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Naturalization and Citizenship

FAQ: Expeditious Naturalization for Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad

This FAQ gives quick answers to common questions about expeditious naturalization under section 319(b) for spouses of U.S. citizens employed abroad. For more detailed information, see Expeditious Naturalization under Section 319(b) for Spouses of U.S. Citizens Employed Abroad.

Can you get citizenship while living abroad?

Normally, living abroad is a barrier to qualifying for naturalization. It may prevent you from meeting the continuous residence, physical presence, and state residence requirements. See Can a Green Card Holder Who’s Been Overseas for 6 Months Apply for Naturalization? But expeditious naturalization may still be an option if you qualify.

What is expeditious naturalization under section 319(b)?

Section 319(b) of the Immigration and Nationality Act states provides benefits to certain persons whose spouse are a U.S. citizen employed abroad for the U.S. government, an American institution of research, an American firm or corporation engaged in development of U.S. foreign trade and commerce or its subsidiary, a public international organization, or a priest, minster, or missionary.

What are the main benefits of expeditious naturalization under section 319(b)?

The main benefit of expeditious naturalization is that the applicant is exempt from the normal naturalization 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.
So for couples living abroad, it is possible to apply for LPR status and then expeditious naturalization all without living in the United States.
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.

What is an American firm or corporation for purposes of expeditious naturalization?

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.

What does it mean for an American firm or corporation to be engaged in U.S. “foreign trade or 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.

The statute requires the U.S. citizen to be “regularly stationed abroad.” What does that mean?

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 citizen have been employed by the company in the U.S. or be transferred abroad by the company. The citizen may a “local hire” abroad rather than be an “expat” hire. It is irrelevant whether undertaking the employment was the reason for moving or staying abroad.
Further, arguably 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 statute and 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.”
The regulations require a person whose application is pending to notify USCIS of “any delay or cancellation of the citizen spouse’s assignment abroad.” Termination of the employment before naturalization is granted would require denial of the naturalization application.
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.

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