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Clarification with Respect to Absence from the United States Due to Certain Employment by Chief of Mission or Armed Forces

Floor Speech

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Location: Unknown

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Mr. SMITH of Texas. Mr. Speaker, I yield myself as much time as I may consume.

Mr. Speaker, I support this bill and thank Representative DENT for introducing it.

Many men and women put their lives at risk to serve our nation with the Department of State in U.S. Embassies abroad. They contribute directly to the security of our country.

As we have become aware, conflicts from across the globe affect these employees in countries such as Tunisia, Syria, Egypt, Israel, and most recently, Libya. Our embassies have been attacked. Our flags have been burned. And our ambassador to Libya and three other Americans have been murdered.

Regrettably, service to the United States in our embassies abroad often occurs under dangerous conditions and in threatening environments.

The work of our foreign officers and agents assures us that we are kept safe each and every day. We are fortunate to have men and women willing to sacrifice and serve in the embassies. These individuals often accept posts on the front lines overseas as they serve to defend our freedoms. And for that we are grateful.

To ensure that our nation has the tools and resources it needs, such as linguistic expertise or knowledge of a specific geographic area, legal permanent residents serve the United States in critical capacities in some of the most vulnerable parts of the world.

Unfortunately, their loyalty, dedication and success can come at a price if they intend on naturalizing and becoming a United States citizen.

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, an applicant for naturalization must be a lawfully admitted permanent resident for at least five years, have continuous residence in the U.S. during that time and be physically present in the U.S. for at least half of that five year period.

Continuous residence is the time that the applicant has maintained official residence within the United States. Physical presence is the time the applicant has been actually and physically located in the United States.

A permanent resident may become ineligible to naturalize because they have not been ``physically present and residing in the United States, after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence, for an uninterrupted period of at least one year.''

Any departure from the United States prevents the establishment of ``an uninterrupted period of one year'' after lawful admission for permanent residence.

This means that a legal permanent resident who is serving in our embassies overseas cannot qualify for naturalization.

This bill resolves this issue. It allows legal permanent residents' time in embassies abroad to count towards both the ``continuous residence'' requirement and the ``physical presence'' requirement for naturalization.

This is a common sense change that brings certain national security professionals in our embassies abroad in line with their military counterparts. Military service members' time overseas currently counts towards physical presence.

Like their military colleagues, senior and managerial legal permanent residents who serve in embassies, regardless of duration, are now regarded as being legally physically present in the U.S. during the period they serve the Department of State.

Additionally, under current law, a person who provides translator or interpreter services to the U.S. Armed Forces or the Chief of Mission in Iraq or Afghanistan can count that period of absence from the United States toward the ``continuous residence.'' However, that time does not count towards the one year continuous physical presence requirement for naturalization.

This bill allows people who work in a security-related position in an executive or managerial capacity for the Armed Forces and Chief of Mission to benefit in the same way as people who work as interpreters or translators.

It also permits interpreters and translators who serve the Armed forces or Chief of Mission in places other than Iraq or Afghanistan to receive this benefit.

I again thank Mr. DENT for his work on this bill as it honors the legal permanent residents who serve our nation abroad and facilitates their path to citizenship. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.

I, again, just want to thank the gentleman from Pennsylvania (Mr. Dent) for sponsoring this bill, and I yield him the balance of my time.

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