Automatically Acquiring U.S. Citizenship

May 2, 2018


​​There are opportunities in the immigration laws for an individual to automatically become a United States citizen.  As U.S. citizenship bestows tremendous benefits, it is important for individuals to know when U.S. citizenship can automatically be derived and what to obtain to properly document a person’s U.S. citizenship.  This is especially true for an individual who may be facing deportation proceedings from the U.S., who may not even realize that he/she is already a U.S. citizen and therefore not deportable.  The laws governing automatic U.S. citizenship are 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 U.S. citizenship is governed by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.  Under this law, a foreign-born individual automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if all of the following requirements are met before the individual turns 18 years old:  1) at least one parent is a U.S. citizen, by either birth or naturalization; 2) the individual is residing permanently in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent; and (3) the individual is a lawful permanent resident.  Additionally, if the child is born out of wedlock and claiming citizenship through the U.S. citizen father, the child must be legitimated or a bona fide father-child relationship must exist prior to the child’s 18th birthday.


Accordingly, a child who adjusts status based on a petition by a U.S. citizen parent will often automatically acquire U.S. citizenship immediately upon being granted permanent residency.  For a child who enters the U.S as a permanent resident and fulfills all of the foregoing requirements, the child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon entry into the U.S.


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


For individuals where neither parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the individual’s birth, automatic citizenship is derived only if both parents become naturalized US citizens prior to the child’s 18th birthday.  If the individual’s parents were not married, however, then citizenship can be automatically acquired, but eligibility greatly depends on whether the U.S. 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 U.S. citizen at the time of the individual’s birth, the ability to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship is also available.  While requirements vary depending on the individual’s date of birth, acquiring U.S. citizenship generally requires the U.S. citizen parent to have lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years as a U.S. citizen before the child was born.


Individuals who automatically acquire U.S. citizenship should obtain evidence of their U.S. citizenship sooner than later by applying for either a U.S. passport and/or a Certificate of Citizenship.  This is especially useful for individuals who wish to be absent from the U.S. 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 U.S. due to a criminal conviction as the ability to prove U.S. citizenship would stop the individual’s deportation.


The acquisition of U.S. 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 U.S. community.  Given the vast complexity of the laws governing automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship, individuals must ensure that they have proper legal representation to aid them in navigating through the immigration system.


For further information, please schedule an appointment with an attorney at Aquino & Loew, Immigration Law Specialists. Please also connect with us on Facebook and Twitter.  Aquino & Loew also handles family law and criminal matters.  Providing Personalized Service Nationwide & Abroad Since 1996.