U.S. Citizenship by Birth and Derivative U.S. Citizenship

Individuals who are born in the United States are generally deemed to be citizens, with very few exceptions. However, there are some people who were not born in the U.S. but may acquire derivative citizenship.

Generally, a U.S. citizen may transmit citizenship to his/her child, even though the child is born outside the United States. The laws surrounding acquisition of citizenship are extremely complicated, and are based on the date the child was born; the citizenship status of either the mother or the father; the residency of the U.S. citizen parent prior to the child’s birth, as well as prior to or subsequent to the parent’s either fourteenth or eighteenth birth date; the legitimacy of the birth of the child and whether the parents were married; as well as other factors. Again, derivation of citizenship happens automatically by operation of law. However, it is often extremely difficult to actually prove derivative citizenship, due to lack of records, or death of one or both parents prior to making the claim of citizenship by the child. For this reason, if you think you are a derivative U.S. citizen, it is especially important to review your case with a qualified immigration attorney.

Those who are born outside of the United States may apply for derivative citizenship based upon the following factors:

  • A person who is born in a foreign country to parents who are U.S. citizens are automatically regarded as U.S. citizens at birth;

  • A person who is the child of one parent who is a U.S. citizen and whose other parent is the citizen of another country may acquire citizenship if:

    • the child is born after November 13,1986 and the parent was present in the United States for a five year time period after the child’s birth, two years of which occurred after the age of fourteen;

    • the child is born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986 and the parent was present in the United States for a ten year time period after the child’s birth, five of which occurred after the age of fourteen.

  • A person who is born out-of-wedlock and the father is a U.S. citizen may acquire citizenship in the United States as long as the following criteria are met:

    1. It must be clearly established that there is a blood relationship;
    2. The Father must have been a U.S. citizen at the time of birth;
    3. The Father must agree to provide financial assistance and responsibility for the applicant until age 18;
    4. While still a minor, according to the law, “the applicant is legitimated under the law of their residence or domicile”;
    5. Father acknowledges in writing under oath his paternity; and
    6. Paternity of the father is established by the adjudication court.

  • A person who is born out of wedlock and the mother is a U.S. citizen may acquire citizenship in the United States as long as the Mother was a citizen in the U.S. at the time of birth, and was continuously present in the U.S. for at least a year.

In summary, being born in the United States generally confers automatic citizenship. Children who are born in another country whose parents were either both U.S. citizens, or one of them was a U.S. citizen, either in or out of wedlock, may also be eligible to derive citizenship from their parental status. If you have any questions regarding your own U.S. citizenship status, an Austin immigration lawyer can help answer them.


The determination of your status regarding your birth-right US Citizenship or Derivative Citizenship can be a complicated matter. For this reason, it is advisable to obtain the advice and assistance of a qualified immigration law attorney. Austin, Texas immigration attorney Daniella Lyttle of the Lyttle Law Firm has experience assisting individuals in their Citizenship issues. Ms. Lyttle is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese and can communicate directly with clients and their family members directly in these languages, as well as understand documents in these languages.

Furthermore, because immigration law is a federal matter, the Lyttle Law Firm can assist you even if you are not a resident of Texas. If you need a competent immigration attorney to handle your US citizenship matter, contact the Lyttle Law Firm, and you will be able to speak to a qualified immigration attorney to get the advice and assistance you need. An Austin immigration lawyer experienced in all aspects of Citizenship can make the process more manageable, as well as provide relevant context pertaining to how the matter is proceeding and what you can reasonably expect in terms of both time frame and success in obtaining the desired immigration benefit.