Acquisition of Citizenship Through Parents Before 1986
Getting U.S. citizenship through acquisition means that you were born to at least one U.S. citizen parent outside the U.S., and you meet certain other requirements discussed below. (If you were born in the U.S., you would have birthright citizenship automatically.) Acquisition is an easier way to get citizenship than going through the formal naturalization process. Thus, if you are a foreign national who is considering becoming a U.S. citizen, you may want to explore whether you are already a citizen through acquisition. The rules for acquisition vary depending on whether you were born on or after November 14, 1986, or whether you were born earlier. This discussion covers people who were born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986. Read more here about acquisition of citizenship if you were born on or after November 14, 1986.
Acquisition with Two U.S. Citizen Parents
If you were born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, you are a citizen through acquisition if both of your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born, and at least one parent lived in the U.S. at some time before your birth. You can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS, which serves as legal proof of your status. You would need to provide USCIS with proof of the U.S. citizenship of your parents, as well as proof of a U.S. address where at least one of your parents lived before you were born. You do not need to ever have lived in the U.S., and you will not lose your citizenship unless you voluntarily renounce it.
Acquisition with One U.S. Citizen Parent
You still may have citizenship through acquisition if only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth. You would need to show that this parent lived in the U.S. for at least five years after they turned 14, and for at least 10 years in total. The process can be more complicated if the U.S. parent is your father, and he did not marry your mother before you were born. If the father’s name appears on your birth certificate, you can submit this proof. Otherwise, you will need to show that your father legitimated you or otherwise acknowledged the parental relationship before you turned 21 or got married.
Children with only one U.S. citizen parent will face greater scrutiny from USCIS in establishing their citizenship. They may need to submit government-issued IDs that belong to the U.S. citizen parent, as well as school records and leases or home ownership documents that show their presence in the U.S. Signed affidavits supporting their presence may help as well. As with children who have two U.S. citizen parents, you do not need to show that you ever have lived in the U.S., and you will not lose your citizenship unless you voluntarily renounce it.
Legitimation and Acquisition of Citizenship
If your parents were not married when you were born, and no father is listed on the birth certificate, you are an illegitimate child. The U.S. citizen father must legitimate or otherwise acknowledge you according to the laws that apply in your country. A father most often legitimates a child by putting his name on the child’s birth certificate. They can also register their status in official birth records. Even if your father did not take either of these formal steps, you may be able to show that you are legitimate if your father implicitly acknowledged his paternity. This might involve marrying your mother soon after you were born, living with you and treating you as his child, or paying child support for you to your mother. In some cases, a father will write a sworn statement to acknowledge his paternity, or he may undergo DNA paternity testing voluntarily or in response to a court order.