Nationality Law involves U.S. citizenship obtained through birth, derivation or naturalization. Citizenship offers several benefits not available to others. For example, only U.S. citizens can vote in federal elections. A citizen can petition to bring a larger variety of family members to the United States permanently than can a lawful permanent resident. Immediate family members of a U.S. citizen get priority in obtaining permanent residence. Furthermore, in many cases, a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen is automatically a U.S. citizen. Finally, most federal jobs require that the applicant be a U.S. citizen.
The U.S. Constitution states that any person born in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction is an American citizen. However, a child may still be born an American citizen even if he or she was not born in the United States. In some circumstances a child born abroad is a citizen at birth if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen. The requirements to prove citizenship at birth depends on what year the child was born. Interested parties should inquire with an immigration and nationality attorney about the requirements in place at the time of birth.
A person may derive citizenship from a biological or adopted U.S. citizen parent. The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (“CCA”), enacted February 21, 2001, allows a child to acquire citizenship if at least one parent is a U.S. citizen through either birth or naturalization, the child is under 18 years old, live in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, and be admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
Under specific conditions, CCA allows children of U.S. citizens who reside abroad to apply for a Certificate of Citizen.
An individual may apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization if he or she complies with several requirements. The person must be at least 18 years old and have been in permanent resident status for at least five years. Three years may be sufficient if married to and living with the same U.S. citizen. Furthermore, the applicant must satisfy physical and continuous presence requirements and good moral character standards. Finally, in order to be approved, the individual must pass an English and civics examination, and show a willingness to “attach” to the U.S. Constitution. Please note that there are exceptions to either the English or civics testing requirements or both.