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How do I know if I’m a United States Citizen?

Seems like an easy question, right? You would think a person would know if they were a United States citizen as a matter of common sense. But sometimes it’s not that easy. If you have a United States citizen parent, either by birth or naturalization, you may have automatically acquired or derived U.S. citizenship and may not even know it.

A person can become a United States citizen any one of the following four ways: Constitutional citizenship, Acquired citizenship, Derivative citizenship, or Naturalization.

Constitutional citizenship – The fourteenth amendment of the United States Constitution states that “…all persons born in and subject to the jurisdiction of the United States are citizens.” This means that anyone born on U.S. soil is a United States citizen, other than the children of diplomats not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.

Statutory citizenship – A person can derive citizenship through their parents citizenship or naturalization or acquire citizenship when board abroad to U.S. citizen parents or become a U.S. citizen through naturalization.

Derivative Citizenship

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provides that:

A child automatically derives citizenship when all of the following conditions are met:
At least 1 parent is a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization,
The child is under 18,
The child is not married,
The child is an LPR, and The child is living in the US in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent.

If the child was born before before February 28, 1983, different laws apply depending on the child’s birth.

Acquired Citizenship

A child will automatically acquire citizenship if that child is born abroad and has at least one U.S. citizen parent and the following elements are established:

Two U.S. citizen parents

1 parent was physically present in the U.S. or its possessions at any time before the child’s birth
One U.S. citizen parent, One U.S. national parent

The citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. or its possessions for at least 1 continuous year before the child’s birth
One U.S. citizen parent, child born in wedlock

Parent was physically present in the U.S. for 5 years before the child’s birth, and

2 of those 5 years were after the citizen parent was 14 years old.

U.S. citizen mother, child born out of wedlock

The mother was physically present in the U.S. or it’s possessions for 1 continuous year before the child’s birth

U.S. citizen father, child born out of wedlock

The USC father meets the U.S. residency requirements discussed previously for the appropriate class and:
2 citizen parents,
1 citizen parent and 1 national parent, or
1 citizen parent, and
There is clear and convincing evidence of a blood relationship between USC father and child, and

The USC father was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth, and

The USC father has agreed in writing, under oath, to provide financial support for the child until age 18, and
The child was:
legitimated before turning 18, or the USC father states in writing, under oath, that he is the father, or paternity has been established by a competent court.

Naturalization – If a person is a lawful permanent resident for five years (or 3 years if married to and residing with a United States citizen spouse), that person can apply for naturalization by filing an application. The person must have good moral character, pass a civics exam, pass an English proficiency exam, have been physically present in the United States for half of the five (or 3) year period and have resided in the U.S. for the five (or three) year period, among other considerations.