This article covers the requirements and procedures for spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad by U.S. employers to apply for expeditious naturalization under section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.
The main benefit of expeditious naturalization is that the applicant is exempt from the normal requirements that he or she (a) continuously reside in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (LPR) for 3 or 5 years immediately prior to filing the naturalization application; and (b) be physically present in the U.S. for one half of that time.
An application for expeditious naturalization can be filed either before or after the U.S. citizen’s overseas employment begins.
For couples living abroad, it is possible to apply for LPR status and then expeditious naturalization all without living in the United States. As part of the LPR application process, the petitioning U.S. citizen spouse must normally file a Form I-864, Affidavit of Support. It is true that one requirement for the Form I-864 is that the petitioner must be “domiciled” in the United States. However, under federal regulations, a U.S. citizen living abroad temporarily counts as “domiciled” in the United States if his or her employment “meets the requirements of section 319(b)(1) of the Act.” Those are the same employment-related requirements needed for purposes of expeditious naturalization.
For couples seeking to continue to live abroad, another benefit of expeditious naturalization is that once an LPR is naturalized there is no longer a risk that LPR status will be considered abandoned due to living abroad on a non-temporary basis.
Expeditious naturalization applicants can file the naturalization application while abroad, can choose whether to be fingerprinted either in the United States or abroad, and can choose to be interviewed in any domestic USCIS Field Office. Some offices allow the applicant to choose the date of their interview. The naturalization interview and oath ceremony can be held on the same day. So for couples residing abroad the application may only require a single trip to the United States.
1.1 The Underlying Public Policy
Normally, spending too much time abroad can put a lawful permanent resident (LPR) at risk of losing eligibility for naturalization. As a matter of public policy, prior to naturalization an LPR generally must live in the U.S. to learn English, to become familiar with U.S. customs and institutions, to shed foreign attachments, to acquire attachment to the principles of the U.S. Constitution and government, to demonstrate law-abiding conduct, and to prove fitness to be accepted as a citizen of the U.S.
However, there are countervailing public policies that favor allowing individuals to reside abroad with their U.S. citizen spouses who work for designated U.S. employers, such as where such work promotes the foreign trade and commerce of the United States. In certain cases, such individuals are eligible for expeditious naturalization.
1.2 Scope of this Article
Related topics not covered in this article include:
- Naturalization in General: This article focuses just on eligibility for expeditious naturalization benefits. For an overview of naturalization in general and a discussion of naturalization procedures, see our Guide to Naturalization in the United States, http://lawandborder.com/guide-naturalization-united-states/.
- Abandonment of LPR Status: What steps should LPRs staying abroad for extended periods take to protect themselves against losing their green cards due to “abandonment”? In short, LPR status confers the right to “reside” in the U.S., but that can be taken away by the government if an LPR makes a trip or series of trips abroad which are not “temporary.” For more on this topic see our article, Green Card Holders Who Stay Abroad Over 6 Months Risk Abandonment, http://lawandborder.com/?p=2355.
- Form N-470, Application to Preserve Permanent Residence for Naturalization Purposes: For an LPR employed abroad by certain U.S. employers or public international organizations, or performing certain ministerial or priestly functions, absence will not break the required continuity of residence for naturalization if the applicant has an approved Form N-470. The applicant’s spouse and dependent unmarried children residing abroad with the applicant may be eligible for the same benefits, except in the case of the family members of persons covered by the religious duties provision. There are limitations, however. First, most applicants are required to have completed one year continuous physical presence in the U.S. as an LPR before filing the N-470.Second, an approved N-470 doesn’t relieve a naturalization applicant of the requirement of U.S. physical presence during half the continuous residence period, except in the case of (a) a naturalization applicant employed by, or contracted to work for, the U.S. government abroad is relieved of the requirement; or (b) an applicant who falls within the religious duties provision is relieved of the physical presence requirement.
