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Do you have to be a US Citizen?

Citizenship is a question I get occasionally. What does it mean and is it required to do business with the federal government? Regardless of your political affiliations, the debate over citizenship is well documented and clear in law regarding federal contracting. Today I will focus specifically on the requirements for citizenship with regards to small business certifications. State by state have various requirements and often those requirements mirror federal regulations.


One of the first steps to becoming a certified small business is of course registering to business at all. That means a company must register with the Secretary of State where you are headquartered. Again, each state may have its own requirements and restrictions to satisfy this concern. As mentioned in previous blogs, after some initial filings (IRS, DUNS, state, etc), a company must then go to SAM.gov to receive a CAGE code. The information required to receive a CAGE code may be a challenge for foreign citizens but there is no statutory restriction and in fact many foreign companies are authorized but with higher levels of scrutiny.


Once a CAGE code is established, the company can consider the realm of small business certifications. Both the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) administer their own certifications. For example, the SBA administers the Minority Owned “8(a)” program as well as the Woman Owned Small Business (WOSB) and the Historically Underutilized Business Zone (HUBZone) while the VA handles the Veteran Owned (VOSB) and Service-Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business (SDVOSB) certifications.


The Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) address some level of general requirements in parts 2.101 and 19.001. Generically speaking these refer to socially disadvantaged and economically disadvantaged small businesses as requiring the 51% owner to be a citizen of the United States.


SBA and VA policies are clearer. The SBA holds consistent between both their lending programs and the small business certification programs that either CITIZENS of the United States or GREEN CARD HOLDERS may qualify for small business certifications. Of course, there are other requirements, but that is the citizenship piece. The VA is more restrictive. That is not a VA policy but rather a prerequisite requirement. In order to be considered for the Veteran Owned Small Business…the company must be majority owned by a Veteran. Makes sense. And in order to be a Veteran you must be a citizen. Logically makes sense. Do not worry though because if you dig a little deeper, non-citizens can be members of the military. They must have their permanent resident card, which is also known as the green card.


There you have it. If you are a US Citizen or have your Green Card, you satisfy the citizenship question for small business certifications. These programs were established to grow and benefit small businesses. Use them! Be strategic and understand the commitments you are making before you begin government contracting. It is a complicated world with myriad hoops and red tape, but you can do it!!

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