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Am I Already a US Citizen Even Though I was Born Outside the U.S.?

The U.S. proudly maintains its practice of “birthright citizenship” which means that those born within the country’s borders are automatically U.S. citizens. However for those of you born outside the U.S., you may still already be a U.S. citizen depending on several factors.

The starting point for determining if you already possess U.S. citizenship is your date of birth. Your age is the key issue involved for knowing which rules apply to you. The law has changed quite a bit over the decades and the general rule is that the law in effect when you were born is what applies to you.

A key date to keep in mind is February 27, 2001, when Congress enacted the Child Citizenship Act (CCA). If you were born after that date or were under 18 years old on that date, then the CCA applies to you. This law streamlines the rules and thankfully is an improvement over the prior, more confusing rules – which you will have to investigate if you were over 18 back in 2001. 

 

If you were born after February 27, 2001, or you were 17 or younger on that date, and you were born outside the U.S., once the following conditions are met, you will have automatically acquired citizenship under the CCA:

  • You have at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen through birth or naturalization. Your adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen certainly counts as well.
  • You, the child, are under 18 years old.
  • You are already a U.S. permanent resident.
  • You live in the U.S. in both the legal and physical custody of your U.S. citizen parent.

 

Once all of those conditions have been met, then according to the CCA, you will immediately and automatically become a U.S. citizen! 

Keep in mind, however, that USCIS requires that you prove all of these steps occur and will not automatically send you a Certificate of Citizenship. Instead, you have to apply for this Certificate of Citizenship using Form N600 and provide documentation proving you indeed did meet all of the necessary elements of the CCA. Quite often it is challenging to gather and present all of the required evidence if you are already over 18 and living on your own. The prerequisite of living in your U.S. citizen’s legal and physical custody is often the trickiest item to document.

For those who do not qualify to automatically acquire citizenship under the CCA because you were born before the eligibility date and sadly are not young enough, you instead need to look at the specific law in effect on your birth date. This area of law – the acquisition or derivation of citizenship – is notoriously challenging and there are quite a few detailed charts that need to be consulted to make sure you are applying the correct law for your situation.

In general, former INA 321 applies to children who were already 18 years of age on February 27, 2001, but who were under 18 years of age in 1952, when the current Immigration and Nationality Act became effective.

In general, a child born outside of the United States to two alien parents, or one alien parent and one U.S. citizen parent who subsequently lost U.S. citizenship, acquires citizenship under former INA 321 if:

  • The child’s parent(s) meet one of the following conditions:​
    • Both parents naturalize;​
    • One surviving parent naturalizes if the other parent is deceased;​
    • One parent naturalizes who has legal custody of the child if there is a legal separation of the parents; or​
    • The child’s mother naturalizes if the child was born out of wedlock and paternity has not been established by legitimation.
  • The child is under 18 years of age when his or her parent(s) naturalize; and
  • The child is residing in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence at the time the parent(s) naturalized or thereafter begins to reside permanently in the United States.

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