- Expeditious naturalization provisions covering “[a]ny person who is employed by a bona fide U.S. incorporated nonprofit organization which is principally engaged in conducting dissemination of information abroad through communications media which significantly promotes U.S. interests abroad and which is recognized as such by the Attorney General.”
- Expeditious naturalization for members of the military and their families.
2. Requirements for Naturalization
Generally speaking, to be eligible for naturalization, an applicant must:
- be at least 18 years old;
- be an LPR;
- be of good moral character, attached to the constitution, and be favorably disposed toward the good order and happiness of the U.S. (As a practical matter, for purposes of expeditious naturalization, USCIS requires good moral character for at least 3 years prior to filing the naturalization application and until the time of naturalization.)
- pass a test of English language, history, and U.S. government; and
- meet the residence and physical presence-related requirements, from which expeditious naturalization applicants are exempt, and which include but are not limited to:
- continuously residing in the U.S., after being admitted for LPR status, for the five years (or three years in the case of an applicant who has been married to and living in marital union with a U.S. citizen) immediately preceding the date of filing application for naturalization as well as between the date of applying for naturalization and the date that citizenship is granted;
- residing in a State or Service District having jurisdiction over the naturalization application for at least three months; and
- being physically present in the U.S. for half of the required continuous residence period.
A more detailed analysis of the residence and physical presence-related requirements is included in our firm’s our Guide to Naturalization in the United States, http://lawandborder.com/guide-naturalization-united-states/.
3. Overview of the Requirements for Expeditious Naturalization
Expeditious naturalization benefits are available to a person who meets the general requirements for naturalization, described in Part 2, if in addition:
- The applicant is a lawful permanent resident at the time the naturalization application is filed and at the time of the naturalization interview. This includes conditional residents.
- The applicant is married to a U.S. citizen at the time of filing for naturalization.
- The citizen is employed by (or under contract or orders to become employed by) one of the following:
- “an American firm or corporation engaged in whole or in part in the development of foreign trade and commerce of the United States, or a subsidiary thereof”;
- the U.S. Government;
- an American institution of research “recognized as such by the Attorney General”;
- a public international organization “in which the U.S. participates by treaty or statute”;or
- a religious denomination or an interdenominational mission organization having a bona fide organization within the U.S.
- The U.S. citizen spouse is or will be “regularly stationed abroad” in such employment.
- The applicant is in the United States at the time of the naturalization interview and oath ceremony. (You need not be in the United States at the time of filing the naturalization application.)
- The applicant will depart the U.S. to live abroad with the citizen spouse not later than 45 days after the date of naturalization. And
- The applicant declares in good faith an intention to take up residence within the United States immediately following the termination of such employment abroad of the citizen spouse.
Some of these requirements deserve further discussion in the next part of this article.
4. Detailed Discussion of Selected Requirements for Expeditious Naturalization
4.1 Employed by an American Firm or Corporation, or a Subsidiary Thereof
More explanation is required of the key statutory requirements that the citizen spouse is or will be employed by an American firm or corporation, or a subsidiary thereof.
American Firm or Corporation
The term “American firm or corporation” means a company owned more than 50% by U.S. nationals.
- Publicly traded corporation: A publicly traded corporation is considered to be an “American firm or corporation” if the applicant can demonstrate that the corporation is incorporated in the U.S. and trades its stock exclusively on the U.S. stock exchange. The corporation’s most recent annual report is usually enough to prove this.
- Privately held corporation: Evidence that the employer is a qualifying American firm or corporation may include: copies of the business’ articles of incorporation, evidence of ownership including copies of stock certificates and ledgers, and proof of the shareholders’ nationality.
- Partnership: For a partnership to qualify as an “American firm,” 51% of the partners must be of U.S. nationality.
- Sole proprietorship: It is unclear whether a sole proprietorship counts as an “American firm.” There is at least one INS memorandum implicitly supporting this position. Still, as discussed below, the sole owner may have problems proving he “employs” himself.
- Nonprofit corporation: The statute doesn’t limit the term “American firm or corporation” to for-profit entities. The legacy INS has recognized that nonprofits incorporated in the U.S. qualify.
