What’s the Difference Between a U.S. National and a U.S. Citizen?

U.S. citizens are also considered to be U.S. nationals. U.S. law defines a national as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” Since U.S. citizens owe allegiance to the U.S., they are both U.S. citizens and U.S. nationals. However, it’s possible to be a U.S. national but NOT a U.S. citizen.

People who were born in American Samoa and Swains Island are U.S. nationals. These places are known as outlying possessions of the United States. They don’t have the same rights as U.S. states but are under the protection of the U.S. government. People who were born in either of these places are U.S. nationals but not a U.S. citizens (unless they became a U.S. citizen in some other way). People who were born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands might also be U.S. nationals but not U.S. citizens.

You might also be a U.S. national but not a U.S. citizen if both of your parents were born in American Samoa or Swains Island and they lived in the U.S. before you were born. You wouldn’t need to have been born in American Samoa or Swains Island to be a U.S. national. In some cases, you might qualify to be considered a U.S. national even if only one of your parents was born in American Samoa or Swains Island and lived in the U.S. However, that parent would have to meet certain residency requirements.

Nationals who aren’t U.S. citizens can apply for a U.S. passport. They have the right to protection by consular offices when they are traveling abroad. They are also allowed to travel and live in the U.S. However, nationals don’t qualify for many other benefits of U.S. citizenship, such as the right to vote in U.S. elections or apply for jobs that require U.S. citizenship.

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