Becoming A United States Citizen at Birth
The Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution states:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.
As a result, all persons born within the United States acquire citizenship at birth and keep it for the rest of their lives regardless of where they actually live. This right to citizenship is a constitutionally protected right vested in all people born within the United States.
Over the years, Congress has widened the scope of those granted citizenship at birth to include many people born outside of the country to U.S. citizen parents. This has lead to the creation of a complex set of laws that define who is a citizen of the United States.
It is quite possible that you are a United States citizen (USC) even though you were born and have lived outside of the country all your life. With this in mind, the first step that should be taken when planning a move to the United States should be a thorough investigation into your family history.
The purpose of an investigation into your family history is to determine whether there is a past connection to the United States through either you or one of your direct relatives (parents, grandparents, great grandparents, children, spouse and spouse’s direct relatives). An investigation like this may lead to the discovery of a family member who is or once was a USC, which may impact your relocation plans.
The discovery of a USC in your family may be helpful in two ways. First, it is possible that you have acquired citizenship through that family member. Second, if citizenship has not been transmitted to you, it may be possible to acquire permanent resident status through your relative. In either case, many of the obstacles that accompany normal business relocation to the United States can be avoided.
It is not uncommon for businesses to overlook the citizenship option when attempting to relocate to the United States. Typically, businesses will focus on the type of ‘visa’ to be applied for and not the overall status of the applicant. However, the citizenship option should not be overlooked. To be a citizen of the United States would mean, among other things, immunity from deportation and exclusion proceedings. A USC may also come and go as he pleases without having to concern himself with obtaining and retaining the appropriate immigration status. As a result, the first step in any relocation should be an attempt to determine if there exists a legitimate claim to United States citizenship.
If a USC has been discovered in your family, the next step is to determine if citizenship has been passed to you; a situation that may or may not have occurred.
Example: an applicant’s child may be a USC based on the fact that she was born in the United States. However, the child’s status is not transferred to the parent and as such will not be of assistance in the applicant’s pursuit of citizenship rights. The same result holds true in the case where an applicant’s spouse is granted citizenship. In this scenario the applicant does not become a USC simply based on his spouse’s status.
There are numerous situations that could arise that would result in acquisition of citizenship. In the following situations a person born outside of the United States would be considered a USC if:
(1) they are born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions to parents who are both citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person;
- they are born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions to parents one of whom is a citizen of the United States who has been physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year prior to the birth of such person, and the other of whom is a national, but not a citizen of the United States;
(3) they are in an outlying possession of the United States of parents one of whom is a citizen of the United States who has been physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year at any time prior to the birth of such person;
(4) they are born outside the geographical limits of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a citizen of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than five years, at least two of which were after the age of attaining the age of fourteen years.
Simply stated, if you were born outside of the country to parents, both of who were USCs, then you are probably a citizen of the United States. However, if you were born outside of the country to only one USC parent then there will be residence requirements that must be fulfilled to retain citizenship.
The citizenship laws have gone through considerable change over the years – especially as they pertain to conferral of citizenship to children born outside the country to one citizen parent. The result has been the development of a confusing set of citizenship laws that differ according to the applicant’s birth date and place of birth; as well as the parents’ citizenship and marital status at the time of the applicant’s birth. For example, a legitimate child born outside the United States, on or after December 24, 1952 and prior to November 14, 1986 is a United States citizen if:
- one parent is a USC and one is a national and the USC parent was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year; or
- one parent is a USC and one an alien and the USC parent had been physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for 10 years prior to the child’s birth, five years of which were after the age of 14.
The above scenario would be further complicated if the child was born illegitimate and was later legitimated.
This sampling of the existing citizenship laws illustrates the complexity of a citizenship application. It also demonstrates how such a claim could easily be overlooked. There are numerous possible scenarios that could result in the applicant being a USC. For example, if your great grandparents were both USC’s and they had a child outside of the United States, that child (the grandparent) would automatically become a USC. If the grandparent later married a non-citizen and had a child, and certain residency requirements were met, then the child – your parent – would also be a USC. If the parent also married a non-citizen and gave birth to the applicant outside of the United States it is possible that you would be a USC.
The above scenario demonstrates the importance of conducting a full evaluation of the citizenship option. In so doing, many people may be surprised to discover that they are in fact a USC and have been one from birth. Even if it is determined that the applicant is not a USC the research may uncover evidence establishing the existence of a U.S. citizen parent or even grandparent who may be in a position to assist the applicant acquire an immigrant visa.
If you would like more information about acquiring United States Citizenship please send a request to:
Leibl and Kirkwood PC
12250 El Camino Real, Suite 350
San Diego, CA 92130
Tel. (858) 481-5211
Fax. (858) 481-7271