Subsidiary of an American Firm or Corporation
To qualify as the “subsidiary” of an American firm or corporation, over fifty percent of the subsidiary’s stock must be owned by the American firm or corporation. For example, in the below example Acme (China) Co. Ltd. would qualify as the subsidiary of an American firm, namely Acme Inc.:
Here’s the explanation: Acme Inc. is an American firm because it is incorporated in the U.S. and because U.S. citizens own more than 51%. (In this example, U.S. citizens own 75%.) Acme (China) Co. Ltd. counts as the “subsidiary” of an American corporation because over 50% of its stock is owned (indirectly) by Acme Inc. Note that to prove this relationship, the following types of evidence may be required:
- Copies of Alan and Bob’s U.S. passport ID pages (or certificates of naturalization or other evidence of citizenship).
- Acme Inc.’s certificate of incorporation and stock ledger showing that Alan and Bob own 75% of the corporation.
- Acme (BVI) Inc.’s certificate of incorporation and stock ledger showing that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Acme Inc.
- Acme (China) Co. Ltd.’s business license showing that it is a wholly owned subsidiary of Acme (BVI) Inc.
The U.S. citizen spouse must be “employed by” the American firm or corporation. For this provision, it’s not enough to be “under contract with” the American firm or corporation.
The term “employed by” within the analogous Form N-470 context has been defined as “to use, to have in service, to cause to be engaged in doing something, it does not mean to hire, but to use, whether under hire or not.” Employment for N-470 purposes can be either on a commission basis or according to a fixed-wage arrangement.
Part-time employment will not qualify unless the individual “devotes a substantial portion” of his time to the employment.
The owner of a sole proprietorship—i.e., a self-employed individual—doesn’t meet this definition of “employed by” the firm. In contrast, the sole owner of a corporation who is also employed by that corporation may count as “employed by an American firm.”
4.2 Engaged in the Development of U.S. Foreign Trade or Commerce
The American firm or corporation must be engaged in whole or in part in the development of U.S. foreign trade or commerce. Unlike the requirements for an N-470, the employee need not personally be engaged in foreign trade or commerce or protection of the firm or corporation’s property rights.
There is some authority—an unpublished decision of the USCIS Administrative Appeals Office—that a company that has overseas operations only but not U.S. operations (only a “paper business” in the U.S.) is not engaged in the development of U.S. trade and commerce.
The term “trade” should be “construed broadly” and “liberally.” Trade means
the exchange, purchase, or sale of goods and/or services. Goods are tangible commodities or merchandise having intrinsic value. Services are economic activities whose outputs are other than tangible goods. Such service activities include, but are not limited to, banking, insurance, transportation, communications and data processing, advertising, accounting, design and engineering, management consulting, tourism, and technology transfer.
The term “commerce” has been defined as “the exchange of goods, productions, or property of any kind; especially, exchange on a large scale, as between states or nations.”
INS has considered certain refugee relief agencies and non-profit organizations to be engaged in development of foreign trade and commerce.
Evidence of being “engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce” could include, for example: a list of foreign clients with their contact information, a specific description of all projects, contracts, and properties which the company is pursuing, a description of the funding of the work to be performed abroad, evidence that the employing firm or corporation is permitted to conduct business abroad, copies of all contracts, proposals, requests for proposals, or requests for bids for work to be performed abroad, and copies of financial statements and the applicants tax returns and transcripts.
4.3 Public International Organizations
The regulations list the eligible public international organizations of which the U.S. is a member by treaty or statute. This includes NATO, the United Nations, and all agencies and organizations which are a part of the UN. This list also includes organizations entitled to enjoy the privileges, exemptions, and immunities provided for in the International Organizations Immunities Act.
4.4 American Institutions of Research
The eligible American institutions of research in which an applicant may be employed by or under contract to work for are listed in the regulations. In some circumstances, USCIS may also regard research conducted abroad under a grant from a recognized institution of research as qualifying employment.
