Is a Child Born Abroad a US Citizen?

By Katherine at Legal Language
Posted on 06/14/2010
In Family Law

statue of libery child abroad us citizenChildren born abroad can fall into a questionable category.

Millions of Americans live or spend time abroad without relinquishing US citizenship. But what happens if a child is born abroad, and one or both parents are US citizens?

While a child born abroad to US citizen parents is a US citizen in most cases, there are some confusing rules regarding how US citizenship is obtained.

Children Born Abroad in Wedlock

If a child born abroad has two US citizen parents, the child is automatically a US citizen provided that the parents are legally married and at least one has previously had a residence in the US prior to the child’s birth.

It gets more complicated if the child born abroad has only one US citizen parent. If the parents are married, the child born abroad gets citizenship at birth only if the US citizen parent was present in the United States for a certain amount of time before the child was born — generally five years total, with two years of residence after the age of 14.

Children Born Abroad Out of Wedlock

If a child is born abroad and the parents are not married, the question of citizenship becomes even more complex.

A child born abroad to a US citizen mother is a US citizen if the mother had been previously present in the United States or a US territory for a period of at least one uninterrupted year.

However, a child born abroad with a US citizen father can only be a US citizen if the following criteria are met:

  • A blood relationship between the father and the child is established.
  • The father has — in writing and under oath — acknowledged paternity and agreed to provide financial support for the child until he or she turns 18.
  • Paternity is established by an adjudication court.

Children Born in US Territories

It is common knowledge that a child born on US soil obtains US citizenship. But US citizenship is also extended to children born in any US territory, including the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam.

The borders are even more broad than just US territories. Children born in US ports or harbors within 12 nautical miles of US shores are also automatically US citizens. If a child is born in a plane flying over the US, the child becomes a US citizen, no matter what the plane’s country of origin or destination may be.

US installations in other countries are not considered a part of the United States, however. So a child born abroad at a naval base would not automatically be a US citizen unless the child’s parents fit into one of the above categories.

Other Ways a Child Born Abroad Can Become a US Citizen

A child born abroad who does not qualify for US citizenship under any of these conditions but still has a US citizen parent can come to the US with an immigrant visa.

The US citizen parent can file for a green card on behalf of the child, and once the green card is granted, can apply for expeditious naturalization — meaning that the child will not have to wait the customary three years after being granted permanent residency to become a citizen.

Laws about travel and citizenship are ever-changing. If you are planning to have a child abroad, be sure to check with the local US embassy or consulate for the laws pertaining to citizenship. If your child is born abroad, make sure that registering your child with the embassy is one of the first things you do — it secures the child’s US citizenship.

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