A blog about U.S. immigration matters by Paul Szeto, a former INS attorney and an experienced immigration lawyer. We serve clients in all U.S. states and overseas countries. (All information is not legal advice and is subject to change without prior notice.)

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Monday, August 8, 2022

Children of U.S. Citizens born abroad: Are they Americans?


As of 2019, the U.S. State Department estimated that 9 million Americans live in overseas countries.  Many of them work for the U.S. government or companies; some others may simply choose to live in another country for personal reasons.  International marriages have also become extremely common nowadays.  One consequence of these global movements is that many children are born in overseas countries to American citizen parent(s).  What is the nationality of these children? And how can they prove it? 

Birth Certificates / CRBA

Typically, a child who is born in another country may obtain a birth certificate issued by the local authorities, showing the time, date, and place of their birth.  The birth certificate may also contain information about the child's parents and their nationality.  However, a foreign birth certificate does not prove American citizenship.  The U.S. State Department recommends that children of U.S. citizens born abroad should apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the USA (CRBA).  The CRBA works like an American birth certificate, proving that the child is a U.S. citizen at birth.   The application process for a CRBA is not trivial and may vary in different Consulate offices.  But generally, the child must apply before the age 18, and provide proof that he/she was born to at least one American citizen parent abroad.  Further, the U.S. citizen parent (or sometimes the grandparent) must prove that he/she was residing in the United States for at least five years, at least two of which were after the parent reached the age of 14.  The residence requirements are different if both parents are U.S. citizens or if the child was born out of wedlock. Original documents must be provided, and an interview is mandatory.  If only one parent can attend the interview, additional documentation will be required, especially if the U.S. citizen father cannot attend. 

Citizenship Act of 2000

For those children who are not eligible for a CRBA, they may be eligible for U.S. citizenship under the provisions of the Citizenship Act of 2000.  Under this law, children may acquire citizenship if they meet certain legal requirements before reaching the age of 18.  First, they must have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through the naturalization process.  Second, they must be admitted legally to the United States as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence. Third, after their admission, they must reside in the U.S. under the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent.  The last requirement is a both a legal requirement and a factual determination.  It is important to note that if the child was legally adopted, the adoption process must be legally complete and fully recognized by the State where the child is living. 

Expatriates Residing Abroad

While the Citizenship Act of 2000 makes it easier for foreign-born children of U.S. citizens to apply for American citizenship, it requires that the child be admitted as a legal resident and be residing with a U.S. citizen parent.  There are situations in which the family regularly lives in another country for work or other reasons.  In these cases, it is not feasible for the child to meet the residence requirement.  Fortunately, Section 322 of the Immigration Act allows such children to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from abroad by filing the N-600K application, if the citizen parent meets certain U.S. residence requirements.  Further, the child must still physically present in the United States temporarily to attend an interview in person to complete the application process.

U.S. Passport vs. U.S. Certificate of Citizenship

Regardless of how a child may have acquired U.S. citizenship, it is very important to have possession of a document to prove his/her citizenship.  Applying for a U.S. passport is probably the easiest way to prove one's citizenship, and a passport may also be used as a travel document.  However, a passport is generally not a permanent document and must be renewed periodically.  To secure a permanent document, one should apply for a Certificate of Citizenship with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.  It is a direct and permanent proof of one's American citizenship. It is registered with the Department of Homeland Security permanently. Further, some government agencies or benefit applications may require the Certificate of Citizenship as proof of one's U.S. citizenship. 

(Immigration laws and policies change regularly.  If you have any questions regarding this article, please visit www.1visa1.com to schedule a legal consultation.) 

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