If you were born outside of the U.S., did you acquire US citizenship through parents or grandparents?
If you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, you probably are a U.S. citizen. However, you need to get some paperwork to prove this.
What if you were born abroad and only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the time? That’s a little trickier. How do you determine if you “acquired” U.S. citizenship at birth through a parent, or if you “derived” citizenship as a minor through your parent(s)?
We attempt to simplify the complex laws regarding acquisition and derivation of US citizenship through parents and grandparents so that they are understandable to non-lawyers.
There are 4 US Citizenship Charts that attorneys use to assist them in such cases. These charts are difficult to find on the USCIS website so we replicate them here so that you can use them to begin your research.
Derivative citizenship laws are one of the most complex areas of immigration law, and Congress has amended these laws multiple times. Fortunately, Attorney Shusterman spent several years as an INS Citizenship Attorney in the 1970s adjudicating N-600 derivative citizenship applications. This experience proved invaluable. Since 1982, we have helped hundreds of clients obtain U.S. citizenship through their parents and grandparents.
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“Mr. Shusterman and his law firm have represented my family and me very successfully. He is not only a legal guru in all things immigration but even more so he is an exceptional human being because he empathizes with his clients and cares that justice is done.”
- Maria Davari Knapp, Chicago, Illinois
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Some of these clients were in deportation proceedings, and would have been deported if we had not been able to prove that they were U.S. citizens even though they were born abroad.
There are multiple strategies for proving that you are a U.S. citizen even though you were not born in the U.S. You may want to apply for a U.S. passport, or alternately, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from the USCIS using form N-600.
US Citizenship Through Parents or Grandparents contains the following topics:
- General Information
- USCIS Policy Manual
- US Citizenship Charts
- Success Stories
- Child Citizenship Act of 2000
- Doctrine of Constructive Retention
- Citizenship Through Parents: Additional Resources
GENERAL INFORMATION – US CITIZENSHIP THROUGH PARENTS
- Obtaining Citizenship Through Parents: A Step-by-Step Guide
- N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship Frequently Asked Questions (USCIS)
- Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship at Birth by a Child Born Abroad (State Department)
- Information for Parents on Citizenship on DNA Testing (State Department)
- USCIS Clarifies Guidance on Citizenship and Naturalization for Adopted Children (4-21-23)
- Assisted Reproductive Technology and In-Wedlock Determinations for Immigration and Citizenship Purposes (8-5-21)
- USCIS Issues Policy Guidance on “Residence” Requirements for Acquiring Citizenship (8-28-19)
- USCIS Expands the Definition of “Mother” and “Parent” to Include Gestational Mothers Using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) (USCIS) (10-28-14)
- USCIS Policy Alert: Effect of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) on Immigration and Acquisition of Citizenship Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (USCIS) (10-28-14)
- Policy Guidance: Changes to Dates of Birth and Names on Certificates of Citizenship (USCIS) (6-17-14)
- Eligibility of Children Born out of Wedlock for Derivative Citizenship (USCIS) (9-26-03)
USCIS POLICY MANUAL
- USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 1 – Purpose and Background
- USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 2 – Definition of Child for Citizenship and Naturalization
- USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 3 – United States Citizens at Birth (INA 301 and 309)
- USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 4 – Automatic Acquisition of Citizenship after Birth (INA 320)
- USCIS Policy Manual, Chapter 5 – Child Residing Outside of the United States (INA 322)
US CITIZENSHIP CHARTS
- US Citizenship Chart #1 – Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship of Children Born Abroad in Wedlock
- US Citizenship Chart #2 – Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship of Children Born Abroad Out of Wedlock
- US Citizenship Chart #3 – Derivative Citizenship of Children
- US Citizenship Chart #4 – Section 322 Natural or Adoptive Child of a U.S. Citizen
SUCCESS STORIES – US CITIZENSHIP THROUGH PARENTS
- Obtaining Citizenship Through Parents, Grandparents & Great-Grandparents (Part I)
- Obtaining Citizenship Through Parents, Grandparents & Great-Grandparents (Part II)
- US Citizenship Through Your Parents
CHILD CITIZENSHIP ACT of 2000
Section 320 INA
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) amended INA 320 and removed INA 321 to create only one statutory provision and method for children in the United States to automatically acquire citizenship after birth. According to INA 320, a child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when all of the following conditions have been met on or after February 27, 2001:
The person is a child of a parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization (including an adoptive parent);
- The child is under 18 years of age;
- The child is a lawful permanent resident (LPR);
- The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
Since this section provides for automatic citizenship, the person can apply for a Certificate of Naturalization no matter what their age.
Section 322 INA
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) in INA 322 to cover foreign-born children who did not automatically acquire citizenship under INA 320 and who generally reside outside the United States with a U.S. citizen parent.
A child who regularly resides outside of the United States is eligible for naturalization if all of the following conditions have been met:
- The person is a child of a parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization (including an adoptive parent);
- The child’s U.S. citizen parent or citizen grandparent meets certain physical presence requirements in the United States or an outlying possession;
- The child is under 18 years of age;
- The child is residing outside of the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, or of a person who does not object to the application if the U.S. citizen parent is deceased;
- The child is lawfully admitted, physically present, and maintaining a lawful status in the United States at the time the application is approved and the time of naturalization.
Because this section is not automatic, an adult cannot apply for naturalization under Section 322.
There are certain exceptions to these requirements for children of U.S. citizens in the U.S. armed forces accompanying their parent outside the United States on official orders.
- US Citizenship: Laws and Policies (State Department)
- The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 FAQ (State Department)
- Automatic Acquisition of Citizenship After Birth – Section 320 (USCIS Policy Manual)
- Child Residing Outside the U.S. – Section 322 (USCIS Policy Manual)
- Nguyen vs. INS Supreme Court Upholds Gender-Based Distinctions In Derivative Citizenship Law (6-11-01)
Doctrine of Constructive Retention
Unless there is direct evidence of an applicant’s awareness of his claim to U.S. citizenship, the government accepts an applicant’s credible and convincing statements of unawareness. Persons who learned of their possession of U.S. citizenship after reaching age 26 were held not to have forfeited their U.S. citizenship by failing to enter the United States before their 26th birthday to begin compliance with the retention requirements of former section 301(b) INA.
There was no requirement that such persons later enter the United States in order to keep their citizenship. An individual who was aware before age 26 that he or she was a U.S. citizen but assumed that such citizenship had been lost could claim unawareness as a defense against the operation of former section 301(b) INA.
- DEFENSES OF UNAWARENESS, IMPOSSIBILITY OF PERFORMANCE, CONSTRUCTIVE COMPLIANCE, AND OFFICIAL MISINFORMATION (8 FAM 307.2)
- Madar v. USCIS (3rd Circuit, 3-07-19)
- Tullius v. Albright (11th Circuit, 2-06-01)
- Drozd v. INS (2nd Circuit, 8-24-98)
- Runnett v. Shultz (9th Circuit, 4-20-90)
- Matter of Navarette – BIA (2-21-67)
US Citizenship Through Parents: Additional Resources
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Immigration Attorney Carl Shusterman has 40+ years of experience. He served as an attorney for the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) from 1976 until 1982, when he entered private practice. He has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in SuperLawyers Magazine. Today, he serves as Of Counsel to JR Immigration Law Firm.