The term "foreign national" refers to anyone who is not a US citizen or national, and, in the context of US immigration law, it is primarily applied to those who have a presence or residence in the US and are subject to its laws and jurisdiction in a variety of contexts.
Who is Deemed a Foreign National?
Technically speaking, a foreign national is anyone who is not a US citizen or national (a US national refers to any person who owes permanent allegiance to the United States, whether or not they are a US citizen, such as people who were born in American Samoa or Swains Island, and, under certain conditions, individuals who were born outside of the United States to US citizen parents). In the context of immigration law, the term is generally used to apply to:
- DACA recipients (DREAMers). These individuals were brought to the US as children and are present under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides temporary relief from deportation and eligibility to work in the US under certain conditions.
- Refugees and asylees who are unable or unwilling to return to their home country due to persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.
- Workers who enter the US to work for a specific employer under temporary employment-based visas.
- International students who come to the US for academic or vocational studies.
- Nonimmigrant visitors who come to the US temporarily for business, tourism, or medical treatment.
- Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders from certain countries affected by armed conflict, natural disaster, or other extraordinary conditions who are allowed to live and work in the US temporarily.
- U and T visa holders who are victims of certain crimes (U visas) or human trafficking (T visas) who assist law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
- Adjustment of status applicants who are eligible to become lawful permanent residents (green card holders) and may apply to adjust their status while in the US.
- Derivative beneficiaries (certain relatives of principal immigrants, such as spouses and children) who may also be eligible for derivative status, allowing them to accompany or follow-to-join the principal immigrant.
- Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs) (i.e., green card holders) who have been granted permission to live and work in the US permanently may apply for US citizenship after meeting specific requirements.
What US Laws are Foreign Nationals Subject To?
While this list is by no means comprehensive, some of the main laws that foreign nationals must comply with include:
- Immigration Laws: Foreign nationals must adhere to the terms of their visas or other immigration statuses, and report any changes in their circumstances (such as address or employment) to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or other relevant immigration authorities.
- Employment Laws: Foreign nationals are subject to U.S. labor laws, including minimum wage, overtime, and workplace safety laws, and they may also be subject to restrictions on the type of work they can perform depending on their visa status.
- Tax Laws: Foreign nationals may be required to pay U.S. taxes on income earned while in the US, and comply with all federal, state, and local tax laws, including filing tax returns.
- Criminal Laws: Foreign nationals must adhere to all federal, state, and local criminal laws.
- Driving and Transportation Laws: Foreign nationals must comply with state and local driving laws, and may need to obtain a US driver's license or an International Driving Permit.
- Family Laws: Certain US federal and state laws, including those related to marriage, divorce, and child custody, also apply to foreign nationals.
Example: Julian, a German citizen, entered the United States under an E-2 investor visa to start a business. While awaiting his adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), Julian faced several legal obligations. Under his E-2 visa, he was required to maintain his business operations and investments in accordance with the terms of the visa. This meant complying with U.S. immigration laws, such as reporting any changes in his business structure or investment amount to the USCIS.
Additionally, Julian had to comply with US employment laws, ensuring that he paid his employees according to US labor standards and workplace safety regulations. He was also subject to U.S. tax laws, including the requirement to report and pay taxes on income generated from his business activities in the US.