4.5 The U.S. Citizen Spouse Is Regularly Stationed Abroad
As mentioned above, the statute requires that the U.S. citizen spouse is “regularly stationed abroad” in the requisite employment. The regulations provide a definition:
For purposes of this section, a citizen spouse is regularly stationed abroad if he or she proceeds abroad, for a period of not less than one year, pursuant to an employment contract or orders, and assumes the duties of employment.
There is no requirement that the U.S. citizen spouse already be abroad before the naturalization application is filed. The application can be filed and approved before the overseas assignment begins. The regulations also clearly allow the application to be filed after the citizen spouse has already taken up the overseas employment.
Both the statute and the corresponding regulations are silent on how to measure the one-year period. The USCIS Policy Manual interprets this requirement to mean that the employment abroad must be “scheduled to last for at least one year at the time of filing, even if less than one year of such employment remains at the time of the naturalization interview or Oath of Allegiance provided that the spouse remains employed abroad at the time of naturalization.”
While the employment must be pursuant to an employment contract or orders, there is no authority requiring that they specify the term of employment. At-will employment is acceptable. Still, the applicant has the burden of proving through documentation how long the employment is “scheduled to last.” This could be in the form of an employer letter.
4.6 Marital Status
The applicant for expeditious naturalization must be married to a U.S. citizen at the time of applying for naturalization and at the time of the oath ceremony. If the U.S. citizen spouse has passed away, if the marriage has ended, or if the applicant’s spouse is no longer a U.S. citizen, the application for expeditious naturalization will be denied.
4.7 Departing the U.S. to Live with the Citizen Spouse Abroad
The applicant must establish that he or she intends to leave the U.S. in order to “reside with” the citizen spouse within 30 to 45 days after the date of naturalization.
The applicant may move abroad for that purpose before filing the application. But it’s not necessary that the applicant and the U.S. citizen lived together before 45 days after naturalization.
If there is any delay in departure from the U.S. or any cancellation of the U.S. citizen spouse’s employment abroad, or if the applicant is unable to reside with the U.S. citizen spouse because the U.S. citizen spouse is employed in an area of hostility where dependents may not reside, the applicant-spouse must notify USCIS immediately. If the foreign spouse is restricted from joining the U.S. citizen where he or she is employed, USCIS will not deny the expeditious naturalization application.Spouses of U.S. citizens employed in areas where the applicant spouse is restricted from joining them may still be granted expeditious naturalization regardless of how far the applicant lives from his or her U.S. citizen spouse as long as the applicant had the intention of going abroad to reside with his or her spouse. However, USCIS will not grant expeditious naturalization to the applicant spouse of a U.S. citizen working abroad if the applicant does not initially at least intend to take up residence in the foreign country where their U.S. citizen spouse is employed.
The applicant for expeditious naturalization must declare before the Attorney General in good faith an intention to take up residence within the United States immediately once the U.S. citizen spouse concludes their employment abroad
Our law firm is available to represent clients with respect to expeditious naturalization. Feel free to contact us for further information.
This material is for Eligible Family Members of Department of State direct-hire personnel only. Other Agency spouses should contact their Human Resource departments for possible assistance with 319(b) naturalization.
Who Qualifies for Naturalization Assistance from the Family Liaison Office?
The following requirements must be fulfilled:
A foreign-born spouse must have entered the U.S. legally and have Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status in the U.S. (The LPR status may be conditional and if a "green card" has not been issued yet, an "A" number in the passport with the annotation "processed for I-551" is sufficient.) Additionally, one of the following very important requirements must be true:
The spouse must be going with the employee on an overseas assignment. In this situation naturalization cannot take place more than 45 days prior to departure from the U.S. We encourage you to contact FLO as soon as you have received the TM One Post Assignment Notification.
- The spouse must currently be at an overseas post with the employee and, upon completion of naturalization on US soil, must depart the U.S. within 30 to 45 days to join the Foreign Service spouse at the overseas post.
Please note: USCIS will not waive this requirement.
