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Navigating Election Season as Non-US Citizen

Sami Villaca
Client Services Associate

The U.S. Presidential election is fast approaching. As immigration remains at the forefront of both candidates’ platforms, many international employees may feel inclined to more actively engage with ongoing campaigns. At Bridge, we believe in equipping international employees to exercise their rights in supporting causes they are passionate about and voicing their opinions on political matters that may directly affect them in the U.S. and we’re extending resources and information for international employees to remain compliant with their visa rules and regulations during the election season.

All individuals residing in the U.S., regardless of citizenship status, maintain constitutional rights, such as freedom of speech and assembly. Non-citizens do not, however, have the right to vote on any federal elections. This prohibition is rather broad, and according to the Federal Elections Commission (FEC), extends to the following activities:

  • Making any contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or making any expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement in connection with any federal, state or local election in the United States;
  • Making any contribution or donation to any committee or organization of any national, state, district, or local political party (including donations to a party non federal account or office building account);
  • Making any disbursement for an electioneering communication;
  • Making any donation to a presidential inaugural committee.

In addition to being unauthorized to vote, non-citizens are also limited in their permitted involvement in election-related activities, being prohibited by FEC regulations from “directing, dictating, controlling, or directly or indirectly participating in the decision-making process of any person (such as a corporation, labor organization, political committee, or political organization) with regard to any election-related activities.

A small exception applies to lawful permanent residents (aka green card holders), who are also unauthorized to vote, but are not prohibited from making contributions or donations in connection with federal, state, or local elections.

Non-citizens who knowingly and willfully register to vote, cast a ballot, and/or engage in unauthorized election-related activities may be subject to FEC enforcement action, criminal prosecution, or both. Criminal charges and proceedings incurred due to unlawful engagement in federal, state, or local elections can pose serious challenges to obtaining a green card and U.S. citizenship in the future. 

Recommendations

Despite being limited in their permitted participation in election-related activities, international employees can still generally volunteer personal services to a federal candidate or political committee, save from making contributions or donations, and as long as the services performed are not compensated. 

In navigating this election cycle, it’s important for international employees to be aware of the limitations of their noncitizen status and refrain from voting and from unauthorized participation in election-related activities. That being said, pursuant to the constitutional right to free speech awarded to all individuals residing in the U.S., international employees are afforded the freedom to express their political opinions about matters addressed in election campaigns, including the candidates’ platforms, positions, and proposed policies.

Content in this publication is not intended as legal advice, nor should it be relied on as such. For additional information on the issues discussed, consult a Bridge-affiliated partner attorney or another qualified legal professional.

Source: https://www.fec.gov/updates/foreign-nationals/

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