Acquiring Citizenship at Birth
These articles are part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law.**
Born in the U.S.
If you were born in the United States, you are automatically a US citizen. Even if your parents were not citizens, or they weren’t in the country lawfully – even if you left the US the day you were born and never returned – you’re a US citizen if you were born on US soil.
What qualifies as “US soil”? Obviously, it includes all 50 US states. It also includes Puerto Rico, Guam, the US Virgin Islands, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. If you were born in any of these locations, you are a US citizen.
There is only one exception to this rule. The children of foreign diplomats who are born on US soil do not automatically acquire US citizenship.
Born outside of the U.S. to U.S. citizens
If both your parents were US citizens, but you were born outside the country, you are probably a US citizen. The answer usually depends on whether your parents were married at the time you were born. If they were married, you are a citizen so long as at least one of your parents lived in the US at some point before you were born. If they were not married, you must show that you have a valid citizenship claim through one of your parents.
One parent is a U.S. citizen
If only one of your parents was a citizen of the United States, things get very complicated. You should speak with an experienced attorney to discuss specifics, but in general, you are a citizen if:
- Your parents were married AND your US citizen parent spent a certain number of years (usually between five and ten) living in the US before you were born, AND some of those years occurred after your parent’s 14th
- Your parents were not married, your mother was a US citizen, and she was physically present in the US for a continuous (not interrupted) one year period before your birth.
- Your parents were not married, your father was a US citizen, and he lived in the US for a certain number of years, AND he agreed to support you financially, AND you can establish paternity.