I've heard that in the US it is not legal to ask an interviewee about their citizenship. However, in order to get security clearance a candidate must only be a US citizen (if they are dual citizens, they must renounce their foreign citizenship).

Is it legal to ask if an interviewee is a US citizen? Or only legal in circumstances where it's important for the job?

  • So the company shouldn't ask if they are breaking the law by hiring you?
    – user8365
    Aug 18, 2014 at 20:32
  • 1
    @JoeStrazzere That link says they can ask "Whether or not applicant is a U.S. citizen or legally eligible to work in the United States under the Immigration Reform and Control Act." That doesn't imply asking if one is a citizen is legal without asking about the rest of it. Aug 18, 2014 at 23:07
  • There are two very separate questions here a) asking in general if it's legal to ask about citizenship/nationality absent any requirement b) asking about citizenship where it is a prerequisite for security clearance. For a), it is legal to ask "Are you authorized to work in the US?"
    – smci
    Nov 7, 2016 at 10:36

1 Answer 1


A common listing in a job posting or question during a screening for jobs that may require a clearance is something along the lines of "you are authorized to work in the US" and "you must be able to obtain and maintain a security clearance". Those are relevant to the job and also disqualify people for reasons other than citizenship, both of which are safe and legal to inquire about (it's OK to ask about convictions, not about arrests, for example).

Based on my research, there are some questions about citizenship that are allowed and some that are not. In my experience, it's one of the subjects that HR instructs screeners and interviewers to avoid, preferring questions that are sure to be safe and minimize potential problems with the candidates.

In rare cases, non-US citizens can be granted security clearances by the Department of State or given a Limited Access Agreement by the Department of Defense for information classified no higher than Secret. However, there must be evidence to support these requests, such as the inability to on-board a US person in sufficient time or special knowledge/skills.

  • How will a candidate know if he is able to obtain a security clearance unless they get hired, get sponsored for clearance, apply for it, and then wait several months to see if it's granted?
    – Gabe
    Aug 19, 2014 at 13:29
  • @Gabe All US agencies follow the same 13 adjudication guidelines for issuing security clearances. If you're applying to jobs that have a requirement (in this case, for a security clearance), I'd hope that as an applicant, you'd research the requirements to see if you're a fit and self-disqualify. HR would likely examine what they legally could in an interview to disqualify candidates if a clearance was required for the job they were being hired for. Aug 19, 2014 at 13:35

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