Nationals vs Citizens of the United States at Birth: Understanding U.S. Citizenship Requirements for Children Born Abroad
As an American expat living abroad, one of the most important things to consider is your children's citizenship status.
If your child was born outside the United States to one American citizen and one non-citizen parent, you may be wondering what their citizenship status is and what steps you need to take to ensure they have the same rights as a U.S. citizen.
In this article, we'll walk you through understanding the difference between the concepts “Nationals” vs “Citizens” at birth and the requirements for acquiring U.S. citizenship in this situation, so you can ensure that your child is set up for success.
Nationals and Citizens of United States at Birth
A person born in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, or the Northern Mariana Islands is considered a United States citizen at birth. This is often referred to as "birthright citizenship."
The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, ratified in 1868, establishes this principle, stating that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
In addition to birth within the United States, there are other circumstances under which a person may be considered a U.S. citizen at birth.
For example, a person born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents is considered a U.S. citizen at birth, as is a person born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and a parent who is a U.S. national or a foreigner, under certain conditions.
These conditions typically require that the U.S. citizen parent lived in the United States for a certain period of time before the child's birth, or that the child's U.S. citizen parent has a certain degree of physical presence in the United States prior to the child's birth.
Nationals but not Citizens of United States at Birth
The term "nationals but not citizens of the United States at birth" refers to individuals who are born with a status of U.S. nationals, but not full U.S. citizens. This distinction is important because U.S. nationals have some, but not all, of the rights and protections that U.S. citizens have.
There are several ways in which an individual can be classified as a U.S. national but not a U.S. citizen at birth. These include:
- A person born in an outlying possession of the United States on or after the date of formal acquisition of such possession;
- A person born outside the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are nationals, but not citizens, of the United States, and have had a residence in the United States, or one of its outlying possessions prior to the birth of such person;
- A person of unknown parentage found in an outlying possession of the United States while under the age of five years, until shown, prior to his attaining the age of twenty-one years, not to have been born in such outlying possession; and
- A person born outside the United States and its outlying possessions of parents one of whom is an alien, and the other a national, but not a citizen, of the United States who, prior to the birth of such person, was physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for a period or periods totaling not less than seven years in any continuous period of ten years.
U.S. nationals who wish to become U.S. citizens can apply for naturalization, which involves meeting certain eligibility requirements and going through a process that includes an application, background checks, and an interview.
The Basics of Acquiring U.S. Citizenship
Under U.S. law, children born outside the United States to one American citizen and one non-citizen parent can acquire U.S. citizenship at birth if the following requirements are met:
- The American citizen parent has spent at least five years physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions, with at least two of those years occurring after the age of fourteen.
- The non-citizen parent is not a diplomat or foreign government official.
- The child is under 18 years of age and is not married at the time of application.
- The child is recognized as the offspring of the U.S. citizen parent under the laws of the country where the child was born.
If these requirements are met, the child can acquire U.S. citizenship at birth and obtain a U.S. passport.
Including Time Spent in the Armed Forces or with the U.S. Government
It's worth noting that time spent by the U.S. citizen parent in the Armed Forces or with the U.S. Government can count towards the five-year physical presence requirement. This can be a big help for parents who have spent a significant amount of time living abroad due to military service or government work.
For example, if you are a U.S. citizen who has spent two years living abroad for work with the U.S. government, and you later give birth to a child while living abroad, those two years can be counted towards the five-year requirement.
This means that you would only need to spend an additional three years physically present in the United States to meet the requirement for your child to acquire U.S. citizenship.
Proof of Physical Presence
To prove that you meet the physical presence requirement, you'll need to provide documentation such as:
- tax returns,
- school records,
- employment records,
- other evidence of time spent in the United States or its territories.
Pro Tip: It's important to keep track of these documents, as they will be required when applying for your child's U.S. passport.
Applying for Your Child's U.S. Passport or Social Security Number
Once your child has acquired U.S. citizenship at birth, you can apply for their U.S. passport. The application process will require you to provide proof of your child's U.S. citizenship, as well as proof of your own identity and relationship to the child.
You'll also need to provide two identical passport photos of your child, taken within the last six months, and pay the applicable fees.
If you're living abroad, you'll need to find the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate to submit your application.
As for Social Security Number - you may apply for an SSN by following the instructions listed on the Social Security website. This is vital to obtain as soon as possible to claim some tax benefits.
What Happens if Your Child Doesn't Acquire U.S. Citizenship?
If your child doesn't meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship at birth, they may still be eligible for U.S. citizenship through the naturalization process. However, this process can be time-consuming and expensive, and may require your child to give up their current citizenship.
It's important to note that even if your child doesn't acquire U.S. citizenship, they may still have the right to live and work in the United States as a permanent resident. As a U.S. citizen, you can sponsor your child for a green card, which would allow them to live and work in the United States permanently.
As an American expat, there are a few additional things to keep in mind when it comes to your children's citizenship status.
For example, some countries may have different requirements for recognizing dual citizenship, and you may need to provide additional documentation or take additional steps to ensure that your child is recognized as a citizen of both the United States and their country of birth.
NOTE! U.S. tax laws apply to all U.S. citizens, regardless of where they live. This means that if your child is a U.S. citizen, they may be subject to U.S. taxes on their worldwide income.
However, there are certain tax credits and exclusions available for expats that can help reduce the tax burden.