Please be aware that only USCIS can adjudicate naturalization applications. FLO's role is to guide and advise DOS Foreign Service personnel and their spouses on the expeditious naturalization process, verify eligibility, and facilitate 319(b) naturalization. To receive further information please call FLO's Reception Desk at (202) 647-1076 or write to our naturalization specialist at FLOAskNaturalization@state.gov.
To begin, applicants must complete the Cover Letter Information Form (pdf). Fill out the form, save it to your computer, and return it to FLO with a copy of the post assignment notification (TM One) and the applicant’s Lawful Permanent Resident card. Based on the information you provide, FLO will generate a cover letter on DOS letterhead and send it back to the applicant together with the USCIS mailing address and instructions for submitting the N400 application.
Caveat: please do not submit the N400 application without the cover letter provided to you by the FLO office. The information in the cover letter enables USCIS to immediately recognize that the applicant is seeking naturalization under section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as the spouse of a Department of State employee.
The applicant should visit FLO's Expeditious Naturalization Application Materials and Information webpage for application forms, information, and instructions on preparing the application for submission to USCIS.
The current fee for processing an N400 application is $725. If you are applying from the U.S. you will receive a notice from USCIS directing you to a local Applicant Support Center (ACS) for a fingerprint appointment a few weeks after you submit the N400 application form. If you are applying from overseas, you should include fingerprint cards with your application. FLO will provide more guidance on fingerprints with the cover letter and application materials.
You may choose to complete the interview at any USCIS district office in the US; however, FLO's experience is that requesting a district office where they rarely, or maybe never, process a 319(b) case may cause delays. FLO recommends that naturalization interviews be completed at the Washington District Office in Fairfax, VA. FLO has strong contacts with this office and it is conveniently located so the new US citizen can quickly apply for a diplomatic passport at the Special Issuance Passport Agency in Washington, D.C.
USCIS will inform FLO when the background investigation is complete and the case is ready for adjudication, providing a quarterly calendar of possible interview dates. Then, FLO will forward the calendar to the applicant, who will indicate several preferred dates. USCIS will send the official interview notice for one of the selected dates to the Naturalization Specialist. In Fairfax, if the applicant is successful in the interview and exam, the oath ceremony takes place the same day. After taking the oath, the applicant receives a Certificate of Citizenship to prove that he or she is now a U.S. citizen. Cameras are allowed and guests are encouraged to attend the oath ceremony.
The average processing time is currently three to five months. Neither USCIS nor FLO has control over how long the background investigation portion of the naturalization process may take. Although you may have requested a certain date for the interview, if the case is not ready for adjudication you will have to wait. If you are overseas, please do not make travel arrangements until you have received an official interview notice!
Many applicants who are already serving overseas request an interview date during a time they may be able to take advantage of R&R travel. There is no financial assistance from the U. S. Government or the Department of State for this process. Applying to become a U.S. citizen is considered a private matter.
Attention Conditional Residents!
Conditional residents (category “CR” on green card or Immigrant Visa ) must file with USCIS the form I-751, Petition to Remove the Conditions of Residence, (and pay all associated fees) during the 90 day period before the expiration date on the green card. Conditional residents, whose naturalization interview will occur any time after this 90-day window opens are encouraged to file I-751 as soon as they become eligible. If the applicant is eligible to submit the I-751 (within 90 days of conditional residency expiring), USCIS will adjudicate the N-400 application only in conjunction with I-751. Therefore, it’s in applicant’s best interests to file I-751 as soon as possible to avoid delays in naturalization.
The properly filed I-751 is necessary to maintain LPR status after the green card expires. Conditional residents who don’t file the I-751 on time may lose their LPR status, even when scheduled to have the interview prior to the expiration date. Without the LPR status, an applicant is not eligible for naturalization.
NOTE: FLO does not assist with the I-751. The awareness about the I-751 process is the sole responsibility of the applicant. For detailed information, please visit USCIS webpage Remove Conditions on Permanent Residence Based on Marriage.
Information provided by the Family Liaison Office
Contact the Family Liaison Office