Citizenship Through Parents: An Overview

American Proud PatriotThe United States allows for children to acquire U.S. citizenship other than through birth in the United States. Persons who were born outside of the United States to a U.S. citizen parent or parents may acquire or derive U.S. citizenship at birth. Persons may also acquire citizenship after birth, but before the age of 18, through their U.S. citizen parents.

Two general ways to obtain citizenship through U.S. citizen parents are:

  1. Immediately at birth
  2. After birth but before the age of 18

The term “parents” includes the genetic father, the genetic mother, and a non-genetic gestational mother (if she is the legal parent at the time of birth).

Background on the Law

The law in effect at the time of the child’s birth determines whether someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent(s) is a U.S. citizen at birth.

Prior to the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), effective February 27, 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) had two provisions for obtaining citizenship. The CCA removed one provision and revised the other making it the only method for children under 18 years of age in the United States to automatically acquire citizenship after birth.

In general, these laws require a combination of at least one parent being a U.S. citizen when the child was born and having lived in the U.S. for a period of time. In addition, the children born abroad may become U.S. citizens after birth.

Acquisition of Citizenship

Generally, if both parents of the child are U.S. citizens and at least one of them had been physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a period of at least five years at some time prior to the child’s birth, then the child is a U.S. citizen at birth.

If one parent is a U.S. citizen but the other parent is a foreign national, then the child is a U.S. citizen at birth IF the U.S. citizen parent was physically present in United States for at least five years (two of which after age 14) prior to the child’s birth.

The Process

If you automatically obtain citizenship through your parents, you are not required to file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600). For documentation of such status, however, you must submit an application to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship through USCIS. You may also apply for a U.S. Passport with the Department of State to serve as evidence of your citizenship.

You must be physically in the U.S. to file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

Form N-600 is filed to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship which serves as evidence of your child’s U.S. citizenship. You may file Form N-600 if you were born abroad and are claiming U.S. citizenship at birth through your parents.

You may also file Form N-600 to obtain evidence of citizenship if you automatically became a U.S. citizen by operation of law after your birth but before you turned 18 years of age. If you are 18 years of age or older, you may submit the Application for Certificate of Citizenship on your own behalf. A parent or guardian may file Form N-600 on behalf of a child under 18 years of age.

Please note: USCIS does not issue Certificates of Citizenship in cases where the person became a U.S. citizen based on birth IN the United States.

USCIS only issues Certificates of Citizenship to those individuals who were born abroad but are U.S. citizens at birth through their parents, or who became citizens after birth but before the age of 18.

In General: Scenarios for U.S. Citizenship for Children Born Aboard

Status of Parents

Residence or Physical Presence Requirements

U.S. Citizen

Both Parents are U.S. Citizens

At least one U.S. citizen parent has resided in the United States prior to child’s birth

U.S. Citizen At Birth

One parent is a U.S. citizen; other parent is U.S. national

U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the United States or its outlying possession for one year prior to child’s birth

U.S. Citizen At Birth

One parent is a U.S. citizen; other parent is a foreign national

U.S. citizen parent was physically present in United States for at least five years (two after age 14) prior to child’s birth

U.S. Citizen At Birth

Mother is a U.S. citizen and father is a foreign national

U.S. citizen mother resided in the United States prior to child’s birth

U.S. Citizen At Birth (only applies to birth prior to 1934)

At least one parent is a U.S. citizen (through birth or naturalization)

Child resides in the United States as a lawful permanent resident

U.S. Citizen at time Criteria is Met

Both parents naturalize, or in certain cases, one parent naturalizes

Child resides in the United States as a lawful permanent resident

U.S. Citizen at time Criteria is Met

At least one parent is a U.S. citizen (through birth or naturalization)

Child resides outside of the United States and child’s parent (or grandparent) was physically present in the U.S. or its outlying possessions for at least five years (two after age 14)

U.S. Citizen at time

Oath is Administered

If you believe you may qualify for derivative citizenship, please contact our office to schedule a consultation with one of our attorneys today!

Berardi Immigration Law stars divider