The vast majority of the citizens of the United States were born within one of the country’s states or territories. And among the people who are born outside of the United States and its territories, the most common way of becoming a citizen is by naturalization But these are not the only manners by which a person becomes a citizen. Below is closer look at the various ways of acquiring citizenship.
By Birth in the United States (Jus Soli) and its territories
Anyone born in the United States is automatically a U.S. citizen. This is known as the principle of jus soli(or “right of soil"). An exception to the rule of jus soli is in the case of children of foreign diplomats, who do not become citizen because they are not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States.
Birth in a U.S. Territory. Over the course of its history, the United States has acquired several territories and possessions. Most of the territories and possessions have benefited from statutes granting citizenship to anyone born there. A few examples are Guam, the Virgin Islands, and Puerto Rico. However, the outlaying possessions of the United States (which include American Samoa and Swains Island) have not benefited from such legislation, and the people in those places are not U.S. citizens, but instead are U.S. nationals.
By Having a Parent who is a U.S. Citizen (Jus Sanguinis)
A person is also a citizen at birth if he or she is born outside of the United States in the following circumstances:
Both parents are U.S. citizens and at least one parent had a residence in the United States or its outlaying territories prior to the birth of the person;
One parent is a U.S. citizen that has been physically present in the United States or one of its outlaying possessions for a continuous period of one year prior to the person’s birth, and the other parent is a national of the United States;
The person was born in an outlaying possession of the United States (American Samoa or Swains Island), and at least one parent is a citizen of the United States and was physically present in the United States or one of its outlaying possessions for a continuous period of one year at any time prior to the birth of the person; and
All of the circumstances listed above have the common factor that at least one parent must have been a United States citizen. The child becomes a citizen by virtue of the relationship to the citizen parent. This principle is known as jus sanguinis (or “right of blood").
Children Born Out of Wedlock. A Child born out of wedlock is a U.S. citizen if the mother is a U.S. citizen and had resided in the United States for at least one year prior to the child’s birth. If the father is a U.S. citizen, but the mother is not, then the child is a citizen only if (1) the blood relationship with the child is shown by clear and convincing evidence; (2) the father was a citizen at the time of the child’s birth; (3) the father has agreed in writing to provide financial support to the child until the child is eighteen years of age; and (4) before the child reaches the age of eighteen, he or she is legitimated under the law of the country where the child resides, the father acknowledges paternity in writing and under oath, or paternity is established by court adjudication.
Permanent residents, and certain military personnel who are not permanent residents, may apply for citizenship through a process known as naturalization. To do so, permanent residents must meet several requirements, such as they must be at least eighteen years of age, have resided continuously in the United States for at least five years (three years for spouses of U.S. citizens), be able to show that they are of good moral character, among others.
Naturalization of Parents
A child born outside of the United States automatically gains citizenship if the child is under the age of eighteen years, has at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, and is resides with the citizen parent (who has legal and physical custody of the child). The child must have entered the United States lawfully.
Sign up to receive a 5-part series of useful information and advice about child custody law.