Whether or not someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent is a U.S. citizen depends on the law in effect when the person was born. These laws have changed over the years, but usually require a combination of the parent being a U.S. citizen when the child was born, and the parent having lived in the United States or its possessions for a specific period of time. Likewise, derivative citizenship can be very complex and may require careful legal analysis.
In many cases you are a U.S. citizen if your parent became a U.S. citizen (or was already a citizen) before your 18th birthday. But immigration laws have changed over the years. Before filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, determine if you are already a U.S. citizen.
Birth Abroad to U.S. Citizen Parent
You may be a U.S. citizen if you were born abroad to at least one parent that was a U.S. citizen. If you were born abroad to two U.S. citizens and at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in his or her life, then in most cases you are a U.S. citizen. If you were born abroad to one U.S. citizen, on or after November 14, 1986, you are likely a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:
- One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
- Your U.S. citizen parent lived at least five years in the United States before you were born; and
- At least two of the five years in the United States were after your U.S. citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
Obtaining U.S. citizenship based on the described circumstances is known as “acquisition of citizenship.” If you believe that you may be a U.S. citizen through acquisition, do not file N-400, Application for Naturalization. Your record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of your citizenship. You may also apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. With either document, you’ll be able to obtain a U.S. passport.
Birth to Parent that Naturalized Later
Another possible scenario is that a parent naturalizes after the child is born. You may be a U.S. citizen if your parent became a U.S. citizen through naturalization while you were still a child. Children under 18 years of age automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if the following three conditions have been fulfilled:
- At least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
- The child is a permanent resident under 18 years of age;
- The child is residing in or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
The three requirements can occur in any order. You can learn about the derivation of U.S. citizenship for children.
Because the laws governing U.S. citizenship for children have changed several times and the applicable law depends on the date of the child’s birth, your situation may require a legal analysis. Therefore, CitizenPath recommends that you consult with an experienced immigration attorney.