How the Foreign-Born Children of American Citizens Can Prove or Obtain U.S. Nationality

Whether from an overseas consulate or the immigration authorities in the U.S., you should be able to obtain proof of your acquired or derived U.S. citizenship.

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There are several instances where you might need proof of your U.S. citizenship – such as to apply for a U.S. passport or a job with the federal government. U.S. citizens who were born in the U.S. can do this easily: They will be able to prove citizenship with a copy of their birth certificate. People who gained citizenship by applying and passing an exam after holding a green card will be able to present a naturalization certificate. (For general information on how the majority of American citizens can prove their nationality, see “Obtaining Proof of U.S. Citizenship.”)

But if you were born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents, it’s not quite so simple. Nevertheless, there are other ways you can apply for proof of U.S. nationality. There is also a way to more easily naturalize if you are under age 18 and you were not eligible to acquire U.S. citizenship from your parents. This article will explain the various ways U.S. citizens born abroad can prove their nationality and how some minor children can obtain U.S. citizenship if they were not eligible for “automatic” U.S. citizenship at birth.

How Adult Children Born Abroad to American Parents Can Prove U.S. Nationality

What happens if you were born abroad, but you still have a claim to U.S. citizenship? You may have acquired your U.S. citizenship at birth because your parents (or even just one parent) are U.S. citizens and fulfilled certain U.S. residency or military service requirements. The laws dictating which children can acquire U.S. citizenship automatically have changed frequently throughout the years. For more information, please see Nolo’s section, “Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.”

If you were eligible to acquire U.S. citizenship at the time of your birth, your parent or guardian may, ideally, have registered your birth with the Department of State or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and received a document which can be used to prove your nationality. These types of documents include:

  • FS-545, Certification of Birth (issued by the Department of State prior to November 1, 1990)
  • DS-1350, Certification of Report of Birth (issued by the Department of State prior to December 31, 2010), and
  • FS-240, Report of a Birth Abroad of a U.S. Citizen (currently issued by all U.S. embassies and consulates).

The Department of State no longer issues FS-545 or DS-1350 certifications, but those documents are still considered valid proof of U.S. citizenship and can be used to apply for a U.S. passport or to demonstrate work authorization. U.S. embassies and consulates now issue a very official-looking FS-240 certificate to U.S. citizens whose parents register their foreign birth.

Options If Your Parents Did Not Register Your Birth

If you are under 18 years old and your parents never registered your birth abroad, you may still be able to register with your local U.S. embassy or consulate. If you determine that you acquired your U.S. citizenship and you are still under age 18, you should ask your parent or guardian to request Form DS-2029, Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States, at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.

If you meet all of the requirements, you will be issued an FS-240 certificate to prove your citizenship. This is less expensive than applying for a Certificate of Citizenship and you can request multiple copies if you desire. For more information, visit the Department of State’s website on this topic.

If you are older than 18, have determined that you have a claim to U.S. citizenship, and you do not have any of the above documents, your last resort will be submitting Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration (USCIS). Most people who submit this form do so because they “derived” U.S. citizenship because their parents became U.S. citizens when they were under 18 years old and permanent residents of the United States. However, you may need to submit this form if you acquired your citizenship and your parents failed to register your birth abroad before you turned 18 years old.

For advice on submitting this application, read “Filling Out Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.” If approved, you will receive a Certificate of Citizenship, which looks similar to a naturalization certificate.

How Children Under Age 18 Who Did Not Acquire Citizenship Can Naturalize

If you determine that you did not acquire citizenship at birth because your parent or parents did not meet the legal requirements regarding physical presence in the U.S., there is another process available by which an American parent can more easily “naturalize” a child born abroad. This is called naturalization via Section 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It allows a parent to fulfill the physical presence requirement either before OR AFTER the child’s birth.

Once your parent has resided the required amount of time in the U.S., you are eligible to naturalize as long as you are still under 18 years old. By naturalizing this way, you do not have to meet the more stringent requirements that most noncitizens do before they are eligible to naturalize. You can do this by having your parent fill out Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322. Keep in mind that the entire naturalization process must be completed before your 18th birthday.

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