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Citizenship through Parents

Persons born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents may “acquire” or “derive” U.S. citizenship depending upon certain factors.

In many circumstances, if at least one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth abroad, the child automatically “acquires” citizenship at birth.  When this child marries and has children, those children may also acquire U.S. citizenship at birth.  The laws governing whether or not a child born abroad acquires U.S. citizenship from parents have changed several times.  It is important to check the law that was in effect on the date of the child’s birth (and the parents’ birth, if grandparents were U.S. citizens) to determine whether the child is eligible for U.S. citizenship.

Similarly, when a parent naturalizes, his or her children may “derive” U.S. citizenship automatically, provided they have green cards and are under age 18 and living with the parent at the time. Becoming a U.S. citizen in this way has a special benefit — a child who obtains U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of either or both parents does not have to participate in a naturalization ceremony.  As with the laws governing acquired U.S. citizenship, the laws on the automatic naturalization of children have changed over the years.  Whether or not someone has derived U.S. citizenship is determined by the laws that existed when his or her parent’s naturalization took place.