spouse uses a different last name from that of the employee, he or she should provide the Agency with a copy of a valid marriage license. All spouses, including non-US citizen spouses, may go to the Special Issuance Agency at SA-17A, South Entrance, 600 19th Street N.W, Washington, D.C. for passport or visa services. Proximity to Metro lines, easy building access and longer business hours make this an attractive option. (Please note the building is shared with the Washington Passport Office located on the street level.) The hours are 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. For information, please call (202) 485-8200 or direct questions to CA-PPT-SIA-Diplomatic-Passports@State.Gov.
Q: Is there any group in the Department that offers support to foreign born spouses whether or not they have become U.S. citizens?
A: The Family Liaison Office serves all employees and family members. Additionally, the Associates of the American Foreign Service Worldwide (AAFSW), a private voluntary organization, has a special interest group for foreign-born spouses, recognizing the contributions they make to the foreign affairs community and the special challenges they face when a move to the United States is not a move "home." Please see the AAFSW website.
Information provided by the Family Liaison Office
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