Unpacking American Samoa’s Status: Are They U.S. Citizens?

Ever wondered about the status of American Samoa’s residents? It’s a common question, given the unique political relationship between American Samoa and the United States. You might be surprised to learn that the citizenship status of those born in American Samoa isn’t as straightforward as it is for other US territories.

Unlike residents of other US territories, people born in American Samoa are not automatically granted US citizenship at birth. Instead, they’re considered US nationals. This distinction might seem minor, but it has significant implications that often lead to confusion and debate. So, let’s dive in and untangle this complex issue together.

Key Takeaways

  • Unlike residents of other US territories, individuals born in American Samoa are not automatically granted US citizenship, but are considered US nationals. This unique policy makes American Samoa vastly different from other U.S. territories.
  • The difference between U.S. nationality and U.S. citizenship significantly impacts the rights and privileges granted. While U.S. nationals born in American Samoa owe allegiance to the U.S, they lack certain rights and privileges, such as voting in federal elections, running for certain public offices, or getting protection in foreign countries.
  • American Samoa’s unique citizenship status was rooted in its colonial history and its geopolitical importance to the United States in the early 20th century.
  • The status of being a U.S. national for a person from American Samoa carries several implications, most notably being barred from voting in federal elections, ineligible for certain federal jobs, and inability to serve on a jury at federal level.
  • The growing trend of legal actions challenging the constitutionality of laws denying American Samoans U.S. citizenship at birth highlights the discontent among American Samoans and their effort to seek equal rights as U.S. citizens.
  • There has been an increasing trend of American Samoans pursuing U.S. citizenship, driven by the desire for unobstructed civil liberties that come with U.S. citizenship.

American Samoa’s unique political status raises questions about the citizenship and rights of its inhabitants. The Atlantic examines the historical and legal background of American Samoa’s relationship with the United States, shedding light on why its residents are U.S. nationals, not citizens. Legislative developments and court rulings affecting American Samoa’s status are detailed on CNN, including recent challenges and debates. Additionally, Pacific Islands Report offers updates and news on the ongoing discussions about the future of American Samoan citizenship and self-determination.

Overview of American Samoa

Plunge into the heart of the Pacific Ocean and you’ll find American Samoa. This unincorporated and unorganized U.S. territory brims with unique customs, traditions, and different citizenship rules compared to most other U.S territories.

Situated halfway between Hawaii and New Zealand, American Samoa consists of five volcanic islands and two coral atolls. It’s bursting with distinctive Polynesian culture and pristine beauty, drawing people from around the globe.

American Samoa’s citizenship policies immensely stand out from other U.S. territories. Unlike Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where birthright citizenship is the norm, people born in American Samoa are classified as U.S. nationals, not U.S. citizens.

You might be wondering why American Samoa’s citizenship rules are different. An element lies in their colonial history, but also, some of the special legal aspects that surround territories of the United States. These unique aspects lead to various implications, sparking ongoing debates and court challenges about citizenship entitlement.

From becoming a U.S. territory in 1900 to the current citizenship debates, the political aspect of American Samoa is as tumultuous as it is intriguing. It’s fascinating to look at how these unique set of laws impact the lives of American Samoans, ranging from voting rights to international travel privileges.

It’s evident that the subject of American Samoa’s citizenship is layered and complex, just like the rich, multicultural fabric that makes up its vibrant community.

US Nationality vs. US Citizenship

Diving deeper into this debate, it’s important for you to understand the difference between U.S. nationality and U.S. citizenship. Nationality is a status that signifies the country to which you pledge political allegiance. In contrast, citizenship refers not only to your allegiance but also extends specific rights, privileges, and protections.

As a U.S. national born in American Samoa, you owe allegiance to the U.S. However, unlike U.S. citizens, you lack specific rights and privileges. Such distinctions include:

  • Right to vote in federal elections
  • Right to run for certain public offices
  • Protection when you’re in foreign countries

Conversely, U.S. citizens, regardless of their birthplace, enjoy all these rights and privileges. Your locale doesn’t diminish your rights as a U.S. citizen. However, American Samoans born in the territory don’t automatically get U.S. citizenship and must go through a naturalization process to get these privileges.

Delving into the figures, the number of American Samoans granted U.S. citizenship each year is considerable.

YearNumber of Naturalizations

This upward trend leads us to ponder the implications, examining why individuals are making this commitment and exploring the driving factors behind their decisions to transition from U.S. nationality to U.S. citizenship.

