In the mid-1800s, the United States Congress first passed a law stating that children born abroad to Americans were U.S. citizens. Under current law, there are six situations in which a child born abroad acquires U.S. citizenship or nationality. In all six situations, at least one parent must be a U.S. citizen or national. Additionally, there are sometimes additional requirements that must be met, such as U.S. residence of the qualifying parent.
The first situation in which one born outside the U.S. automatically becomes a U.S. citizen is when both parents are citizens and at least one of the parents resided in the U.S. or one of its possessions before the child was born.
In the second situation, one parent is a U.S. citizen parent and the other parent is a noncitizen national parent. Also, the citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. or one of its possessions for at least a one-year period before the child was born.
Three criteria are necessary in the third situation. First, one of the parents must be a U.S. citizen. Second, that parent must have been physically present in the U.S. or one of its possessions for at least five years. Third, two of these five years must have been after the parent reached age 14. Time abroad in the U.S. military or civilian service may be counted toward the five-year period, as may time abroad as the dependent of someone serving in these capacities.
The fourth situation applies only to children born in Panama. Only one requirement is imposed to qualify these children for U.S. citizenship. One parent must be a U.S. citizen who works for either the U.S. government or for the Panama Railroad Company.
A child born outside the U.S. to two noncitizen nationals acquires their noncitizen nationality at birth if, before the child was born, they resided in the U.S. or one of its possessions.
Children born outside the U.S. illegitimately are be entitled to the status carried by one or both of their parents, either citizenry or nationality, if their paternity is established before they are 21 years old. To qualify, they must fall into one of the five above categories, in addition to showing the status of their parent.
Additionally, if the mother of an illegitimate child born outside the country was a U.S. national, the child acquires the mother’s status. To be applicable, the mother must have been present for at least a one-year period in the U.S. or its possessions before the child’s birth.
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