U.S. Citizenship Through Parents or by Birth
For foreign nationals, there are various paths to becoming citizens of the United States. People often get U.S. citizenship through their parents who are U.S. citizens or through birth in the U.S. This concept is also known as the Child Citizenship Act. This act allows children of U.S. citizens to get citizenship automatically. The same rule applies to adoptive children of U.S. citizens. Adopted children also get the U.S. citizenship of their adoptive parents.
Naturalization is another path to acquiring U.S. citizenship. The U.S. government details this process through the U.S. Constitution and other implementing rules of U.S. agencies. Green card holders or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) can use the naturalization process. An essential part of this process involves satisfying the physical presence requirements in the country. This physical presence must be for a continuous period, either three years or five years, depending on each case.
Furthermore, those who became U.S. citizens through naturalization or their family members are eligible to apply for a U.S. passport. This and their Naturalization Certificate provide proof of their new U.S. citizenship status.
Generally speaking, a person can become a U.S. citizen by parent or by birth in one of three ways:
- By being born in the United States or one of its outlying possessions (birthright citizenship)
- By being born to parents who are U.S. citizens (acquisition of citizenship)
- One or both parents have been naturalized (derivative citizenship)
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the U.S. Department of State give an overview of birthright citizenship and other ways someone may become a U.S. citizen.
Are You Already a U.S. Citizen?
It may be a shock, but many people in the United States have already gotten their U.S. citizenship without realizing it. These people generally may be grouped into three categories:
- People who were born in the United States but have lived most of their lives outside of the country. Some of these people mistakenly believe that they may lose their citizenship status and naturalization by living outside of the country for an extended period of time, but this isn't the case. Take note that this applies at the time of the child's birth. Eligibility for derived or acquired citizenship can depend on specific laws.
- Those who believe they're not citizens despite having parents who were U.S. citizens. It may be that, even though a person was born outside of the United States, that person is a citizen if they have a U.S. citizen mother or U.S. citizen father.
- Some minor children of naturalized U.S. citizens may mistakenly believe they may not be U.S. citizens. But when parents become naturalized citizens, their kids (under 18 years of age) with green cards will also get U.S. citizenship.
U.S. Citizenship by Being Born in the United States
In most situations, any child born in the United States or one of its territories, like Guam, will automatically get American citizenship. This is called "birthright citizenship" and is protected by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which (in Section 1) states the following:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
However, children born to diplomats and other recognized government officials from foreign countries won't receive U.S. citizenship if born on American soil (Title 8 of the U.S. Code). If you were born in the United States, your U.S. citizenship would last your entire life unless you take affirmative action to give it up, like taking an oath of allegiance.
U.S. Citizenship by Being Born to U.S. Citizens
If at least one of your parents were a U.S. citizen at birth, you'd typically gain U.S. citizenship automatically through the acquisition process. It doesn't matter whether you were born on U.S. or foreign soil. And if you have children, they'll also get U.S. citizenship through you at birth. Also, foreign-born adoptees to U.S. citizen parents may claim U.S. citizenship.
The laws regarding citizenship through parentage consider factors such as the parents' citizenship status and whether the child was born out of wedlock. This complexity has not lessened because Congress has significantly changed these laws throughout history. To determine eligibility or which laws will apply to you or your child, you must first see which date range applies:
- Born before May 24, 1934
- Born between May 25, 1934, and Jan. 12, 1941
- Born between Jan. 13, 1941, and Dec. 23, 1952
- Born between Dec. 24, 1952, and Nov. 13, 1986
- Born after Nov. 14, 1986
Derivation of U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization of Parents
A child may become a U.S. citizen through the derivation process if one of their parents becomes a U.S. citizen via naturalization. However, when the parent becomes naturalized, the child must have a green card, be under 18, and live with the naturalized parent to take advantage of these laws. Also, a child who becomes a U.S. resident through this special process does not have to go through the process of applying for and passing a naturalization test.
Like the laws that apply to children acquiring citizenship by being born to American residents, the laws relating to derivation have changed much in the past. So it's also essential to determine which laws apply to your case. For further clarification about this matter, seek the advice of an immigration attorney. They can assist you in understanding the law and look for rules that benefit your case.
Should You Carry Proof of Your Citizenship?
If you believe you're a U.S. citizen, you should acquire proof of your citizenship to ensure you receive all the benefits of citizenship. Some of your day-to-day activities might require proof of identification of your U.S. citizenship. For instance, you might need it for applying for a job, getting a state driver's license, or other activities that would need identification.
Immigration Issues Concerning You? Contact an Attorney
Staying informed about the current updates and laws is essential, particularly for immigrants who want to acquire U.S. citizenship. For help understanding the Immigration law and Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), you can contact an immigration attorney near you.
Immigration lawyers can answer the questions you might have about U.S. citizenship. They can also guide you through the steps and look for rules that benefit your case. They can also help you file your forms, such as the Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600).
Was this helpful?
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.
Contact a qualified immigration attorney to help you with the citizenship process.