What Is Acquired Citizenship?

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 What Is Acquired Citizenship?

Acquired citizenship refers to becoming a citizen of a country through means other than birth. This process typically involves meeting specific legal requirements set by the nation.

In the context of U.S. law, acquired citizenship can occur in several ways, including naturalization, being born abroad to U.S. citizen parents, or through the “mode of acquisition of foreign citizenship” processes, where individuals born in other countries become U.S. citizens according to specific legal provisions.

What Are the Ways to Acquire Citizenship in the U.S.?

In the United States, there are primarily two ways to acquire citizenship: naturalization and citizenship through acquisition.


Naturalization is the process enabling non-U.S. citizens to voluntarily become American citizens, encompassing a series of eligibility requirements and procedural steps.

The criteria for naturalization are comprehensive. Applicants must be at least 18 years old and have held the status of a lawful permanent resident, commonly known as holding a Green Card, for a specified duration. Typically, this duration is five years, but it reduces to three years for those married to U.S. citizens. One crucial aspect of eligibility is continuous residence in the U.S., meaning no extended absences that might disrupt this continuity.

Alongside, physical presence in the U.S. for at least half of the residency period is required. Demonstrating good moral character is also necessary, usually evidenced by a clean criminal record and adherence to U.S. constitutional principles. Proficiency in the English language and a basic understanding of U.S. civics are also mandatory and assessed through language and civics tests.

The Naturalization Process

The journey to U.S. citizenship through naturalization begins with the submission of Form N-400, the Application for Naturalization. Following this, applicants undergo a biometrics appointment for background checks. An integral part of the process is the interview with a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer, where the applicant’s English proficiency and knowledge of U.S. civics are evaluated.

The culmination of the process is the USCIS’s decision on the naturalization application, which, if positive, leads to the final step – a citizenship ceremony where the applicant takes the Oath of Allegiance to the United States, formally marking the acquisition of U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship Through Acquisition

Citizenship through acquisition is a pathway for individuals born outside the United States to acquire U.S. citizenship through their parent(s). This process is governed by specific legal provisions and conditions that must be satisfied for the child to gain citizenship.

Key Requirements and Considerations

When it comes to acquiring U.S. citizenship through parentage as of 2023, the following are the specific requirements and considerations:

  • Parental Citizenship Status: At least one of the child’s parents must be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth.
  • Physical Presence of the U.S. Citizen Parent: As of 2023, the U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 5 years, with at least 2 of those years being after the age of 14. This requirement ensures a substantial connection between the U.S. citizen parent and the United States.
  • Legitimacy and Legal Relationships: For children born in wedlock, the process is generally more straightforward. However, for children born out of wedlock, the U.S. citizen parent must establish a legal relationship with the child. If the U.S. citizen parent is the father, he must have legally acknowledged paternity and agreed to support the child until they reach 18.
  • Age Considerations: The process of acquiring citizenship must generally be completed before the child reaches 18 years of age. If this process is not completed by then, the child may need to seek naturalization upon meeting the eligibility criteria.
  • Changes in Law: It is important to recognize that the laws and policies surrounding citizenship through acquisition can evolve. As of 2023, the rules described above apply, but they may be subject to change. Staying informed about current laws is crucial for anyone pursuing this pathway to citizenship.

Given the intricacies of these requirements and potential changes in legal interpretations or policies, consulting with an immigration attorney is often advisable to go through the process effectively and ensure compliance with the current legal framework.

Documentation and Legal Process

For children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent, the first step is often to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the country of birth. The CRBA acts as an official record confirming that the child was born to a U.S. citizen and is recognized as a U.S. citizen. This document is particularly important as U.S. authorities recognize it as primary evidence of U.S. citizenship for individuals born outside the United States.

In addition to the CRBA, obtaining a U.S. passport for the child is another step. The U.S. passport serves as a universally accepted identification document and a solid legal proof of U.S. citizenship. The passport application process involves submitting required documents, including the CRBA or other proof of citizenship, photographs, and appropriate forms.

What Is Naturalization?

Naturalization is the formal process by which a foreign national residing in the United States can voluntarily become a U.S. citizen, signifying a commitment to the United States and its Constitution. This process is designed to ensure that applicants are ready and willing to embrace the responsibilities and privileges of U.S. citizenship.

  • Eligibility Criteria: To begin the naturalization process, an individual must first meet specific eligibility criteria. These include being at least 18 years old, holding a Green Card (permanent resident status) for a certain period (usually 5 years or 3 years if married to a U.S. citizen), and having continuous residence and physical presence in the U.S.
  • Application for Naturalization (Form N-400): The process formally starts with filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form requires detailed information about the applicant’s background, residence, employment history, and more.
  • Biometrics Appointment: After submitting the application, the applicant is scheduled for a biometrics appointment, where fingerprints are taken for a background check, including criminal history.
  • The Naturalization Interview and Test: During the naturalization interview, a USCIS officer will review the N-400 application and test the applicant’s English language proficiency and knowledge of U.S. history and government. The naturalization test is a key component, including civics questions and an assessment of reading and writing skills in English.
  • Decision on the Application: USCIS will review all the information gathered from the application, interview, and tests to make a decision. If the application is approved, the applicant moves on to the final step.
  • Oath of Allegiance: The successful applicant will participate in a naturalization ceremony, where they take the Oath of Allegiance to the United States. This oath is a solemn vow to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States.
  • Certificate of Citizenship: After taking the Oath of Allegiance, new citizens receive a Certificate of Citizenship, which serves as official proof of U.S. citizenship.

Importance of the Naturalization Process

Naturalization grants individuals not just the rights of U.S. citizens but also the responsibilities that come with citizenship. This includes the right to vote in elections, the ability to bring family members to the U.S., and eligibility for certain government jobs. It also carries with it the duty to participate in the democratic process, respect and obey U.S. laws, and contribute positively to the community.

What Is “Derivative Citizenship”?

Derivative citizenship is a form of acquired citizenship where a child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen based on the citizenship status of their parents. This can happen in various situations, such as when a child is born abroad to U.S. citizen parents or when a child’s parents naturalize in the U.S. At the same time, the child is a lawful permanent resident and under a certain age.

What if Only One Parent Was a United States Citizen at the Time of Birth?

If only one parent was a United States citizen at the time of a child’s birth abroad, the child may still acquire U.S. citizenship. However, this depends on several factors, including the U.S. citizen parent’s physical presence in the United States prior to the child’s birth and the year the child was born.

There are specific residency requirements that U.S. citizen parents must meet to transmit citizenship to their children. The laws governing this process have changed over time, so the applicable rules depend on when the child was born.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance With Acquired Citizenship?

An experienced immigration lawyer can provide valuable guidance on the various pathways to U.S. citizenship, including naturalization and citizenship through acquisition. They can assist with understanding derivative citizenship, managing the application process, preparing for the naturalization test, and addressing any issues related to the mode of acquisition of foreign citizenship.

You may be considering or are in the process of acquiring U.S. citizenship. If so, connect with a knowledgeable citizenship lawyer through LegalMatch to ensure your journey toward citizenship is smooth and well-informed.


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