Historical Background

As we dive into the past, it’s crucial to note American Samoa’s unique status. The seeds of this situation were sown back in the early 20th century. Western nations including America treated the Pacific as a strategically important region, and the islands became pawns in this geopolitical game.

Among these, American Samoa stood out for its location and harbor. In 1900, the chiefs of Tutuila, an island in American Samoa, ceded their land to the U.S. This was followed by the Manu’a islands’ inclusion in 1904. The Deed of Cession, as it’s known, established American Samoa as a U.S. Territory.

U.S. federal law applies in American Samoa, with some exceptions due to local customs or cultural differences. However, something was missing – U.S. citizenship wasn’t granted automatically to those born in American Samoa. Instead, these individuals were labeled as U.S. nationals.

You might ask, “What’s the difference between U.S. citizens and nationals?” Well, U.S. nationals have almost all the same rights as citizens, but with a few crucial differences. Let’s take a brief look:

  • U.S. Citizens can vote in federal elections; U.S. Nationals cannot.
  • U.S. Citizens can hold certain federal jobs; U.S. Nationals are often ineligible.

This lack of certain rights has sparked debates and lawsuits over the years, with American Samoans seeking equal rights as U.S. citizens. The trend of American Samoans seeking U.S. citizenship has risen in recent years. As the next part of our article, we’ll explore the reasons and implications of this shift towards U.S. citizenship.

Implications of US Nationality

The status of U.S. nationality allows American Samoans to work, study, and reside anywhere in the United States without needing a visa. They may also apply, at their discretion, for U.S. citizenship through naturalization. However, this doesn’t efface the fact that there remain considerable hurdles to the full enjoyment of civil liberties that U.S. citizens take for granted.

  • American Samoans, being U.S. nationals, are disenfranchised from voting in federal elections. Such an impediment is reflective not just on an individual’s right to vote, but also on a collective basis which could alter the trajectory of political outcomes.
  • They’re also barred from holding certain federal jobs. This limitation could diminish job opportunities and potentially impact socioeconomic conditions for many American Samoans.
  • The third argument that necessitates consideration is that of jury service. U.S. nationals cannot serve on a jury at the federal level. This is being interpreted as a disadvantage as they are being deprived of participating in an essential part of our criminal justice system.

Sprouting from these barriers, American Samoans’ advocacy for equal rights has been gaining momentum. In recent years, there’s been an increase in legal actions challenging the constitutionality of laws that deny American Samoans U.S. citizenship at birth.

Additionally, there’s been a marked trend of American Samoans pursuing U.S. citizenship. While the reasons behind this shift are multifaceted, one of the key drivers is the search for unobstructed civil liberties that come with U.S. citizenship.

As we continue to explore American Samoa’s unique status under U.S. law, it’s important to note the implications such distinctions instigate. The plight of American Samoans isn’t isolated but echoes the global debate around nationality, citizenship, and the rights of indigenous peoples.


So, you’ve seen the complexities of American Samoa’s status under U.S. law. The limitations faced by American Samoans as U.S. nationals are real. They can’t vote in federal elections, hold certain federal jobs, or serve on federal juries. This has sparked a fight for equal rights and legal challenges. More and more American Samoans are seeking U.S. citizenship, craving the full range of civil liberties. This situation is part of a larger global conversation about nationality, citizenship, and the rights of indigenous peoples. It’s essential to grasp the unique position of American Samoa to fully understand these broader debates.

What are the limitations of being a U.S. national for American Samoans?

American Samoans, classified as U.S. nationals, face certain restrictions. These include not being able to vote in federal elections, not having eligibility for certain federal jobs, and not being able to serve on federal juries.

What has prompted advocacy for equal rights for American Samoans?

The aforementioned restrictions for American Samoans have prompted advocacy for equal rights and legal challenges to laws that deny American Samoans U.S. citizenship at birth.

Is the trend of American Samoans pursuing U.S. citizenship increasing?

Yes, the trend of American Samoans pursuing U.S. citizenship has been on the rise, predominantly driven by their desire for unobstructed civil liberties.

Does American Samoa’s status affect the global debate on nationality, citizenship, and indigenous people’s rights?

Yes, American Samoa’s unique status under U.S. law underscores the significance of understanding the broader global debate on nationality, citizenship, and indigenous peoples’ rights.