People born outside of the United States can become U.S. citizens in a number of ways, ranging from birth and adoption to the specialized legal process called naturalization. FindLaw's Citizenship section covers the basics of the citizenship process and what it means to be a citizen, what to expect when taking the citizenship test, and in-depth information about the naturalization process. Articles include a sampling of typical citizenship examination questions, a primer on dual citizenship, naturalization requirements, and more.
Citizenship by Parentage or Birth
A child born in the United States or one of its territories is virtually always automatically a U.S. citizen. One exception is the children of diplomats.
Children of U.S. citizens who are born abroad may acquire U.S. citizenship, though there are many factors that impact whether this is possible and what is required to do so. The date of birth determines which set of rules applies. A close examination of the circumstances surrounding the individual's birth and the rules that apply to the date of their birth is required to determine whether citizenship is acquired.
A child whose parent becomes a citizen may also automatically naturalize, though they must be in possession of a valid green card, be under 18 years old, and reside with the parent who is naturalizing in order to acquire citizenship in this manner. As with acquisition by birth to a U.S. citizen, these laws have changed over time and separate rules regarding some of the details are determined by checking the relevant law against the child's date of birth.
Dual citizenship means that a person is the citizen of two countries at the same time with rights and obligations to both countries. Technically, the United States does not recognize dual citizenship. However, it also doesn't take a stand against dual citizenship and doesn't do anything to prevent someone from acquiring or maintaining dual citizenship.
Citizenship can be lost if a person serves a foreign army engaged in hostilities against the U.S., formally renounces their citizenship to an authorized U.S. official, or commits an act of treason against the U.S. Most countries have a similar approach. Some countries, however, will revoke their citizenship if U.S. citizenship is acquired.
Revocation of Citizenship
Citizenship is rarely lost and natural-born U.S. citizens may renounce their citizenship but cannot have it revoked. Those who are naturalized citizens, however, may in limited circumstances be "denaturalized." Denaturalization may occur for a number of reasons, including the following:
- Citizenship was acquired through the fraudulent concealment or misrepresentation of relevant facts when applying for citizenship
- Refusal to testify before a congressional committee investigating your involvement in subversive acts within 10 years of naturalization
- Membership in a subversive/terrorist organization such as the Nazi Party or Al Qaeda
- On account of a dishonorable military discharge before five years of service