This article is an overview of the different ways that the law can consider an individual a citizen of the United States through the citizenship status of their parents.
U.S. citizenship by birth or through parents comes in different forms that you may not be aware of. If you were born in the States, were born to U.S. citizen parents or if you became a naturalized US citizen after completing an application and exam, you certainly have citizenship.
However, some people became US citizens automatically, even though they were born outside the United States. For example, if you have immediate ancestors who were citizens of the United States or even if your parents became a US citizen when you were a minor (before your 18th birthday), these are circumstances in which you would lawfully be a citizen of the United States by deriving your citizenship through your parents.
This article is an explanation of who may acquire US citizenship or derive citizenship through their parents’ naturalization or citizenship status along with the laws that govern citizenship status.
US citizenship can be obtained in one of four different ways
- Birth in the United States or one of its territories (Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Marianna Islands and Guam) As long as one parent was physically in America
- “Acquisition” of citizenship through birth to a US citizen parent (rules changed over the years and you would need to look at the rules active at the time of you and your U.S. citizen parent’s birth).
Was your father an American soldier that fell in the with your mother overseas? Did your U.S. citizen mother give birth to you in another country? If that is the case, since your mother or father or both are American citizens, most likely you are a U.S. citizen too.
- Naturalization by getting citizenship after an application and exam. You can apply for citizenship and take an exam to become a citizen if you are a legal permanent resident and satisfy all the required elements.
- “Derivation” of citizenship through naturalization of parents
You may be a US citizen and not even know it. For example, if your parents became naturalized US citizens and you were a minor (under 18 years old) in the United States with a green card, you automatically became a citizen right along with them. Another way you could be a US citizen is if your grandparents were U.S. citizens. Citizenship gets passed down the line even if your grandparents haven’t lived in the US for a long time.
As long as your grandparents lived in the United States the required periods of times and your parents did the same, you are a US citizen. Finally, people born in the US that have lived most of their lives out of the country may mistakenly believe that being out of the US for so long takes their U.S. citizenship away. This is not the case.
Anyone born with U.S. citizenship or acquired it through one the ways mentioned above will remain a citizen for life unless they purposefully give it up by filing an oath of renunciation.
Look to the laws to see if you’re a citizen
The laws governing whether or not a child born outside of the US is a citizen have changed several times, so you will need to check the date the child was born in conjunction with the laws of that time. The laws are as follows:
- Prior to May 24, 1934
- May 25, 1934 to January 12, 1941
- January 13, 1941 to December 23, 1952
- December 24, 1952 to November 13, 1986
- November 14, 1986 to present
- Proving Your US Citizenship
If you believe that you have US citizenship based on the governing laws, you are going to need documentation such as a passport or other document to prove it.
Adoption of a foreign child and the correct course of action
Adopting a child from a foreign country is an instance when the law can get pretty complex. It takes into account several factors that can best be deciphered by an excellent immigration attorney. In this instance, you should definitely consult with an immigration expert.
When going down the confusing adoption path, your lawyer will be right along side of you making sure that the citizenship of your child will be respected. You should be focused on loving this new addition to your family instead of trying to figure out what the laws are on your own.
Citizenship through parents after 21
If you are over 18 and born outside of the United States, you may claim citizenship from a parent who at the time of your birth was a US citizen. Once you have established a claim, you will qualify for a US passport. If you are over the age of 18, however, you are not eligible for CRBA issuance (consular report of birth abroad). It is important to also file N-600 (certificate of citizenship to make sure you have documentation proving your U.S. citizenship down the line to avoid any problems 50-60 years from now).
In order for an adult applicant to claim US citizenship, the adult must fill all of the following requirements:
- Transmission-The US citizen parent or parents must have been a US citizen at the time of the applicant’s birth as well as sufficient physical presence in the United States to transmit citizenship. The transition requirements depend on the birth of the applicant and the legal relationship between the parents at the time of birth of the applicant.
- Legitimation– The child/applicant must meet the legal requirements pertaining to legitimation. A child born to a female U.S. citizen (and a non-U.S. citizen father) is automatically legitimated. Proof of legitimation is, however, required for a child born to a male U.S. citizen. Persons born to an in-wedlock U.S. citizen father and non-U.S. citizen mother are legitimated by virtue of the marriage. Persons born to an out-of-wedlock U.S. citizen father and non-U.S. citizen mother, and not legitimated by the natural parents’ subsequent marriage can be legitimated by the following procedures:
- While the person is under the age of 18 years old, the father acknowledged paternity of the person in writing under oath or the paternity of the person was established by adjudication of a competent court, and
- Before the applicant reached the age of 18, the father (unless deceased before the applicant’s 18th birthday) agreed in writing and under oath to provide financial support for the applicant until the applicant reaches the age of 18 years old. (NOTE: The father should complete the form “Affidavit of Parentage, Physical Presence and Support” (DS-5507), in conjunction with a CRBA application, to satisfy these requirements.
- Filiation– The applicant must establish a biological and legal relationship with the claimed U.S. citizen parent.
In conclusion, I hope that this article enlightened those of you having questions about becoming a US citizen through your parents’ own naturalization. Of course, some of these laws and conditions may seem a bit overwhelming.
In this case, schedule an appointment with a trusted immigration attorney who can guide you through the whole process of obtaining U.S. citizenship.