Quick Reference to Citizenship

ReferenceThis article briefly describes the paths to U.S. citizenship. These include birth in the U.S., naturalization, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, and acquisition of citizenship at birth abroad.

Birth in the U.S. or Certain Incorporated Territories

Under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, “all persons born … in the United States … are citizens of the United States,” with the exception of children of foreign diplomats.

Citizenship by birth also includes persons born in certain “incorporated” territories under U.S. control. Under the current Immigration and Nationality Act, such territories include Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. American Samoa and Swains Island are not “incorporated territories.” The status of territories has changed over time, impacting whether birth confers U.S. citizenship. For example, persons born in the Panama Canal Zone before October 1, 1979 (when jurisdiction over the Zone was transferredto Panama), are U.S. citizens at birth under certain conditions.

Persons born in the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands after Jan. 9, 1978, are U.S. citizens by virtue of a covenant between the U.S. and CNMI.

Birth in the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM), the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), and Palau (sometimes referred to collectively as the Freely Associated States) does not confer U.S. citizenship or nationality.

Naturalization

The general requirements for naturalization are that a person must:

  • Be at least 18 years old.
  • Have been lawfully admitted to the U.S. for permanent residence.
  • Have, immediately preceding the filing of the application, resided continuously in the U.S. for at least 5 years, except:
    • A permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen only needs 3 years of continuous residence if: (a) they have been married to and living in valid marital union with the same U.S. citizen spouse for all 3 years; and (b) the U.S. spouse has been a citizen for all 3 years.
    • A permanent resident married to a U.S. citizen stationed or employed abroad may be exempt from the continuous residence requirement if the citizen spouse is employed by the U.S. government, designated American research institutions, recognized U.S. religious organizations, certain international organizations, or American firms engaged in the development of foreign trade and commerce.
    • A person who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces may have the continuous residence requirement reduced or eliminated.
    • Persons who obtained permanent resident status by reason of their status as a spouse or child of a U.S. citizen who battered him or her (i.e., through a battered spouse or child visa petition, cancellation of removal or suspension of deportation for battered spouses and children, or removal of conditional residency through a battered spouse or child waiver) have a 3-year continuous residence requirement.
  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 1/2 of the required period of continuous residence.
  • Have resided within a state or USCIS district for at least 3 months.
  • Have been a person of good moral character during the period of required continuous residence.
  • Be attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
  • Be able to read, write, speak, and understand ordinary English, unless:
    • They have been residing in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 16 years and are over 55 years of age.
    • They have been residing in the U.S. as a permanent resident for at least 20 years and are over 50 years of age.
    • They have a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which affects their ability to learn English.
    • They fall within the terms of the Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act in that they: (a) were admitted as a refugee from Laos and served the U.S. military berween Feb. 28, 1961 and Sep. 18, 1987, or (b) are the widow of such a person and entered as a refugee from Laos, or (c) were admitted to the U.S. as a refugee from Laos and were married to such a veteran on the day the veteran applied for admission to the U.S. The naturalization application deadline is May 26, 2003 for groups (a) and (b), and Nov. 1, 2003 for group (c).
  • Pass a test demonstrating a knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government, except:
    • A person who has been residing in the U.S. as a permanent resident for 20 years and is over age 65 will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.
    • A person who has a medically determinable physical or mental impairment which affects their ability to learn this subject is exempt from the requirement.
    • A person who falls within the English language exemption of the Hmong Veterans’ Naturalization Act, as described above, will be afforded special consideration in satisfying this requirement.

Child Citizenship Act of 2000

A child born abroad and currently residing in the U.S. as a permanent resident automatically becomes a U.S. citizen if at any time after Feb. 27, 2001 all of the following are true:

  • The child has at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • The child is under 18 years of age.
  • The child is currently residing permanently in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

A child born abroad and currently residing abroad may apply for naturalization if the child is temporarily in the U.S. and all of the following are true:

  • The child has at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • The U.S. citizen parent has been physically present in the U.S. for at least 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the age of 14–or the U.S. citizen parent has a citizen parent who has been physically present in the U.S. for at least 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the age of 14.
  • The child is under 18 years of age.
  • The child is residing outside the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
  • The child is temporarily present in the U.S., having entered the U.S. lawfully and maintaining lawful status in the U.S.

Acquisition of Citizenship at Birth Abroad

Birth Abroad to Two U.S. Citizen Parents: A child born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents acquires U.S. citizenship at birth if one of the parents has resided in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth. No specific period of time for such prior residence is required. Birth Abroad to One Citizen Parent and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent in wedlock acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under section 301(g) of the Act, provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth:

  • For birth on or after Nov. 14, 1986, a period of 5 years physical presence, 2 after the age of 14 is required.
  • For birth between Dec. 24, 1952, and Nov. 13, 1986, a period of 10 years, 5 after the age of 14 are required.

Birth Abroad Out-of-Wedlock to a U.S. Citizen Father: A child born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father may acquire U.S. citizenship under section 301(g) of the Act if:

  • A blood relationship between the child and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence.
  • The father is a U.S. national at the time of the child’s birth.
  • The father (unless deceased) has agreed in writing to provide financial support for the child until the child reaches age 18.
  • While the child is under age 18, (a) the child is legitimated under the law of their residence or domicile, (b) the father acknowledges paternity of the child in writing under oath, or (c) the paternity of the child is established by adjudication in court.

Birth Abroad Out-of-Wedlock to a U.S. Citizen Mother: A child born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen mother may acquire U.S. citizenship under section 301(g) of the Act if the mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth, and if the mother had previously been present in the U.S. or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year.

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