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Automatic Acquisition at Birth (also known as Derivative Citizenship)

There are many pathways to obtaining U.S. citizenship, including automatically acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth, more commonly known as “derivative citizenship.” Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), individuals born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent may derive U.S. citizenship at birth if certain transmittal requirements are met.

Derivative citizenship is controlled by two important provisions in the INA: § 301(g) and § 309(a).  INA § 301(g) outlines the transmission requirements for acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth. When a person is born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father, the person must also be legitimated in accordance with INA § 309(a).  

Basic Requirements for Derivative Citizenship

In general, a person born outside of the United States may acquire citizenship at birth if:

Born Abroad in Wedlock vs. Out-of-Wedlock 

For purposes of citizenship acquisition, U.S. immigration law does make a distinction between a child born abroad in wedlock and a child born abroad out-of-wedlock. It further differentiates depending on whether the mother or father is the U.S. citizen. In all cases, the U.S. citizen parent must be the genetic or gestational parent and the legal parent of the child under local law at the time and place of the child’s birth.

Apply for a U.S. Passport

A person may apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State to serve as evidence of his or her U.S. citizenship. This can be done from either inside or outside the United States. If you are located inside the United States, you may submit your passport application package at a passport acceptance facility located nearest you.  

If you are located outside the United States, you will submit your passport application in-person at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate nearest you. Generally, this will also include an interview with a Consular Officer, however, processes may vary. It is important to fully understand the requirements and process of the particular location you choose to submit your application. In either case, the end of the process is the same, successful claimants of U.S. citizenship will be issued a passport.  

Derivative Citizenship Passport Application Package 

Please note, derivative citizenship claims are highly scrutinized and often turn on the strength of the physical presence evidence submitted.  

As a full-service law firm, we provide guidance for you to gather the necessary documentation and will draft a comprehensive application package to submit to the government. These application packages include the requisite government forms, a detailed letter of support outlining your derivative citizenship claim, and corresponding evidence.  

Examples of Evidence of Physical Presence in U.S.