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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 above categories.

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 a citizen.

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 birthday;

(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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