Is My Child A United States Citizen If Born Abroad?

Daren Brown
By Daren Brown | March 21, 2019
Is My Child Still A United States Citizen If Born Abroad
Those of us who are US citizens rarely think that the bounds of immigration and naturalization apply to us; at least not until those bounds affect our children.

An estimated 4 to 10 million U.S. citizens live abroad. It's not uncommon for those citizens to start their families on foreign soil. Or, you could be traveling in another country while pregnant and unexpectedly have your child while there. The question is: if that child is born outside of the United States, is he or she an American citizen? The answer is, it depends.

What does Right of Soil Mean?

Simply stated, the "right of soil" means that your citizenship is determined by your birthplace. From an American standpoint, this includes:

  • All 50 states
  • The U.S. territories of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam
  • U.S. ports or harbors
  • Anyone born within 12 nautical miles of United States borders
  • Anyone born in-transit while traveling through the United States

This right doesn’t apply to children born on foreign military bases or in embassies and consulates; that's where the Child Citizenship Act makes the difference.

What does Citizenship by Birth Mean?

"Citizenship by birth" refers to a simplified immigration process for children born abroad to a United States citizen parent or parents. Any child under the age of 18 who is born on foreign soil automatically gains citizenship when they enter the United States as an immigrant.

The catch: at least one of their birth parents has to be a U.S. citizen and the child in question has to reside on American soil after entering the country. Even if this is the case, it is recommended that the parents obtain a Certificate of Citizenship and a US passport for any foreign-born children.

How Does A Parent’s Citizenship Affect a Child?

The rules are different for children born and raised outside of the U.S. The citizenship that belongs to a child's parents or grandparents only applies to minor children if they take up permanent residence (through legal means, with a green card) in the States while still a minor.

The decision not to relocate means that to become an American citizen that child has to undergo the immigration and naturalization process, like any other foreign applicant. The parents or grandparents can file a citizenship application on the child's behalf, but there are limitations.  These limitations vary depending on the law in effect at the time of the child’s birth.  Because these laws vary depending on the age of the foreign born child, this immigration blog only applies to cases after the month of February 2001.

Where Can I Find an Immigration Lawyer?

The citizenship process is always changing. That's why it's a good idea to have legal representation. Amarillo immigration lawyer Cindy Goodman of Stockard, Johnston, Brown & Netardus, P.C. in Amarillo, Texas can advise you on a variety of immigration matters. 

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photo credit: Aldo Risolvo via photopin cc

Topics: Immigration