Deriving US Citizenship Automatically

February 7, 2012


       There are opportunities in the immigration laws for an individual to automatically become a United States citizen.  As US citizenship bestows tremendous benefits, it is important for individuals to know when US citizenship an automatically be derived.  The laws governing automatic derivation of US citizenship is exceptionally complex since the requirements vary depending on when an individual was born.

       For individuals born on or after February 28, 1983, automatic acquisition of US citizenship is governed by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.  Under this law, a foreign-born individual automatically becomes a US citizen if all of the following requirements are met before the individual turns 18 years old:  1) at least one parent is a United States citizen, by either birth or naturalization; 2) the individual is residing permanently in the US in the legal and physical custody of the US citizen parent; and (3) the individual is a lawful permanent resident.  Additionally, if the child is illegitimate at birth and claiming citizenship through the US citizen father, the child must be legitimated by the father prior to the child’s sixteenth birthday.

       Accordingly, a child who is petitioned for permanent residency by a US citizen parent will often automatically acquire US citizenship immediately upon being granted permanent residency.  For a child who enters the US as a permanent resident and fulfills all of the foregoing requirements, the child automatically becomes a US citizen upon entry into the US.

       For individuals born before February 28, 1983, the laws pertaining to automatic acquisition of US citizen are significantly more burdensome.  There are various laws depending on the individual’s date of birth and whether the US citizen is the individual’s mother or father.

       For individuals where neither parent was a US citizen at the time of the individual’s birth, automatic citizenship is derived if both parents become naturalized US citizens prior to the child’s 18th birthday.  However, if the individual’s parents were not married, then citizenship can be automatically acquired but greatly depends on whether the US citizen parent is the mother or father, as well as any court orders regarding the custody over the child.

       For individuals with a parent who was a US citizen at the time of the individual’s birth, the ability to automatically acquire US citizenship is also available.  While requirements vary depending on the individual’s date of birth, acquiring US citizenship generally requires the US citizen parent to have lived in the United States for at least five years as a US citizen before the child was born.

       Individuals who automatically acquire US citizenship should obtain evidence of their US citizenship sooner than later by applying for either a US passport and/or a Certificate of Citizenship.  This is especially useful for individuals who wish to be absent from the United States for a significant period of time, such as children who wish to complete their studies overseas.  It is also extremely important to an individual who may be faced with removal proceedings from the United States due to a criminal conviction as the ability to prove US citizenship would stop the individual’s deportation.

       The acquisition of United States citizenship is a treasure sought by so many.  The opportunity to automatically acquire citizenship is a tremendous avenue toward maintaining family unity and asserting a voice in the United States community.  Given the vast complexity of the laws governing automatic acquisition of US citizenship, individuals must ensure that they have proper legal representation to aid them in navigating through the immigration system.