From About.com,

Are you a U.S. citizen?

Every interview I have had has asked this. Even pre-interview screening includes this question. Is it really illegal for them to ask this?

Note: Not really permissible on this site, but what would a good reply to such a question be if asked during an interview and you know that "the wrong answer" means no continuation interview?

To the people who are not in the job-search mode. The typical question asked are verbatim,

"Do you have the legal right to work in the US?" — which I believe is legal.

"Do you now or in the future require a work visa to continue to work" — which is a round-about way to ask about citizenship because non-citizens are the only ones who need the work visa.

CLARIFICATION: Since people are misunderstanding my use of CITIZEN. I am referring to any individual who has the same employment rights as a citizen as a citizen, this includes people who are PR's(green card) or citizens, or hold permanent authorization to work in the US (O-1 etc).

  • 4
    I would have thought it would be a pre-requisite. In the UK if an employer employs somebody who is not legal to work in the country they are opening themselves up to prosecution. Is there something similar in the US? If so I would assume that this would be required to find out if the employer needs to get a copy of the visa to prove that they are legally employing somebody.
    – Ardesco
    Jun 7, 2011 at 9:25
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    The actual legal question is "Do you have the legal right to work in the U.S?" This is all they should care about most of the time, not citizenship.
    – luvieere
    Jun 7, 2011 at 9:30
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    Actually, the correct legal question is "Do you have the legal right to work in the U.S. for any employer?" Some companies don't do H1-B, and companies are not required to. This question is a way of asking whether you're either a citizen or a permanent resident without asking which, specifically, you are.
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 8, 2011 at 0:05
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    Also, the H1-B program (if that's what you are, @picakhu) has specific requirements; for instance, the employer must ensure that the H1-B worker doesn't displace American workers. Many employers are not willing to sponsor H1-B's. What they're trying to ask is whether you require sponsorship or not. You can call this discrimination if you like, but it's discrimination against your legal status, not your national origin or ethnicity. A permanent resident of your same national origin or ethnicity might be hired by the same employer.
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 8, 2011 at 19:12
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    Please don't use the word citizen to mean something it doesn't mean. A citizen and a permanent resident are not the same thing, and neither of them is the same as a temporary resident.
    – Kyralessa
    Jun 8, 2011 at 19:13

2 Answers 2


It is illegal to discriminate based on national origin, which a question about citizenship is an obvious potential proxy for. That said, Form I-9 is used to determine the eligibility of a person to work in the US, and allows a person to assert US citizenship. This is really the only context in which this question should ever be asked. Also, for companies large enough to have an HR department, Form I-9 generally ought not go anywhere but HR -- the people actually making the hiring decision should not be asking the question or seeing the answer.

Note that permanent residents are not US citizens, but are allowed to remain indefinitely and work without restriction (sans some government-related jobs), so "Are you a U.S. citizen?" is NOT an appropriate proxy for "Will we have to sponsor a visa?".

The question "Will we have to sponsor a visa?" is probably itself inadvisable. Form I-9 even specifically states:

ANTI-DISCRIMINATION NOTICE: It is illegal to discriminate against work-authorized individuals. Employers CANNOT specify which documents they will accept from an employee. The refusal to hire an individual because the documents have a future expiration date may also constitute illegal discrimination.

Finally, it's not that specific questions are "illegal" per se, but that they create an perception -- accurate or not -- that discrimination is occurring, and can be used as strong evidence of such in lawsuits and regulatory actions.

UCIS also has an Employer Handbook regarding Form I-9 that may be interesting.

  • 1
    @picakhu - I'd try answering the question which they should have asked: "Are you a citizen?" - "I have a legal right to work. (nod)"
    – ChrisW
    Jun 7, 2011 at 12:06
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    @picakhu: Remember that there are multiple ways of working legally in the US, such as being a citizen, being a permanent resident, having an employer-specific work visa, having an unrestricted work visa, some classes of refugees and non-deportable persons, etc.. Employers don't have to help you get a legal right to work in the US, but if you already have a general right to work in the US, they cannot decline to hire you because you're not a citizen. Jun 7, 2011 at 12:39
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    @Nicholas, From personal experience of mine and the others I know who have applied, everyone(who I know) has been rejected if they reveal they are not permanently authorized to work in the US. Some have made it into final round, been offered the job, then rejected on this basis.
    – picakhu
    Jun 7, 2011 at 13:01
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    @picakhu: You should really contact an attorney and/or file EEOC complaints, then. These companies are likely violating the law. I have never seen any indication that it's permitted to reject someone whose authorization is temporary, and all my specific research turns up attorneys and government agencies telling employers they can't. Jun 7, 2011 at 13:06
  • 4
    if the company does work which requires US citizenship (like many jobs for the military which require security clearances that non-citizens can't hold) it's only natural they don't want non-citizens to pass the selection process. And as many companies hold or want to hold military contracts (even secondary, supplying a company that supplies the military can require this) many companies are wary of non-citizens.
    – jwenting
    Jun 8, 2011 at 13:35

In the US Employment is considered At Will. Employers have the right to choose who they hire. It is not illegal to ask a question. It is not Illegal for you to decline to answer a question. Asking certian questions opens your company up for a complaint to the EEOC. The employer may have to pay a penalty and perhaps damages to you but they will not be forced to provide you with employment.

  • What is unfair?
    – Chad
    Jun 7, 2011 at 18:02
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    In addition to the lack of solid references, there are a couple of misleading points here. For instance, employment rules vary state to state. Most states allow more restrictive contracts (which indeed many unions negotiate) which can have more restrictive rules for when an employee can be hired or fired without consequence. Jun 7, 2011 at 18:47
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    Warning: Non-lawyer here. Lots, perhaps most, of US states have at-will employment, but I don't know that all do. Nor is it completely at-will, as there are illegal reasons for refusing to hire somebody, or for denying them promotion, or terminating them. Moreover, there are potential costs for terminating somebody's employment without good cause. It's complicated. Jun 8, 2011 at 2:39
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    @Chad: Quite the contrary, collective bargaining agreements frequently do have quite a lot to say about the hiring process, though it can't enable discrimination based on suspect classifications. Jun 8, 2011 at 2:54
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    @Kit @David: At-will is the common-law presumption in the US court system, but can be overridden by contract and most states have various public policy exceptions, including some that stop not far short of effectively eliminating the presumption, or at least creating a significantly altered presumption. Chad's answer is flawed IMO, but his Wikipedia link (on At Will) is highly instructive on the subject (read with the usual caution applicable Wikipedia, of course). Jun 8, 2011 at 2:58

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