Transmission of US Citizenship to Children Born Abroad

By Zeenat Phophalia Immigration Attorney, D&A

Several thousands of Americans live and work outside the United States and have children in different countries.  This, however does not mean that such children born outside of America to either both or one American parent would be deprived of US citizenship.  While it’s common knowledge that anyone born in the US is automatically a US citizen by virtue of birth, there is much less familiarity with citizenship laws that may apply to children born abroad to US citizen parents.  Laws governing such acquisition of US citizenship can be complex and have been amended several times, thus making them difficult to navigate. 

The determination regarding acquisition of citizenship by a child born outside the US is based on a variety of factors, including the law in existence at the time of the child’s birth, the total amount of physical presence of the US citizen parent(s) prior to the child’s birth and, in some cases, the marital status of the parents. 

This is quite a complicated and nuanced topic of immigration law and this article seeks to provide a brief overview and general guidelines.

Broadly, these are the main categories in which children born outside America (abroad) can obtain US citizenship through their parent/s:

  1. By Birth.

A child born abroad in wedlock to two US citizen parents acquires US citizenship at birth if at least one of the parents had a residence in America (or one of its outlying possessions) prior to child’s birth and at least one of the US citizen parents is a biological parent.

On the other hand, a child born abroad in wedlock to a US citizen and a non-US citizen parent (on or after November 14, 1986) will acquire US citizenship at birth if the US citizen parent had been physically present in America (or one of its outlying possessions) prior to the child’s birth for at least five years (out of which at least two years were after the parent attained age 14).

Soon after the child’s birth abroad, the parents should contact the nearest local US consulate or embassy to obtain a formal document certifying the acquisition of US citizenship by their child, known as, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). 

  • Child Residing in the US.

A child under 18 years of age can acquire US citizenship if he or she has at least one US citizen parent by birth or naturalization, has been admitted to the US in lawful permanent resident status (as an immigrant) and resides in the country in the legal and physical custody of his or her US citizen parent, after admission to the US.

Under this provision, the child can apply for a US passport based on the proof of: his or her relationship to the US citizen parent (which is typically evidenced by be a certified copy of the foreign birth certificate); and child having resided in the US in the legal and physical custody of the US citizen parent(s) pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence (evidenced by the I-551 stamp or the child’s permanent resident card and other relevant documents such as school and medical records, etc.).

  • Child Residing Outside the US.

A child under 18 years of age who lives abroad in the legal and physical custody of the US citizens parent/s, can acquire US citizenship if such child has at least one US citizen parent by birth or naturalization; the US citizen parent has been physically present in the United States for a total of at least 5 years (at least two of which are after age 14) at the time of or after the child’s birth (but before the child turns 18).  The child needs to be temporarily present in the US pursuant to a lawful admission to apply for a certificate citizenship through the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and take an oath of naturalization to complete his or he citizenship acquisition. 

To learn more about family immigration, please contact us for a free consultation.


This article is published for clients, friends and other interested visitors for information purposes only. The contents of the article do not constitute legal advice and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Davies & Associates or any of its attorneys, staff or clients. External links are not an endorsement of the content..

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