There are basically two ways that a child (under the age of 18) can automatically become a US citizen at birth. It is well known that a child born on US soil automatically becomes a US citizen. However, a child born outside of the United States may also acquire United States citizenship at birth through a parent with United States citizenship. This is called acquiring citizenship for children.
A child born outside the United States generally receives U.S. citizenship at birth if that child has at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen and the parent of a U.S. citizen prior to the person’s birth has certain residence or attendance requirements in the USA met. For the purposes of this article, the United States includes the 50 states and territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guams, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
The laws on acquiring citizenship at birth have changed frequently over the years. The Congress made changes in 1934, 1940, 1952, 1978, 1986 and 1994. It is therefore very important to determine when a child was born and what citizenship law was in force at that time. This is a very complex area of immigration law and this article contains general guidelines. Consult an experienced immigration attorney before determining if these laws apply to your situation.
Current U.S. Citizenship Requirements
In general, a person born outside of the United States may acquire citizenship at birth if that person has at least one parent who is a US citizen and a parent of a U.S. citizen prior to the person’s birth has certain residence or presence requirements in the United States Fulfills. For children born on or after November 14, 1986, there is an overview of the law:
Child born in marriage
- Child with two parents of US citizenship
At least one parent must have lived in the United States at some point before the child was born.
- Child with a U.S. parent and a U.S. national parent
A parent of a U.S. citizen must have been physically present in the U.S. at least one year before the child was born.
- Child with one parent of a US citizen and one parent of a foreign citizen
A U.S. citizen’s parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 5 years, including at least 2 years after the age of 14. Time abroad is considered a physical presence in the United States if the time abroad as a member of the U.S. Armed Forces had an honorable status. under the employment of the United States government or other qualified organizations; or as a dependent unmarried son or daughter of such persons.
Child born out of wedlock
- Child born out of wedlock to a US citizen
The U.S. citizen’s mother must have been physically present in the United States for one year before the child is born.
- Child born out of wedlock to a father of a US citizen
The child is a citizen, though all of the following conditions are met:
- A blood relationship between the child and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence;
- The child’s father was a US citizen at the time the child was born.
- The child’s father (if not deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support to the child until the child is 18 years old. and
- Before the child turns 18, one of the following criteria is met: (A) The child is legitimate under the law of his or her place of residence; (B) The father acknowledges the child’s fatherhood in writing and under oath; or (C) the child’s paternity is determined by decision of a competent court.
Acquired US citizenship for adopted children
The US Child Citizenship Act of 2000 significantly improved US citizenship rights for children who meet the definition of an adopted child under immigration laws. As of February 27, 2001, adopted children can become citizens of their US parents if they meet certain requirements. To acquire citizenship, the child must:
- Have at least one parent who is a US citizen;
- Be under 18;
- You must be legally and physically custody of a U.S. citizen’s parent in the United States on a permanent basis. and
- Be a legal permanent residence in the United States.
When the adoption is completed abroad, the child receives an IR-3 visa and automatically receives US citizenship on the day they enter the United States. Children who enter the United States on an IR-3 visa will receive a citizenship certificate within 45 days of entering the United States.
If the adoption has not been completed abroad, the child will receive an IR-4 visa and will have to undergo a “read option” procedure upon arrival in the United States. The child will be granted US citizenship at the time of re-election.
The Child Citizenship Act is not a retroactive law. Therefore, a child born abroad and adopted by an American parent who was at least 18 years old on February 27, 2001 is not regulated. These individuals must apply for naturalization through naturalization using Form N-400 Naturalization Application.
As you know if you have acquired citizenship
As mentioned earlier, acquiring US citizenship is an extremely complex area of immigration law. Careful analysis by an immigration lawyer may be necessary to determine whether you have acquired citizenship. To determine if you may have acquired citizenship, you need to know the following:
- When and where you were born
Examples of acceptable documents are birth certificates issued by a foreign government. If a parent is not listed on the birth certificate, documents such as medical records, baptismal certificates, school records, blood tests, and affidavits can demonstrate a relationship.
- If one or both parents were US citizens at the time of your birth
Examples of acceptable documents include: Proof: Birth certificate, naturalization certificate, citizenship certificate, or a US passport.
- If your parents were married when you were born
Examples of acceptable documents are a marriage certificate.
- If your parent with a US citizen meets the aforementioned residence requirements
Examples of acceptable documents include: USCIS immigration records, employer records, military records, school records, social security proceeds, court records, Census Bureau records, and affidavits.
Before you contact an immigration lawyer, you should collect the information. You can save time and money by doing part of the research yourself.
Documentation of citizenship acquisition
If you acquired citizenship automatically through one or both parents, you can prove this status using one of three documents:
- United States passport
- Certificate of nationality
- Consular Birth Report of a United States Citizen Abroad
To receive these documents, you must demonstrate that you meet the legal requirements that were applicable in the year of your birth. An immigration lawyer or accredited representative can help you find and obtain the most appropriate evidence for your case.
Application for citizenship certificate (Form N-600)
It can be very helpful for a child to have proof of their status as a US citizen. Most people apply for a citizenship certificate, but this is not required. To apply for a certificate, submit Form N-600, Application for Citizenship Certificate. If the applicant is a child under the age of 18, the parent or legal guardian of the United States must submit the application.
Generally, applicants must appear in person for an interview with a USCIS official after submitting an application for a citizenship certificate. This includes the parent or legal guardian of a US citizen if the application is made on behalf of a child under the age of 18. However, USCIS generally waives the obligation to conduct a survey if all the documents required to determine the applicant’s eligibility are already included in the USCIS administrative documents or if one of the following documents is attached to the application:
- State Department FS-240 Form (Consular Birth Report of a US Citizen Abroad) What is a Consular Birth Report Abroad?
- The applicant’s unexpired US passport was originally issued for a period of five or ten years
- Certificate of naturalization of the parent or parents of the applicant
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Note to the reader: This post was originally published on December 8, 2015 and has been improved.
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