If you are the child of a U.S. citizen who was born in another country, but you acquired or derived U.S. citizenship from a parent or parents, you'll want to obtain proof of that fact. Such proof will be needed in order to do things like apply for a U.S. passport or for a job with the federal government.
For you, it will be slightly harder than for U.S. citizens who were born in the United States. They can use a copy of their birth certificate to prove citizenship. Or, those who gained U.S. 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 streamlined 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.
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 for them, you can either apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State or 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 citizenship to your child at the time of your child's birth.
For more information, please read about Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.
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:
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.
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.
If your child did not acquire citizenship at birth because the 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 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 the child's 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 U.S. 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.
An experienced attorney can assist with the task of confirming that a foreign-born child is a U.S. citizen by operation of law and figuring out the fastest way to obtain proof of that fact.