Non-Citizen definition

A non-citizen is a person who has an allegiance or is protected by a state or government, without possessing the full rights of that state’s citizenship.

In the United States this applies to those who hold US nationality but not US citizenship, as defined under Section 308 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

It’s important to fully understand non-citizen rights if you wish to travel to the United States or live there as an eligible non-citizen national.

We explore below what this status means, who it applies for and how to prove non-citizen nationality.

Who is Classified as a Non Citizen US National?

Non-citizen national status applies to people who are born in a US territory or protectorate but who have not received US citizenship.

This is the case for people born in offshore US territories such as:

  • American Samoa
  • Swains Island
  • Northern Mariana Islands

In these cases, residents of these territories may hold US passports. However, these are not considered to be proof of citizenship on their own.

What Rights Do Non-Citizen Nationals Have?

Non-citizen nationals have the right to many of the same privileges as US citizens, although not all of them.

For example, non-citizens may:

  • Enter the US freely
  • Obtain US passports
  • Work in the US
  • Reside in the US

However, on the other hand, non-citizen US nationals may not:

  • Vote in federal elections

Can Non-Citizens Obtain US Citizenship?

Non-citizens may acquire full citizenship relatively easily via naturalization.

Unlike foreign nationals who naturalize, US nationals already have the right to reside and work in the US, making this process less bureaucratic and simpler to manage.

In order to become a naturalized citizen, nationals must:

  • Be over 18 years old
  • Have 5 years of continuous residence in the USA
  • Be physically present in the US for at least 30 months over a period of 5 years
  • Pass an English language and civics test
  • Be able to demonstrate good moral character

How to Prove Non-Citizen US Nationality

US nationals may prove their nationality via certificates of non-citizen nationality (also known as certificates of nationality) and their possession of a US national passport.

This differs from US citizenship evidence, which is proven by possession of one of the following documents: