acquisition of citizenship

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Acquisition of citizenship refers to the ability of individuals born abroad to achieve U.S. citizenship because at least one of their parents is a U.S. citizen. If the child meets the complex requirements, the child “acquires” citizenship through a parent even if the child was born abroad. The laws governing acquisition of citizenship have been changed significantly, and in order to determine a child’s eligibility for acquisition, they must look to the laws applicable for their birth year.

If a person was born after November 13, 1986, they can acquire citizenship if both of their parents are U.S. citizens and one resided in the U.S. before the birth. A person may be able to acquire citizenship if only one parent is a U.S. citizen, but the parent must have resided in the United States for at least five years, two of which must be after the age of 14. If the U.S. parent is the father and the parents were not married at the child’s birth, the father must prove their genetic relationship and must prove that they recognized and supported the child before they turned 18. On the whole, a person must go through much more documentation and review to acquire citizenship through only one parent. Before November 1986, different time periods and requirements apply depending on the person’s year of birth. 

[Last updated in January of 2022 by the Wex Definitions Team]