Acquisition of US citizenship


Q. I live outside the United States, but I am a US citizen. If I or my spouse have a child abroad, is it possible for them to obtain US citizenship? If so, how?


A. This question, like many legal questions, depends on the facts of the specific circumstance. However, the general answer is yes: a child born outside the United States can still be a United States citizen.

The date of birth and the marital status of the parents are the two major considerations when analyzing whether the child acquired US citizenship through one or both parents. As US immigration law changed over time, the requirements were similarly altered about a child’s residency in the United States, the parent’s residency in the US, and the parent’s physical presence in the United States. Let’s run through a few examples.

• For a child born in wedlock after Nov. 14, 1986, if both parents are US citizens and at least one parent resided in the United States at some period of time, then the child is automatically a US citizen. 

• If that same child born in wedlock after Nov. 14, 1986, was born to one US citizen parent and one foreign national parent, then as long as the US citizen parent was physically present in the United States for five years, two of which occurred after that parent was 14 years old, the child also automatically became a US citizen at birth. 

• If the child is born out of wedlock, then the requirements differ depending on which parent is the US citizen. The analysis is admittedly easier if the US citizen parent is the mother. From Dec. 24, 1952, to June 12, 2017, if at some point before the child was born the US citizen mother had been physically present in the US for a continuous period of one year, then the child acquired citizenship. 

• Since June 12, 2017, if the other parent is not a US citizen, we now must apply the test for in-wedlock children. However, if both parents are US citizens and if the other parent is a father, then the father must meet the paternity requirements that apply if a child is born out of wedlock and only the father is a US citizen. 

What are those paternity requirements? First, the biological relationship must be established by “clear and convincing evidence,” which can often be accomplished through the child’s birth certificate that lists the father. Next, the father must be a US citizen at the time of the child’s birth. Third, the individual, unless deceased, must provide a written statement under oath to provide financial support for the child until that child reaches age 18. Finally, before the child’s 18th birthday, the father must legitimate the relationship or have paternity established by a competent court. If all of these conditions are met, then we can apply the in-wedlock standard to determine if the child acquired citizenship at birth.

These cases are complicated, even more so if the births involve assisted reproductive technology or surrogacy, so it is always best to consult a US immigration professional.

• If the child born abroad is now residing within the United States, then the child will apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting the Form N-600 and all required documents. If the child is abroad, the child can seek a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at a US embassy or consulate. The US Embassy in Dublin has information about that process on its website here: 

Disclaimer: These articles are published to inform the general public, not to advise in individual cases. All law, including immigration law, is always subject to change. If you seek legal advice you can contact Rian’s immigration legal staff at 617-984-6542.



Rian Immigrant Center

One State Street, Suite 800, Boston, MA  02109

Telephone (617) 542-7654