Security clearance terminology is confusing. Let’s start by noting that there isn’t actually any credential called a ‘security clearance.’ The policy term is ‘eligibility to access classified information.’ Which doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, so somebody said, ‘let’s just call them clearances.’ That works about 99% of the time – until you start considering positions of public trust, versus non-sensitive positions, versus eligibility to access classified information.

A ClearanceJobs reader recently asked if they could obtain a public trust as a green card holder. Like many before them (this author included), they had conflated position of public trust with a confidential level security clearance. And while the terms are kissing cousins, those in the know are (very) quick to point out that a position of public trust isn’t a security clearance at all. One easy way to determine if the position is cleared or sensitive is to look at the form you’ve been asked to fill out. An SF-86 is used for all security clearance investigations, including Confidential and Secret clearances that require primarily automated checks, as well as Top Secret security clearances, which involve a more in-depth investigation. An SF-85 or SF-85P is used for non-sensitive and public trust positions. The SF-85P is used specifically for public trust positions.

One criteria for security clearance holders is U.S. citizenship. While path to citizenship doesn’t matter, a green card holder would not be eligible for a security clearance. That’s not the case for a public trust position, however, and there are a number of positions supporting the federal government that are sensitive, but do not require any access in to classified information. For a public trust position, the person needs to be (wait for it) trustworthy – they have access to information like financial data, or to sensitive facilities. But the nature of the work does not require any access to classified information.


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Lindy Kyzer is the editor of She loves the NISPPAC, social media, and the U.S. military. Have a conference, tip, or story idea to share? Email Interested in writing for Learn more here.