The U.S. Constitution confers U.S. citizenship at birth upon persons born within the United States. By statute, American citizenship is also acquired at birth by children born outside of the United States where both parents are American citizens, and one of the parents has resided in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth.

Historically, various laws have been enacted to establish conditions precedent to the transmission of U.S. citizenship to children born abroad, and conditions subsequent for the retention of U.S. citizenship by foreign born persons. These conditions precedent generally required that the U.S. parent transmitting citizenship had resided within the U.S. for a certain number of years before and attaining a certain age. The retention requirements generally provided that U.S. citizenship would be lost by the person born abroad who failed to establish residence in the U.S. for a given number of years before a particular age. Varying legal requirements apply to persons born abroad during the effective period of these earlier laws.

Under current law, however, children born abroad to a U.S. citizen and a noncitizen parent are U.S. citizens at birth if the citizen parent resided in the United States for certain specified periods of time before the child’s birth. Alternatively, children who are not U.S. citizens at birth can become citizens as children if they meet the certain requirements specified in the law.

A complete discussion of the complex field of acquired and transmitted citizenship is beyond the scope of this article and competent counsel should be consulted for advice on particular circumstances related to this important area.


Naturalization refers to the process by which a foreign person may become a United States citizen. From the beginning of our country, Congress has sought to promote the naturalization of qualified aliens. However, the acquisition of citizenship by resident aliens has never been automatic, nor has any resident alien ever been under compulsion to apply for naturalization. Instead, Congress has established the privilege of naturalization, available only to those who satisfy the prescribed requirements.

The purpose of major requirements for naturalization is to require the applicant to demonstrate that he or she has become identified with the national community, that he or she understands and adopts our historic principles of government, and that the applicant is worthy to be accepted as a full member of our society.

Approval and Naturalization Ceremony

If the application is approved, the applicant will go through a naturalization ceremony. At the ceremony, the applicant takes an oath and receives a certificate of naturalization. Applications for U.S. Passports are usually accepted for processing by the Passport Office at the end of the ceremony