AARO/AAWE Annual Citizenship Conference 2015
Published: 14 February 2015
Kathleen de Carbuccia, head of the Citizenship Committee, introduced Wendy Ryde, Chief of American Citizen Services, who then introduced the other members of the staff: Lissa Novakova, Chief of Immigrant Visas; Emily Cintora, Senior American Citizens Services Officer; and Hanna Haramo-Defranchi, Senior Federal Benefits staff member. There has been a lot of recent turnover at the US Embassy in Paris; we have a new Consul General and a new Ambassador, Jane Hartley. The American Citizen Services in France is responsible for 150,000 registered Americans residing in France and over 3 million American tourists each year. They were very pleased to announce the excellent turnout of 10,000 participants in the Facebook Q&A on February 4.
Although the audience for this meeting was aimed at a France-based population, most of the information is valid for Americans anywhere in the world. Several websites lead to American Citizen Services: the Embassy; the State Department's Travel and STEP pages; and Students abroad.
For both adult and minor passports, renewal is done by mail. There are clear instructions on how to procede on the Passport page for each country. Procedures may vary according to country.
If your passport is lost or stolen, you will need to make an appointment at the embassy. Again, there are clear instructions on how to procede on the website.
Citizens Born Abroad
Report of Birth Abroad
You can report the birth of an American citizen abroad until the child turns 18. The US residency requirements of the American parent depend on the parent's status, married or not, at the time of birth: 5 years of US residence, of which 2 at least, are after the age of 14, or, for a single American mother, 365 days of continuous residence in the US. Details and the procedure are on the Birth Abroad page.
The report of a birth abroad is not a requirement for citizenship. If the parent meets the US residency qualification, the child is American.
Unqualified for Report of Birth Abroad
If the American parent cannot transmit US citizenship under the conditions of the Report of Birth Abroad, there are two other ways of transmitting citizenship, both of which require applying for citizenship, form N-600. The filing fee is $600 and the process can take from 6 to 12 months.
IR2 - Immigration Visa
This visa, IR2, is for those intending to immigrate to the US with the child. Do not be put off by the references to adoptions, this is also for US parents of natural children who do not fulfill the automatic transmission of citizenship requirements. Lissa Novakova insisted on the immigration aspect of this visa and on the intent to reside in the US. This led to a heated discussion during the Q & A, because when the Child Citizenship law was passed in 2000 and this procedure was introduced, physical presence in the US, even for a short time, was sufficient. Since 2013, the procedure has become more restricted and the audience wanted to know who had decided this and why. There was no clear answer to this. (The subject has been discussed at previous meetings at the State Department during Overseas Americans Week, and will be discussed again this year.)
Naturalization through an American Grandparent
If the American grandparent fulfills the residency requirements for transmission of citizenship, the application for citizenship must be filed. When that process is completed, the child enters the US on a B2 non-immigrant visa for the scheduled appointment at the immigration office to receive the certificate of US citizenship. The child may apply for a US passport immediately after this and should leave the US with the US passport.
Other Frequently Requested Citizen Services
Citizen Services can notarize documents for you. The fee is $50 per seal and signature and you must have an appointment. The list of what documents it can or cannot notarize is on the webpage, as well as the procedure for making an appointment. Specifically, the staff cannot provide a medallion signature guarantee, which is a frequent request of US banks.
24-Hour Duty Officer
There is a 24-hour duty officer at the embassy. Citizen services can help in case of emergency, such as: destitution, arrest, death. It does help if the person is registered in STEP.
The Smart Traveler Enrollment Program is designed to allow you to register with the embassy in your country of residence. You can also register if you are simply traveling to another country, so it is not restricted to citizens residing overseas, nor to a single country. You can also subscribe to alerts concerning the country. In France, for example, they alert you to announced demonstrations.
Non-citizen Immigrant Visas
The Immigrant VisaVisa page leads you to all the different types of visas available based on the type of immigrant. For most US citizens, our inquiries concern our non-American spouses. Lissa did not review all the types of immigrant status, but she did discuss the process.
The first step is to go to the uscis.gov site and, in our case, request the petition for an alien relative I-130. The fee is $420. When this file is complete it is pushed through to the National Visa Center (NVC), which is a third party contractor that verifies that all the content of the file is complete. Once that is verified, it is sent on to the US embassy, where demand is not too heavy and it is fairly quick to get an appointment. The entire process can take 6 to 12 months, however.
Federal Benefits Unit
Hanna Haramo-Defranchi presented the FBU. 95% of their workload involves 16000 Social Security beneficiaries. There are 5 people in the office. They cover France, Monaco, French-speaking Africa, and French and Italian-speaking Switzerland. In addition to Social Security, they handle Veterans Affairs, the Office of Personal Management, and the Railroad Retirement Board.
She recommends inquiring about the application of the totalization agreement before filing for French retirement (CNAV), because even if you only worked a little in the US, you may be eligible for totalization. The unit also issues social security cards.
As mentioned earlier, there were questions about the interpretation of residence in relation to the IR-2 immigration visa for a child. How does the officer, Lissa, in this case, determine "intent" to immigrate? How long is the required residence? The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was designed to simplify transmitting citizenship and was presented as a means of transmitting citizenship in this presentation, but the new interpretation has made it more complicated. Before, the interpretation was that being physically present in the US was sufficient. The only concrete answer to these many questions was that intending to reside at a family member's address is good enough.
For a child going through the naturalization through a grandparent process, he or she must enter the US with a B-2 non-immigrant visa and leave with a US passport. If the immigration service proposes an inconvenient appointment that does not coincide with the projected trip to the US, it is easy to reschedule.
One participant in the audience brought a case to the attention of the others. A child who had received naturalization through the grandparent, and who had received her first passport as a baby and a renewal five years later, was being denied a renewal, now. No reason for refusal has been given. Wendy fielded this question. She could not discuss the details of a personal account, but many in the audience were interested, because many are grandparents who feel their grandchildren might find themselves in the same predicament. Wendy said she does not question the citizenship of people whose passports come to her office for renewal.
A partner or spouse who has a permanent visa (greencard) must not be outside the US for longer than 6 months. There is some (unspecified) tolerance between 6 to 12 months, but long stays outside the country may result in denial of re-entry. One can get a re-entry permit for an absence of up to 2 years, but must request it before leaving.
When requesting an immigrant visa for a spouse or household member, you must file an affidavit of support. If your income is not sufficient, you may add a joint sponsor. If you have assets in lieu of sufficient income, those assets must be 3 times the poverty level. You must submit your US tax returns.
Spouses who do not want an immigrant visa, but who may want to stay in the US longer than the standard 3-month tourist stay, should get a non-immigrant visa for over 3 months. On a tourist visa, a slight overstay is tolerated between 3 to 6 months, but re-entry may be denied if the stay is longer. If the spouse has a non-immigrant visa and finds it is not long enough, an extension is possible.
Why do these services cost so much? Notary, $50/seal/page; high visa fees; high fee for renunciation ($2350, up from $450); passport by mail adds 50% to the cost of the passport. The fees are revised annually and are based on the cost of manpower (having US trained staff on hand, security measures, the country), so check the US embassy website to see what the fee is for the service required.