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Automatic Acquisition of US Citizenship for Children Born Abroad

by Dinh Tran, Partner, Queen City Immigration Law. 704-500-2075

When does a child born abroad acquire United States citizenship at birth? The Immigration and Nationality Acts specifies several circumstances when a baby born abroad acquires United States citizenship at birth, assuming the baby’s parents are married.

1.  Both parents are United States Citizens

The first instance is where both the father and the mother are citizens of the United States and at least one of them had a residence in the United States or its outlying possessions (American Samoa or Swain Islands) before the baby was born. Thus, if one USC parent has resided in the United States then moved to Spain and met the other USC parent who has resided in Spain her entire life, their child born in Spain would acquire United States citizenship the moment he or she is born. Conversely, if both USC parents were born in Spain and have lived their entire lives in Spain, their child born in Spain would not be a United States citizen at birth.

2.  One parent is a United States citizen and the other is a United States national

The second case is where one of the child's parent is a USC and the other parent is a United States national (person born in or having ties to American Samoa or Swain Islands). Then, the child becomes a USC at birth if the USC parent has been physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions continuously for one year before the child is born. For example, a child is born in Singapore and the child's mother is a USC while the father is a national. This child would become a USC at birth if prior to the birth, the mother has spent at least one whole year in the United States.

3.  One parent is a United States citizen and the child is born in the American Samoa or Swain Islands.

The third situation arises where one of the child's parent is a USC, the other parent is a citizen of a foreign country, and the child is born in the American Samoa or Swain Islands. In that situation, the child automatically becomes a USC at birth if the citizen parent has been physically present in the United States, American Samoa or Swain Islands continuously for one year before the child is born.

4. One parent is a United States citizen and the child is born outside of the United States or its outlying possessions

The fourth scenario is where one of the child's parent is a USC, the other parent is a citizen of a foreign country, and the child is born outside of the United States or its outlying possessions. In this case, the child would acquire United States citizenship at birth if the USC parent has been physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for at least five years, and two of those five years were after becoming 14 years old. For example, a USC father and a Vietnamese mother have a child in Vietnam. Prior to the birth of the child the father has lived in the United States until he was 15 when his family moved to Vietnam. At the age of eighteen, the father went back to the United States to attend college for four years. As a result, the USC father would meet the physical presence requirement and would confer his citizenship to his child born in Vietnam. However, if this father did not go back to the United States to attend college, he would not have the requisite amount of physical presence even though he has spent the first 15 years of his life in the United States. The reason for that is because only one of those 15 years were after he turned 14 years old.

5.   How to Prove the Child's United States citizenship

A child born in the United States only needs a birth certificate showing birth in the United States to prove his or her United States citizenship. On the other hand, a child born abroad needs to obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States of America (CRBA, Form FS-240) or a United States passport to document that the he or she is a USC. The child's parents can apply for a CRBA at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. Additionally, if the parents want to bring the child back to the United States, the child must have to a valid U.S. passport to enter the country. The application for a U.S. passport can be made concurrently with the application for a CRBA or instead of a CRBA.