It’s possible that you are a U.S. citizen and don’t even know it. There are more ways to become a U.S. citizen than most people realize; for example, you are a U.S. citizen if you were born on U.S. soil or “acquired” citizenship from your U.S. citizen parents who lived in the U.S. prior to your birth. You can also become a U.S. citizen later on in life by submitting an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), interviewing and passing several tests, and taking an oath. This process is called naturalization.
Also, some children automatically naturalize – or “derive” citizenship – when their parents did, if they met certain requirements at this time. Here we will discuss the laws affecting derivation of citizenship for the children of U.S. citizen parents who naturalized between December 24, 1952 and October 4, 1978. For more on the laws during other time periods or other articles about U.S. citizenship and naturalization, see Nolo’s section “How to Become a U.S. Citizen.”
Derivation of U.S. Citizenship Based on Parents Who Naturalized Between December 24, 1952 and October 4, 1978
U.S. citizenship and nationality law has changed frequently throughout the years. As a result, many adults are unaware that they may actually have dual nationality (being citizens of both the United States and the country where they were born) due to their parents’ U.S. naturalization when they were children. This article explains the law in effect for people with parents who became U.S. citizens from December 24, 1952 to October 4, 1978. If BOTH of your parents naturalized during that period, you automatically derived citizenship if:
- you were unmarried and under 16 years old on the day your parents naturalized, and
- you were admitted for permanent residence (received your “green card”) before your 18th birthday.
Children with only one naturalizing parent may be allowed to derive citizenship in limited circumstances. If ONLY ONE of your parents naturalized before you turned 16 years old, you can derive U.S. citizenship only if:
- the non-naturalizing parent was already a U.S. citizen before you were born and did not lose that citizenship at any time (by renouncing it or committing any “expatriating” acts)
- the non-naturalizing parent was deceased when your other parent became a U.S. citizen
- your parents were legally separated on the date of naturalization and the parent who naturalized had legal custody of you at the time
- your mother is the naturalizing parent, you were born out of wedlock, and your father never “legitimated” you. If you were legitimated, your father must also have been a U.S. citizen at your birth, have naturalized before you turn 16 years old, or been deceased when your mother naturalized.
Unfortunately, adopted children with parents who naturalized during this time period do not qualify for derivation of citizenship.
Derivation Rules for “Illegitimate” Children
The laws affecting children who were born out of wedlock have changed frequently throughout the years. You are considered “illegitimate” under U.S. immigration law if you were born outside of marriage and you do not have a legally recognized father (that is, your father never took steps to claim you as his child). If you are illegitimate, and your mother naturalized between December 24, 1952 and October 4, 1978 you can derive U.S. citizenship if you fulfill the other requirements above – even if your father has never had any legal status in the United States.
Illegitimate children can’t automatically derive U.S. citizenship from their fathers, but if your father was a U.S. citizen and took steps to “legitimate” you when you were a child you can submit evidence to USCIS to prove that you are a U.S. citizen. How you can be legitimated depends on the laws of the country where you were born. It can include signing your birth certificate, filling out a Statement of Paternity, paying child support either by court order or on his own while acknowledging his responsibility, marriage to your mother shortly after your birth, or calling himself your father and welcoming you into his home.
If you were born out of wedlock and legitimated by your father you can derive U.S. citizenship only if:
- both of your parents naturalized before your 16th birthday
- your father was a U.S. citizen when you were born and continues to be a U.S. citizen, or
- your father died before your mother naturalized.
Obtaining Proof of U.S. Citizenship
If you have read the above information and determined that you are indeed a U.S. citizen, you will not be required to apply for naturalization in order to enjoy the benefits of U.S. citizenship. However, you might want to obtain proof of your U.S. citizenship in order to more easily travel in and out of the U.S., obtain a passport, or demonstrate your authorization to work in the United States. In this case, you will need to apply for a certificate showing that you are a U.S. citizen using Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.