A foreign national is a person who is not a citizen of the host country in which he or she is residing or temporarily sojourning. For example, a foreign national in Canada is someone who is neither a Canadian citizen nor a permanent resident of Canada. However, in the European Union, a foreign national is a third country national, i.e. someone who is not a citizen of any of the member states of the European Union.
In the United States
According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security a foreign national is defined simply as "an individual who is a citizen of any country other than the United States." The Brookhaven National Laboratory, under direction from the U.S. Department of Energy, further explains that, from the perspective of the United States, a foreign national is, "A person who was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States, is a citizen of a foreign country, and has not become a naturalized U.S. citizen under U.S. law. This includes Legal Permanent Residents (also known as Permanent Resident Aliens)." This definition presumably also applies to anyone who has successfully renounced his or her U.S. citizenship.
However, the precise definition of "foreign national" depends on the context. For example, contrary to the above, 2 U.S.C. § 441e, which prohibits foreign nationals from making political contributions, defines "foreign national" to exclude Legal Permanent Residents.
The term "foreign national" came into usage when the previously used term "foreigner" developed negative connotations. They are synonyms.
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