Acquiring U.S. Citizenship Through a U.S. Citizen Parent: What You Need To Know


The inscription on the U.S. side of the Peace Arch monument at the Peace Arch Border Crossing in Blaine, Washington reads “Children of a common mother” in reference to the ties that both Canada and the United States have to Great Britain. Interestingly, the children of a common U.S. citizen mother, even if born on different sides of the U.S./Canada border, may all be U.S. citizens according to U.S. immigration law.

Generally, when it comes to acquiring U.S. citizenship through a U.S. citizen parent, the rules that govern the process differ depending on when the child was born and how old they are at the time they apply. This is due to various legislative changes over the years to the rules that determine how and when one can acquire U.S. citizenship through their parents. Whether one is born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents in wedlock or born abroad to a U.S. parent and an alien parent in wedlock or born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. Citizen father or U.S. citizen mother will also impact how and whether one is able to acquire U.S. citizenship.

A child born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents in wedlock, assuming one of the parents resided in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth, acquires U.S. citizenship at birth pursuant to section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). For those children born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent in wedlock, if they were born on or after November 14, 1986, the U.S. citizen parent must establish that they maintained a physical presence in the United States for a period of 5 years with 2 of those 5 years occurring after the U.S. citizen parent turned 14. In the case of those born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, the physical presence requirement is ten years and 5 of those years must be after the age of 14 in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child. The rules governing whether a child born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father or mother differ depending on whether the U.S. citizen father or mother is the qualifying parent.

In all cases, appropriate documentation and evidence will need to be provided to complete the process. Some of the documents that may be required include the following:

  • child’s birth certificate
  • marriage certificate of child’s parents
  • evidence of United States citizenship of parent:
    1. birth certificate
    2. naturalization certificate
    3. other proof of U.S. Citizenship i.e., Certificate of Citizenship

Given the process of acquiring U.S. citizenship can be complicated, it is important to seek out the advice of U.S. immigration counsel who can assist in navigating the statutory requirements and simplify matters for the applicant.