The Global Community Liaison Office frequently receives questions from employees and prospective employees who wonder what, if any, impact there will be on their overseas assignments if their spouse is not a United States citizen. Additionally, employees are interested in understanding the requirements for Expeditious Naturalization and Family Member Employment. Below are frequently asked questions related to naturalization, allowances, evacuations, employment, visas, and resources for spouses who are not U.S. citizens:
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?
Yes. The Global Community Liaison Office assists U.S. Department of State foreign-born spouses eligible for expeditious naturalization under Section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This act exempts 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 more details on the application process, visit GCLO’s Expeditious Naturalization page and read GCLO’s Guidelines for Expeditious Naturalization.
Q: How long does the expeditious naturalization process take?
A: The process on average takes six to eight months.
Q: Why is this process called “expeditious?” The applicant still has to wait on average seven months and the procedure is cumbersome.
A: The term “expeditious” refers to the fact that an applicant under Section 319(b) does not have to meet residency requirements in order to be eligible to apply for naturalization. Many foreign-born spouses have never lived in the United States and, because of overseas assignments, may have difficulty meeting the continuous three-year residency requirement normally required for applicants married to U.S. citizens.
Q: Can my foreign national mother-in-law (or other relative) get assistance to be naturalized through GCLO? She will be at post with us.
A: No. Only spouses qualify for expeditious naturalization under Section 319(b).
Q: My wife who qualifies for expeditious naturalization has two children, age 11 and 16. Can they also apply?
A: Under INA 320, children who have not yet reached their 18th birthday will automatically become U.S. citizens when their biological parent naturalizes. Children must be residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of their U.S. citizen parent pursuant to a legal admission for permanent residence*. If the U.S. citizen direct-hire employee adopts their spouse’s children, the children 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 their legal custody and had resided with them for at least two years; and (c) were in their legal and physical custody in the United States as lawful permanent resident aliens.
*Under the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act, this requirement is deemed satisfied if the child who is residing in the legal and physical custody of a citizen parent is:
- stationed and residing abroad as an employee of the Government of the United States; or
- residing abroad in marital union with an employee of the Government of the United States who is stationed abroad.
Q: My spouse applied for regular naturalization. Can GCLO assist with expediting the case and scheduling the interview?
A: GCLO is unable to expedite any case. All applicants can request an expedite of their case directly with USCIS. Additionally, cases filed as regular naturalization follow different processes than 319(b) cases. Please go to USCIS’s website for case status updates and email GCLOAskNaturalization@state.gov if you have any questions.
Q: Can GCLO assist with the green card process?
A: No, GCLO does not assist with the process of obtaining a green card, also known as a permanent resident card. Information about the process can be found on the USCIS Green Card webpage.
Although most people applying for a green card file their I-130 petitions on behalf of immediate relatives directly with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), U.S government and military employees assigned overseas may be eligible to file their petitions locally with consular sections at the U.S. embassy or consulate. Local filing of clearly approvable petitions is designed to facilitate and expedite processing of cases abroad. Employees interested in this process can check directly with their consular sections at post. Note that the decision to accept the filing rests solely with the Department of State or USCIS, as outlined in 9 FAM 504.2-4(B)(1)(d).
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’s expense?
A: All foreign safe haven 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 safe haven?
A: Benefits are available only if the safe haven 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 (Continental United States) rate or local per diem, whichever 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 safe haven.
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: Generally, yes. 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 GCLO’s Employment Team, the Community Liaison Coordinator or HR Officer at post.
Q: Will the Department of State assist my non-U.S. Citizen spouse in securing the required visa in their passport prior to assignment?
A: Consular Affair’s Special Issuance Agency (SIA) assists non-U.S. citizen family members of Foreign Service personnel who are on assignment or preparing for assignment abroad. Spouses can apply either together with the direct-hire employee or separately but should ensure they have a copy of the travel orders and the employee’s passport and visa pages if applying separately. They should also provide SIA with current contact information for the employee and a copy of a valid marriage license if using a different last name than their spouse. SIA will forward the application(s) to the foreign embassies for processing. Please contact the Special Issuance Agency, located at SA-17A, South Entrance, 600 19th Street N.W, Washington, DC, for visa services at CA-PPT-SIA-VISA-UNIT@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 Global Community Liaison Office serves all employees and family members. Additionally, the (AAFSW), a membership-based and accredited 501(c)(3) association and Department of State employee 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.”