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Citizenship

Becoming an American Citizen

Who Qualifies?

Under the 14 th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution: “all persons born or naturalized in the United States… are citizens of the United States.”  

We assist people in “discovering” claims they may have to U.S. citizenship, which are often derived from parents or ancestors under complex rules and laws. If you were born in the U.S., but have lived abroad for many years, have served in another country’s military,   or have voted in other elections, you may nevertheless have retained your right to U.S. citizenship. If you were not born in the U.S., but have U.S. citizen ancestors, you may be able to claim U.S. citizenship. If your parents were naturalized U.S. citizens, but you were a minor at the time, and were never naturalized, you may be   a U.S. citizen. If you are a Legal Permanent Resident, and meet certain requirements, you may apply to become a U.S. citizen.

U.S CITIZENSHIP MAY BE CLAIMED BY PEOPLE WHO FALL INTO THE FOLLOWING FOUR CATEGORIES:

1. BIRTH IN THE U.S.If you were born in the U.S., you automatically acquire U.S. citizenship, unless you were born to a foreign government official who is in the U.S. in diplomatic status.

•  BIRTH TO U.S. CITIZEN PARENTS – If you were born outside the U.S., if at least one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time. Laws providing for acquisition of citizenship require the U.S. citizen parent to reside in the U.S. for certain time periods prior to the birth of the child in order to transmit citizenship to the child.   The applicable law depends on your date of birth, as follows:

•  Birth Prior to May 24, 1934 – If you were born prior to May 24, 1934, and at least one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time, or later became a U.S. citizen.

•  Parents Birth Prior to May 24, 1934 If either of your parents was born prior to May 24, 1934, they may have acquired U.S. citizenship from either of their parents which they could have then passed on to you under laws in existence at a later date.

•  May 25, 1934 to January 12, 1941 – If you were born between May 25, 1934 and January 12, 1941, you acquired U.S. citizenship at birth, as long as both your parents were U.S. citizens and at least one had resided in the U.S. prior to your birth. You could also acquire U.S. citizenship if only one parent was a U.S. citizen if that parent had a prior U.S. residence, and you resided in the U.S. for at least two years between the ages of 14 and 28, or if your non-citizen parent naturalized before you turned 18, and you started living in the U.S. permanently before the age of 18. If your U.S. citizen parent was your father, and your birth was illegitimate, and he legitimated you, you became a U.S. citizen, provided you met the retention requirements.

•  January 13, 1941 to December 23, 1952 – If you were born between January 13, 1941 and December 23, 1952, both your parents were U.S. citizens and at least one had a prior residence in the U.S., you acquired U.S. citizenship at birth. If only one parent was a U.S. citizen, that parent had to reside in the U.S. at least ten years prior to your birth and at least five of those years had to have been after he or she reached the age of 16. To maintain your citizenship, you must have lived in the U.S. for at least 2 years between the ages of 14 and 28. Alternatively, you could retain your citizenship if your non-citizen parent naturalized before you turned 18, and you began living in the U.S. permanently before age 18. If you were born after October 9, 1952, your parent had to fulfill this residence requirement in order to confer citizenship on you, but you did not have to fulfill the aforementioned residence requirement. If your father was your one U.S. citizen parent and your birth was illegitimate, the same rules applied provided you were legally legitimated prior to your 21 st birthday and you were unmarried at the time of legitimation.

•  December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986 – If your parents were U.S. citizens and at least one had a prior residence in the U.S. when you were born, you acquired U.S. citizenship with no conditions attached. If only one parent was a U.S. citizen when you were born, that parent must have resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years and at least 5 of those years had to have been after your parent turned 16. To retain your citizenship, you must have resided in the U.S. for 2 years between the ages of 14 and 28. If your father was your one U.S. citizen parent, and your birth was illegitimate, the same rules apply, provided you were legally legitimated prior to your 21 st birthday and you were unmarried at the time of legitimation.

•  November 14, 1986 to Present – If both your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born, and at least one had a prior residence in the U.S., you acquired citizenship with no retention conditions attached. If only one parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth, that parent must have resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years and at least 2 of those years must have been after your parent reached the age of 14. Even with only one U.S. citizen parent, there are still no conditions to retaining your citizenship. If your father was your one U.S. citizen parent, and your birth was illegitimate, the same rules apply, provided you were legally legitimated prior to your 18 th   birthday, and your father established paternity prior to your 18 th birthday, either by acknowledgement, or by court order, and stated, in writing, that her would   support you financially until your 18 th birthday.

•  Exceptions to Requirements for Retaining Citizenship –   Many people are or have been unaware of the complex and changing residency requirements applicable to their claims to citizenship. Persons who failed to comply with the residence requirements in effect prior to 1978 can regain their citizenship by following simple procedures.

