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The US Air Force didn’t know about confusing citizenship policy change

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At least one branch of the US military was reportedly caught unaware of Wednesday’s policy change from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services regarding children born to certain US military members or government employees born abroad.

Significant confusion around the policy change, which USCIS dropped without warning on August 28, continued — including among the Air Force.

It’s likely that only a very small number of people — roughly 100 per year — would be affected by the policy change, CNN reported Wednesday, citing an unnamed Defense Department official. The network reported that the rule will mostly only affect the children of naturalized Americans who have not lived in the US for the required amount of time.

Air Force Magazine editor Rachel Cohen tweeted Wednesday that an Air Force source told her, “We are just learning of this change, so don’t have any information right away about how this impacts our Airmen.”

Insider’s request for comment from the Army and the Navy were referred to the Office of the Secretary of Defense; multiple calls to the Office of the Secretary of Defense on the matter were not returned by publication time.

The policy change was handed down abruptly, but in tandem with other striking changes to immigration policy, including a policy protecting migrants receiving medical care in the US.

In this Aug. 12, 2019, file photo, Acting Director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli, speaks during a briefing at the White House, in Washington.
Associated Press

According to USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli, the memo signified little change in actual policy. But the opaque language and lack of clarity surrounding which service members and government employees would be affected — and in what contexts — was palpable Wednesday evening.

USCIS issued further guidance on the policy change Wednesday evening, clarifying that the policy change may apply to children who:

  • Were born to non-US citizens either in or outside the US and adopted after birth.
  • Were born to non-US citizens like lawful permanent residents who are members of the military or a government employee and became naturalized citizens after the child was born.
  • US citizens who are government employees or service members but who don’t meet the requirements of physical presence or residence that the policy change outlines.

But even under the new guidance, that would indicate that some children born to two US citizens serving abroad in some capacity might not obtain citizenship at birth. “If you were a US citizen when you gave birth to your child while outside the United States on military orders, your child is most likely a US citizen. As long as you met certain physical presence or residence requirements before your child’s birth, this policy update does not affect you,” the updated guidance states.

The new policy is set to take effect October 29, 2019.

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