The more corrupt the republic, the more numerous the laws. ~Tacitus, Annals
Many persons, though not born in the United States or ever naturalized
as United States citizens, may be citizens as a result of their
relationship to a United States citizen. The conditions under which a
person may have become a citizen have varied from time to time and,
therefore, differ so much from case to case that they cannot all be
presented in detail here. However, we will attempt to identify the
general rules of acquiring citizenship through a parent or spouse.
A child born in a foreign country of one or two United States citizen
parents may acquire United States citizenship automatically at birth if
certain conditions are fulfilled:
(1) both parents are United States citizens at the time of the child's
birth and one of the parents has resided for any length of time in the
United States or its outlying possessions before the child's birth;
(2) one parent is a United States citizen and the other is an alien and
the citizen parent was physically present in the United States or its
outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling 5 years before the
child's birth, and at least two of those five years were after the
citizen parent was 14 years old. If a child was born before November 14,
1986, these physical presence requirements for the parent are different,
generally, at least ten years of physical presence is required; and
(3) time served abroad in the following capacities can be counted by the
citizen parent in order to satisfy the requirement of prior physical
presence in the United States:
(a) honorable service in the United States armed forces;
(b) employment by the United States government;
(c) employment by an international organization associated with the
United States; and
(d) physical presence abroad as a dependent unmarried son or daughter
and member of the household of a person employed abroad in one of the
It must be noted that the laws in effect at the time of birth of the
child will determine whether acquisition will occur. In addition,
different rules may apply if a child was born illegitimate.
A child born in a foreign country of alien parents, or adopted by alien
parents, may have become a United States citizen automatically after
birth, without having himself or herself applied for naturalization, if
one or both of his or her parents became naturalized before the child
reaches a certain age It must be noted that the law in effect at the
time of the parent's naturalization will determine if the child becomes
Currently, a child who is a lawful permanent resident, under 18 years of
age and unmarried may automatically derive citizenship of the United
States through the parents under certain conditions:
(1) a child whose parents are lawful permanent residents becomes a
United States citizen-on the date that the last parent is naturalized
before the child's 18th birthday;
(2) a child who has one of the natural parents already a citizen, and
the other natural parent becomes naturalized before the child's 18th
(3) a child whose surviving parent, or the parent exercising legal
custody where the parents are legally separated or divorced, is
naturalized before the child's 18th birthday, regardless whether the
other parent was or is an alien; or
(4) an illegitimate child whose mother naturalizes before the child's
18th birthday and paternity has not been established.
If only one of the child's parents naturalizes and the other remains a
permanent resident, the child does not derive citizenship. Instead, the
citizen parent may file a separate Application for Naturalization (N-
400) on behalf of the child if the citizen parent wants the child to
become a citizen before the second parent naturalizes.
An adopted child, however, does NOT become a citizen of the United
States automatically, through adoption by citizen parents.
Also, women who married citizens of the United States before September
22, 1922, or whose husbands became citizens during the marriage and
before September 22, 1922, may have automatically become citizens of the
United States as a result of their marriages. Consequently, persons who
need additional information along these lines should communicate with
any office of the Immigration and Naturalization Service.
Persons who have become citizens automatically may be issued
certificates of citizenship by the Immigration and Naturalization
Service in their own names, showing that they are citizens through their
husbands or parents. A person who desires to obtain such a certificate
(including a parent or guardian of a child too young to act for himself
or herself) may submit an application on Form N-600, "Application for
Certificate of Citizenship," to the nearest office of the Immigration
and Naturalization Service. The filing of the application is an entirely
voluntary matter, however, and the failure to submit it does not in any
way affect a person's citizenship.
The applicant should be prepared to submit in connection with the
application evidence of birth, marriage, death, divorce, and other
essential matters in the form of certificates or documents which will
prove the claim to citizenship through marriage or through parents.
Detailed instructions regarding the nature of the proof needed in each
case are included in the application form.
excerpted from Form N-17 (Rev 11/30/92) N
prepared by Dept of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service
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