•  DERIVATION OF U.S. CITIZENSHIP THROUGH NATURALIZED PARENTS

The U.S. Constitution requires Congress to “establish a uniform Rule of Naturalization. When one or both parents become naturalized U.S. citizens, the children become U.S. citizens automatically, provided they have green cards and are under the age of 18 at the time. Whether or not you are a U.S. citizen depends on the law in effect at the time of your parents’ naturalization, as follows:

•  Parents Naturalized Before May 24, 1934 – If either parent became naturalized prior to your 21 st birthday and you held a green card at the time, you automatically derived U.S. citizenship. This applied if you were an illegitimate child of your father and had been legally legitimated or an illegitimate child of your mother, whether legitimated or not. Adopted children and stepchildren did not qualify.

•  Parents Naturalized Between May 24, 1934 and January 13, 1941 – If both parents became naturalized prior to your 21 st birthday and you held a green card at that time, you automatically derived U.S. citizenship. This applied to you if you were an illegitimate child of your father and had been legally legitimated or an illegitimate child of your mother, whether legitimated or not. Adopted children did not qualify. If only one parent became naturalized prior to your 21 st birthday, you acquired U.S. citizenship automatically if you held a green card for 5 years, either before or after the naturalization, as long as you held the green card prior to your 21 st birthday. If you had not yet held a green card for 5 years at the time of the naturalization, you became a citizen the moment the 5 year requirement was met.

•  Parents Naturalized Between January 13, 1941 and December 24, 1952 – You derived U.S. citizenship if you held a green card at the time and both parents were naturalized prior to your 18 th birthday (or the non-naturalized parent is dead, or if your parents were legally separated, the parent having legal custody was naturalized). The law in effect at this time did not permit illegitimate or adopted children to derive citizenship in this manner.

•  Parents Naturalized Between December 24, 1952 and   October 4, 1978 – You derived U.S. citizenship if you were unmarried, and held a green card at the time both parents were naturalized, prior to your 16 th birthday. You must also have received your green card before your 18 th birthday. If only one parent was naturalized, you could only derive citizenship if: 1) the other parent was deceased, or 2) your parents were legally separated, and the naturalized parent had custody. This applied if you were an illegitimate child of your father and had been legally legitimated or an illegitimate child of your mother, whether legitimated or not. Adopted children and stepchildren did not qualify.

•  Parents Naturalized Between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001 – You derived U.S. citizenship if one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you when you were born and never ceased to be a citizen, and your other parent was naturalized prior to your 18 th birthday, and you were unmarried at the time or the naturalization of both parents occurred while you were unmarried. You must be lawfully admitted as a permanent resident in both of these cases. This applies to all children, including those who are illegitimate and adopted. However, the adoption must have occurred prior to the 16 th birthday of children born prior to December 29, 1981 or after November 14, 1986, in order for this group to have derived U.S. citizenship.

•  Parent Born in U.S. or Naturalized February 27, 2001 to the Present –   You derived citizenship if one of your parents was born in the U.S. or naturalized prior to your 18 th birthday while you were living in the U.S., in the legal and physical custody of that parent. You must also have held a green card. This law applies to both natural and adopted children. Children who live abroad may also acquire citizenship through a citizen parent. The child must be under 18 and the parent must have lived in the U.S. for 5 years, at least two of which were after the age of 14. In addition, the children in this situation must enter the U.S. with a nonimmigrant visa and apply to the INS for a certificate of citizenship.

•  ELIGIBILITY FOR NATURALIZATION BY APPLICATION

A person who meets certain requirements, which include residence, presence, good moral character, legal status, and is 18 years of age or older, may file an application to become a naturalized U.S. citizen. To qualify for Naturalization, applicants must meet the following criteria:

•  You must be a Legal Permanent Resident (green card holder). Exception: If you have honorably served in time of war or declared hostilities, you do not have to be a Legal Permanent Resident.

•  You must be at least 18 years of age.

•  You must be a resident for a continuous period of 5 years after becoming a Legal Permanent Resident, or for a continuous period of 3 years if you became a Legal Permanent Resident through your U.S. citizen spouse. ( You must be   physically present in the U.S. for at least one-half of the five years, or one-half of the 3 years, as the case may be.)

•  You cannot be absent from the U.S. for a continuous period of more than 1 year during the periods for which continuous residence is required. ( Absence for more than 6 months but less than 1 year establishes a presumption against compliance with the continuous residency requirements.)

•  You must reside for at least 3 months in the State where the petition is filed.

•  You must reside continuously in the U.S. while your application for citizenship is pending.

•  You must be a person of good moral character.

•  You must support the Constitution of the United States.

•  You must be willing to serve in the U.S. armed forces or to perform work of national importance   under civilian direction when required by law.

•  You must not be ineligible as a subversive, deserter, convicted felon, or for other reasons.

•  You must have an elementary understanding of English, and of U.S. history and government. (Exceptions to the English language requirement apply to persons over 50 years of age, and exceptions to both the English language and history and government requirements apply to physically or developmentally disabled or mentally impaired persons.)