There are three main ways that an individual can obtain citizenship outside of the naturalization process:
Citizenship by Birth in the United States
The United States recognizes jus soli – literally, “right of the soil” – in determining automatic citizenship, and the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution specifically provides that “all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” Accordingly, if an individual is born in the United States, they automatically acquire United States Citizenship at birth regardless of the citizenship or immigration status of their parents. This automatic citizenship may also be conferred upon individuals born in some U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Panama Canal Zone, subject to certain additional requirements depending on the territory.
Citizenship by Acquisition at Birth
Like the doctrine of jus soli, the United States also recognizes the doctrine of jus sanguinis – literally, “right of blood” – in conferring automatic U.S. Citizenship at birth. Thus, in general, a child born outside of the United States, where one or both parents are U.S. Citizens, may acquire U.S. Citizenship at birth. There are, however, certain residence and physical presence requirements that need to be met in order for the U.S. Citizen parent(s) to “transmit” their citizenship to their foreign-born children. These requirements vary based on when the child was born and the law that was in effect at the time of birth. Typically, these requirements are straightforward, but proving automatic citizenship can be tricky in situations where a child was born out of wedlock and the father was the only U.S. Citizen parent.
Citizenship by Derivation
U.S. law also permits a child born outside of the United States to become a “derivative” United States Citizen as a result of their parent(s)’ birth or naturalization in the U.S. In general, the child must have a parent or parents that naturalized before they turned 18, and the child must have been admitted for lawful permanent residence at the time the parent(s) naturalized. There are also additional requirements, but these requirements must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and will depend on date the child was born and/or turned 18 years old.
Individuals who believe they have obtained U.S. Citizenship by derivation may, but are not required to, apply (Form N-600) for a certificate of citizenship to serve as proof of their status as U.S. citizens. They may also directly apply for a U.S. passport, and are not required to obtain a certificate of citizenship in order to obtain the passport.
If you have questions regarding your specific case, please contact the experienced citizenship and naturalization attorneys at Zeidan & Associates, LLC, at 614-459-2830.