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Immigration 101: Are you already a U.S. citizens and don't know it?

Immigration attorneys are often asked to assist individuals and families in obtaining U.S. citizenship.  There are four basic ways to become a U.S. citizen:

  1. birth in the United States or its territories
  2. birth to U.S. citizen parents (called "acquisition" of citizenship)
  3. naturalization (obtaining citizenship after an application and exam), or
  4. naturalization of one's parents (called "derivation" of citizenship).

However, there are other groups who may be U.S. citizens without realizing it.  People born in the United States who have lived most of their lives in other countries; people who have U.S. citizens in their direct line of ancestry; and children of naturalized U.S. citizens may also have U.S. citizenship.

Even if you were not born in the United States, your U.S. citizen parents may have transmitted citizenship to you. If both of your parents were U.S. citizens when you were born, then you are a U.S. citizen. However, if only one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born outside of the United States, then there are several other factors to consider including the length of time your U.S. citizen parent spent in the United States prior to your birth.

If you believe that you derived U.S. citizenship from your parents, you may establish your nationality in a few different ways.  An immigration attorney can assist you with the often complicated process.  If you were born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, you can apply for a U.S. passport in the same way as someone born in the United States. However, you will have the added requirement of establishing your citizenship claim. Anyone with a claim to U.S. citizenship can apply for a certificate of citizenship. Citizenship certificates are issued only by offices of USCIS located inside the United States. If you were born outside the United States and your parents were U.S. citizens at the time, they may have registered your birth with a U.S. consulate. If they did so within five years of your birth, they would have been issued what is called a Consular Registration of Birth Abroad. The consular registration is conclusive proof of U.S. citizenship.

Contact an immigration attorney to assist you in determining the most efficient way for you to establish your claim to U.S. citizenship. Contact Diana Beard Moore (dmoore@rowelaw.net) at the Rowe Law Firm with any questions.

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