How 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.

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.

There are several instances in which you might need proof of 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, using 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 handle this matter, 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. Still, there are ways you can apply for proof of U.S. citizenship. There is also a stream-lined way to obtain U.S. citizenship if you were not eligible to acquire citizenship from your U.S. citizen parent(s) at the time of your birth or if your parent became a U.S. citizen after your birth but before your 18th birthday.

This article will explain the various ways U.S. citizens born abroad can prove their citizenship and how some minor children and adults can obtain U.S. citizenship if they were not eligible for “automatic” U.S. citizenship at birth.

How American Parents Can Obtain Proof of U.S. Citizenship for Children Born Abroad

If you and/or your child’s other parent were U.S. citizens and had spent enough time within the U.S. to meet the applicable residency requirements by the time of your child’s birth, you can apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) at your local U.S. embassy or consulate.

A CRBA can be issued only to children under the age of 18. A CRBA will serve a similar purpose for your child as a U.S. birth certificate, although it cannot be used for travel to the United States.

If your child is already in the U.S. and you did not obtain a CRBA overseas, you can either apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State or you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will still need to show proof that you met the U.S. residency requirements necessary to transmit your citizenship to your child at the time of your child’s birth.

For more information, please read about Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.

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

What happens if you were born abroad, but you are now 18 years old or older and have a claim to U.S. citizenship since birth? The laws dictating which children can acquire U.S. citizenship automatically have changed frequently throughout the years, and your citizenship determination depends both on whether your parents were married and whether your mother, father, or both were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth. For more information, please see Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.

If you were eligible to acquire U.S. citizenship at birth, your parent or guardian might, ideally, have registered your birth with the Department of State or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and received a document that can be used to prove citizenship. 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, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (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 the more secure FS-240 certificate to U.S. citizens whose parents register their foreign birth.

If your parents received a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for you but it cannot be located, you can request a replacement from the Department of State.

Options If You are an Adult and Your Parents Did Not Register Your Birth

If you are 18 or over and believe you acquired citizenship at birth, you can either apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State (which you can do overseas or in the U.S.) or apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you live abroad, USCIS recommends that you apply for a passport, as an interview in the U.S. might be required for a Certificate of Citizenship. The Certificate of Citizenship is also much more expensive than a passport. Still, some people prefer to get the Certificate of Citizenship, even if U.S. citizenship was acquired at birth. For advice on submitting this application, read Filling Out Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

How Children Under Age 18 Who Did Not Acquire Citizenship at Birth Can Become Citizens Through U.S. Citizen Parents

If your child did not acquire citizenship at birth because the child’s U.S. citizen parent(s) did not meet the legal requirements regarding physical presence in the U.S. or because the parent(s) obtained U.S. citizenship after the child’s birth, there other ways for the child to expeditiously obtain U.S. citizenship.

One method is “derivative citizenship.” 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. The physical presence requirement must be completed by the parent before the child turns 18, the child must be in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, and the child must be physically present in the U.S. at the time of naturalization, after having been lawfully admitted to the country. In other words, the process can be started overseas but the child will likely need to travel to the U.S. to complete the process.

Once the parent has resided the required amount of time in the U.S., the child is eligible to naturalize, as long as all these requirements were met before his or her 18th birthday. By naturalizing this way, there's no need to meet the more stringent requirements that most non-citizens do before becoming eligible to naturalize. Either file Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, which can be filed online if you are living abroad, or if the child is in the U.S. and meets all the requirements above, apply for a passport for the child.

If a U.S. citizen parent does not meet the physical presence requirements for derivative citizenship under INA Section 322 or to apply for a CRBA, the child might still be eligible to obtain citizenship under I.N.A. Section 320 if the child was admitted to the U.S. as the beneficiary of an immigrant visa before age 18, the parent was a U.S. citizen, and the child is in the U.S. in the physical and legal custody of the U.S citizen parent. All conditions must have been met prior to the time the child turned 18. To obtain proof of citizenship under this section of the law, you can either apply for a Certificate of Citizenship or a U.S. passport, as discussed above.

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