citizenship vs nationality 

Oftentimes people confuse the difference between citizenship vs. nationality when describing where they come from and their inherited cultural background. When it comes to immigration matters, however, it’s important to understand the difference between the two terms, which are often mistakenly used in place of one another. In this post, we’ll explore not only citizenship vs. nationality but also the difference between nationality vs. ethnicity and the different paths to citizenship in the United States.

Table of Contents

  1. Difference between Citizenship vs. Nationality
  2. Rights of U.S. Nationals
  3. Nationality vs. Ethnicity
  4. Types of Citizenship
  5. The Citizenship Interview
  6. What if I Lost My Naturalization Certificate?
  7. How a Citizenship Lawyer Can Help

Difference between Citizenship vs. Nationality

The word nationality refers to where you are born—a place of birth—whereas citizenship is granted by a government of a country when certain legal requirements are met. In many ways, citizenship can be seen as a political status because it indicates which country recognizes you as a citizen. Nationality has more to do with the relationship between you and your place of birth and can often be seen as ethnic or racially related. Citizenship can fluctuate since you can be a citizen of multiple places simultaneously and can also renounce your citizenship to a country. Nationality, on the other hand, cannot be changed because it’s innate.
In the United States, people born in the country are granted citizenship. The 14th Amendment, ratified on July 9, 1868, states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”  When it comes to the United States, U.S. citizens are considered to be U.S. nationals, but not all U.S. nationals are considered to be U.S. citizens since U.S. law states a national as “a person owing permanent allegiance to a state.” The best example of this is U.S. nationals from American Samoa and the Swains Island, as well as individuals born outside of the United States to two U.S. national parents. Likewise, a person born outside of the U.S. to one U.S. national parent and one alien parent. It’s important to note that U.S. nationals are not permitted to vote in a United States election or hold office.

Rights of U.S. Nationals

Under the law, U.S. nationals are afforded rights in the country. They are as follows:

  • Permitted to work and live anywhere in the United States
  • Eligible to apply for a U.S. passport
  • Eligible to apply for citizenship through naturalization through the same process as permanent residents

In past years, individuals born in Guam (1898-1950), Puerto Rico (1898-1917), the U.S. Virgin Islands (1917-1927), and the Philippines (1898-1946) were considered U.S. nationals, but now those born in those countries—aside from the Philippines—are considered full United States citizens. The Philippines is now considered an independent country, and thus they are not U.S. citizens.

Nationality vs. Ethnicity

Ethnicity and nationality are not the same things. A person’s ethnicity refers to someone’s cultural markers, a common social group that shares things like shared ancestry, religious expression, culture, and/or language. This understanding of ethnicity came about starting in the 1900s. Prior to that, in the 1700s, the word ethnic was used to describe people who were from nations not characterized as Jewish or Christian. Ethnicity also differs from race in that race is based on physical and biological traits like skin color, hair texture, complexion, etc.

Types of Citizenship

There are two categories of citizenship: through birth and through naturalization. According to the Fourteenth Amendment, “all persons born in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens by birth.” There are other ways to gain citizenship through birth, and those include:

  • Being born to a member of an Indian, Eskimo, Aleutian, or other aboriginal tribes
  • Being born outside of the United States with citizen parents whom at least one has resided in the United States or one of its outlying possessions
  • Being born to one parent who is a U.S. citizen and that citizen parent has lived in the United States for at least one year prior to your birth
  • Being born to one parent who is a  U.S. citizen parent and one who is a  U.S. national and the citizen parent was physically in the U.S or one of its outlying possessions for at least one year
  • Being born to one parent who is a U.S. citizen and one parent who is an alien and the citizen parent was physically in the United States for at least five years, including at least two years after the age of 14. Note that time abroad can count as physical time in the United States if the parent was a member of the U.S. armed forces in good standing, employed by the U.S. government or organization abroad, or as a dependent unmarried son or daughter of someone with the aforementioned two scenarios.

There are other situations that may qualify someone for birthright citizenship. For instance, if the mother used Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and surrogacy Abroad. In those cases, if the child has a biological connection to a U.S. citizen parent, then the child can be considered a citizen at birth.
The second form of citizenship is through the naturalization process. The naturalization process requires a number of qualifications before being granted citizenship.
You may qualify for naturalization if you:

  • Have maintained permanent residency within the U.S. and fulfilled all other requirements for eligibility.
  • Are the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has maintained permanent residency within the U.S. and fulfills all other requirements for eligibility.
  • Have served or continue to serve in the U.S. armed forces and fulfill all other requirements for eligibility.

Additionally, your child may qualify for naturalization if you, the parent, are a U.S. citizen, the child was born in a foreign country, the child is presently in a foreign country, and fulfills all other requirements for eligibility.
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) also requires that individuals applying for naturalization are:

  • Minimum of eighteen years of age
  • Residents who have been physically and continuously present in the United States for at least five years at the time of application
  • Of good moral character and merit

If you meet these requirements, then you’ll be required to complete an N-400 application, then attend an interview as well as pass a civics and English test before receiving citizenship. The cost for filing your N-400 is $640 with an additional $85 biometric fee. The check can be made out to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The Citizenship Interview

During the interview, you’ll be asked various questions related to your citizenship eligibility. Some of these questions may include:

  • Where you’ve lived/worked during your time in the U.S.
  • Your status as an LPR (Legal Permanent Resident)
  • Your background, marriage, and history
  • Your moral character
  • Your relationship with the U.S. and its founding principals
  • Whether or not you will take an oath of allegiance to the country

What’s more, during the interview, your proficiency with the English language will also be examined by the USCIS officer to ensure that you can properly assimilate into U.S. society.

What if I Lost My Naturalization Certificate?

If you lost or damaged your naturalization certificate, then you can apply for a new one by filing the N-565 form with USCIS.
If you’re interested in pursuing the naturalization process, it’s advised to get  help from an experienced citizenship lawyer. They’ll be able to best guide you to transition from permanent resident status to full U.S. citizenship.

How a Citizenship Lawyer Can Help

Knowing how to navigate the U.S. citizenship process can be challenging to say the least. Fortunately, there are professionals with the skills and knowledge available to help you down the path. Our team is ready to help you and your family gain citizenship through the proper legal channels.
To get in touch with one of our attorneys, please fill out the contact form.