The laws determining which foreign-born children could automatically “acquire” U.S. citizenship through one or both of their parents have changed throughout the years. If you are a foreign citizen born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986 and you are wondering if you may also be a citizen of the United States because at least one of your parents was a U.S. citizen, the information in this article will help you figure it out.
What Is “Acquired Citizenship”?
There are several ways you can obtain U.S. citizenship:
- at birth on U.S. soil
- at birth outside the U.S. to one or more U.S. citizen parents (“acquisition”)
- naturalization, and
- derivation of citizenship – if one or both parents naturalized before you turned 18 AND you had your green card at the time.
You “acquire” your U.S. citizenship at birth – even if you were born outside the United States – if one or both of your parents were U.S. citizens and also meet certain requirements, such as prior U.S. residency. To learn more about the laws in effect during other time periods or for more general information about U.S. citizenship and naturalization, see Nolo’s section, “How to Become a U.S. Citizen.”
Information for Foreign-Born Citizens With Two U.S. Citizen Parents
The rule is pretty straightforward if both of your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986. You are automatically a U.S. citizen at birth as long as at least one of your parents resided in the U.S. at any time prior to your birth.
So long as you have proof of their U.S. citizenship and one of your parents can provide evidence showing a U.S. address where he or she lived prior to your birth, you should have no trouble obtaining U.S. government acknowledgment of your status and a Certificate of Citizenship. You yourself need not have lived in the U.S. at any time nor met any other conditions to keep your citizenship.
Information for Foreign-Born Citizens With One U.S. Citizen Parent
If only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born, and your birth took place between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, the rules are a little different:
- The U.S. citizen parent must have lived in the United States for at least ten years, with five of those years occurring after he or she was 14 years old.
- If your father is the U.S. citizen and your parents were not married when you were born, he must have either been listed on your birth certificate or taken other steps to acknowledge paternity, such as “legitimating” you, prior to your 21st birthday and before you got married.
In this situation, you will need to provide more extensive documentation of your U.S. citizen parent’s residency and physical presence such as school records, identification cards, leases, or third party affidavits. Still, you yourself need not have lived in the U.S. at any time nor met any other conditions to keep your citizenship (other than remaining unmarried until after your father legitimated you, if applicable).
How “Legitimization” by the Father Can Help in Acquiring Citizenship
You are considered “illegitimate” if your parents were not married at the time of your birth and you have no legally recognized father. In order to acquire U.S. citizenship from your father, he must have taken steps to acknowledge his paternity when you were a child (unmarried and under age 21). Legitimation statutes differ depending on your country, so check your local laws for information specific to your situation.
The easiest way for a father to acknowledge paternity is typically to put his name on the child’s birth certificate or register his status using the birth recording system used by your country. If your U.S. citizen father is not listed on your birth certificate, there are other ways that he may have acknowledged his paternity, such as:
- paying child support (either voluntarily or under a court order)
- marrying your mother within a certain time period after your birth
- writing a statement of paternity
- welcoming you into his home and calling you his child, or
- taking a DNA test to prove paternity.
I’m a U.S. Citizen – How Should I Get Proof?
If you have determined you have a claim to U.S. citizenship, the next step is to file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). See Nolo’s article, “Filling Out Form N-600" for help with this.
It’s important to understand that, even without this certificate, you are a U.S. citizen – you just have no current way of proving that to anyone. A Certificate of Citizenship will provide that proof. Another option is to apply for a U.S. passport, but this is tends to be more difficult to get without having a Certificate of Citizenship first.