So how is it possible that you could be a citizen, and not even know it?
Well one way to be a U.S. Citizen is simply to be born in the United States. The United States has what is called birthright citizenship. What this means is, no matter what the legal status of your parents was (they could have been undocumented), if you were born in the United States, by your very birth you are a U.S. Citizen. Thus, if you happened to have been born on your parent’s vacation in the United States, you are technically a U.S. Citizen. The only minor exception to this rule is if you happened to have been born in the United States to foreign diplomats; in which case you would still be eligible for a Green Card.
If you were born in the U.S., then there is a good chance that you already know you’re a U.S. Citizen, as birthright citizenship in the United States is a fact known to many. The rest of this article will focus on slightly more obscure ways to realize that you are in fact, already a U.S. Citizen.
Well the first question to ask, is if one your parents is/was a U.S. Citizen? We will consider this first, before going on to consider potential citizenship through Grandparents.
If one or both of your parents is a citizen of the United States (or was if they are now deceased), then you may also be a U.S. Citizen. The rules for this type of Citizenship are as follows:
• If both your parents are/were U.S. Citizens, but you were born outside of the U.S. or one of its territories/ possessions: then you are a U.S. Citizen if either of your parents ever lived in the United States, for anytime at all prior to your birth.
• If one of your parents is a U.S. Citizen and the other is a U.S. National (think of people from American Samoa, today), but you were born outside of the U.S. or one of its territories/possessions: then you are a U.S. Citizen, if your U.S. Citizen parent has been/was physically present in the United States, or one of it’s possessions, for a continuous period of a year, prior to your birth.
• If one of your parents is a U.S. Citizen and you were born in an outlying possession (think only of American Samoa if born after 1950) of the United States: then you are a U.S. Citizen, if your U.S. Citizen parent was physically present for a continuous period of a year in the United States, or one of its possessions, prior to your birth.
• **If one of your parents is a U.S. Citizen and the other a Foreign Alien and you were born outside of the United States or one of its possessions: Then you are a citizen, if your U.S. Citizen parent, was physically present in the United for a period (or periods) totaling 5 years prior to your birth; and, at least two of those years were after that parent turned 14 years of age.
This last example, is one of the most common scenarios of U.S. Citizenship that Immigration Attorneys come across. Children born to a U.S. Citizen parent living abroad, very often satisfy this criteria. There is one caveat however, this last bullet point is generally applicable assuming you were born on or after November 14th, 1986. If you are older than that, the specific law that was in place at the time you were born will determine whether you are a citizen or not. If this or one of the other listed scenarios above, applies to you, you are already a citizen, and you are not technically required to do anything more.
However, if you want the full the benefits of being a U.S. citizen you are simply going to need to file an N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship, or apply for a passport through the Department of Homeland Security. The first process usually requires compiling the required supporting documentation, appearing for an interview with USCIS, and perhaps taking the Oath of Allegiance (if required). If you are 18 or older you can do this on your own behalf, or if a minor, your U.S. Citizen parent will have to file this on your behalf. More information on this process is available here.
Also somewhat common, is that a child will be born to a U.S. Citizen, but the parent cannot give their citizenship to their child because they cannot satisfy the physical presence requirement. Let’s say for example, that the U.S. Citizen parent left the United States as a small child shortly after being born.
Well, sometimes, there is another solution. Children can actually have their U.S. Citizenship registered through their Grandparents, provided their grandparents can satisfy the 5 year physical presence requirement described in the last bullet point above. For this, the requirements are as follows:
1. The Child is under 18 and in the legal custody of a U.S. Citizen parent (the one who can’t satisfy the physical presence requirement);
2. The Child’s U.S. Citizen grandparent, was physically present in the United States for at least 5 years, and two of these years were after their 14th birthday.
The U.S. Citizen parent (unless deceased in the last 5 years), not the Grandparent, will have to complete, sign, and file an N-600K Application and supporting documentation; along with the $600 dollar filing fee ($550 if an adopted child), with any USCIS field office in the United States. If the U.S. Citizen parent is deceased, the grandparent or another U.S. Citizen guardian can file on the child’s behalf, but it must be done within 5 years of the U.S. Citizen Parent’s death.
The filing U.S. Citizen parent will then receive temporary approval of the application, and you will have to schedule an interview with them. Then, the child along with their accompanying U.S. Citizen parent, must enter the United States legally (a tourist visa for the child would suffice for that), still be in valid status (tourist visa unexpired), and the interview will be conducted. Assuming that everything is fine with the application and supporting evidence, the child will take the “Oath of Allegiance” as part of the interview (unless USCIS waives it which they often do for Children under the age of 14). After this, a Certificate of Citizenship is presented to the child.
For more information about the supporting documentation required for this procedure, please see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 12 – Citizenship & Naturalization, Part H – Children of U.S. Citizens, Chapter 5, available here.
While not the hardest procedure by Immigration Law standards, it can be a little complicated. if you are unsure of how to proceed or how to document the evidence required to register your own, or your child’s U.S. Citizenship, you should contact an experienced Immigration Attorney.