Article I, section 8, clause 4 of the United States Constitution expressly gives the United States Congress the power to establish a uniform rule of naturalization. The Immigration and Naturalization Act sets forth the legal requirements for the acquisition of, and divestiture from, citizenship of the United States. The requirements have become more explicit since the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, with the most recent changes to statutory law having been made by the United States Congress in 2001.
Rights and responsibilities of U.S. citizens
Rights of citizens
Adult citizens of the United States who are residents of one of the 50 states have the right to participate in the political system of the United States, as well as their state and local governments (with most states having restrictions on voting by persons convicted of felonies, and a federal constitutional prohibition on naturalized persons running for President and Vice President of the United States), to be represented and protected abroad by the United States (through U.S. embassies and consulates), and to reside in the United States and certain territories without any immigration requirements.
Responsibilities of citizens
Some U.S. citizens have the obligation to serve in a jury, if selected and legally qualified. Citizens are also required (under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code) to pay taxes on their total income from all sources worldwide, including income earned abroad while residing abroad. Under certain circumstances, however, U.S. citizens living and working abroad may be able to reduce or eliminate their U.S. federal income tax via the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion and/or the Foreign Tax Credit. U.S. taxes payable may be alternatively reduced by credits for foreign income taxes regardless of the length of stay abroad. The United States Government also insists that U.S. citizens travel into and out of the United States on a U.S. passport, regardless of any other nationality they may possess.
Male U.S. citizens (including those living permanently abroad and/or with dual U.S./other citizenship) from 18-25 years of age are required to register with the Selective Service System at age 18 for possible conscription into the armed forces. Although no one has been drafted in the U.S. since 1973, draft registration continues for possible reinstatement on some future date.
In the Oath of Citizenship, immigrants becoming naturalized U.S. citizens swear that when required by law they will bear arms on behalf of the United States, will perform noncombatant service in the U.S. Armed Forces, and will perform work of national importance under civilian direction. In some cases, the USCIS allows the oath to be taken without the clauses regarding the first two of these three sworn commitments.
Acquisition of citizenship
There are various ways a person can acquire United States citizenship, either at birth or later on in life.
Birth within the United States
Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."
In the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, , the Supreme Court ruled that a person becomes a citizen of the United States at the time of birth, by virtue of the first clause of the 14th Amendment, if that person:
- Is born in the United States
- Has parents that are subjects of a foreign power, but not in any diplomatic or official capacity of that foreign power
- Has parents that have permanent domicile and residence in the United States
- Has parents that are in the United States for business
The Supreme Court has never explicitly ruled on whether children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents are entitled to birthright citizenship via the 14th Amendment, although it has generally been assumed that they are.
Through birth abroad to United States citizens
Birth abroad to two United States citizens
A child is automatically granted citizenship in the following cases:
- Both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of the child's birth
- The parents are married
- At least one parent lived in the United States prior to the child's birth. INA 301(c) and INA 301(a)(3) state, "and one of whom has had a residence."
The FAM (Foreign Affairs Manual) states "no amount of time specified."
A person's record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of citizenship. They may also apply for a passport or a Certificate of Citizenship to have their citizenship recognized.
Birth abroad to one United States citizen
A person born on or after November 14, 1986, is a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true (different rules apply if child was born out-of-wedlock):
- The person's parents were married at time of birth
- One of the person's parents was a U.S. citizen when the person in question was born
- The citizen parent lived at least five years in the United States before the child's birth
- A minimum of two of these five years in the United States were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday.
INA 301(g) makes additional provisions to satisfy the physical-presence requirements for periods citizens spent abroad in honorable service in the Armed Forces of the United States, or periods of employment with the United States Government or with an international organization . Additionally citizens who spent time living abroad as the dependent unmarried son or daughter and a member of the household of a person in any of the previously mentioned organizations can also be counted.
A person's record of birth abroad, if registered with a U.S. consulate or embassy, is proof of citizenship. Such a person may also apply for a passport or a Certificate of Citizenship to have a record of citizenship. Such documentation is often useful to prove citizenship in lieu of the availability of an American birth certificate.
Different rules apply for persons born abroad to one U.S. citizen before November 14, 1986. United States law on this subject changed multiple times throughout the twentieth century, and the law is applicable as it existed at the time of the individual's birth.
For persons born between December 24, 1952 and November 14, 1986, a person is a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true (except if born out-of-wedlock):
- The person's parents were married at the time of birth
- One of the person's parents was a U.S. citizen when the person was born
- The citizen parent lived at least ten years in the United States before the child's birth;
- A minimum of 5 of these 10 years in the United States were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday.
For persons born out-of-wedlock (mother) if all the following apply:
- the mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of the person s birth and
- the mother was physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year prior to the person s birth. (See link for those born to a U.S. father out-of-wedlock)
The Child Citizenship Act (CCA), which went into effect on February 27, 2001, amends the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to provide U.S. citizenship to certain foreign-born children including adopted children of U.S. citizens.
A person who was not born a U.S. citizen may acquire U.S. citizenship through a process known as naturalization.
A judge swears in a new citizen. New York, 1910
Eligibility for naturalization
To become a naturalized United States citizen, one must be at least eighteen years of age at the time of filing, a legal permanent resident of the United States, and have had a status of a legal permanent resident in the United States for five years before they apply (this requirement is reduced to three years if they (a) acquired legal permanent resident status, (b) have been married to and living with a citizen for the past three years and (c) the spouse has been a U.S. citizen for at least three years prior to the applicant applying for naturalization.) They must have been physically present for at least 30 months of 60 months prior to the date of filing their application. Also during those 60 months if the legal permanent resident was outside of the U.S. for a continuous period of 6 months or more they are disqualified from naturalizing (certain exceptions apply for those continuous periods of six months to 1 year). They must be a "person of good moral character", and must pass a test on United States history and government Most applicants must also have a working knowledge of the English language. There are exceptions, introduced in 1990, for long-resident older applicants and those with mental or physical disabilities.
Applicants for citizenship are asked ten questions, and must answer at least six with the expected answers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has published a list of 100 sample questions (with the answers that should be given when taking the test), from which the questions asked are always drawn. The full list of questions is in the "A Guide to Naturalization," available for free from the USCIS.
New naturalization test and interview
There is a new naturalization test that is being used for all N-400 applications filed on or after October 1, 2008. If the applicant filed the N-400 application before October 1, 2008 then the applicant may choose to take the new test or the old test. The new test examines the applicant's knowledge of American society and the English language. Sample questions and answers are published by the USCIS in English, Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Vietnamese and Azerbaijani.
Besides passing the citizenship test: citizenship applicants must also satisfy other specific requirements of naturalization to successfully obtain U.S. citizenship.
An applicant will also be required to submit to an in-person interview.
Eligibility for public office
A person who becomes a U.S. citizen through naturalization is not considered a natural born citizen. Consequently, naturalized U.S. citizens are not eligible to become President of the United States or Vice President of the United States, which would ordinarily be the case as established by the Presidential Succession Act. For example, though the Secretary of Commerce and the Secretary of Labor are tenth and eleventh in the presidential line of succession, Elaine Chao and Carlos Gutierrez (respectively former U.S. Secretaries of Labor and Commerce under President George W. Bush) would have been unable to succeed to the presidency because they became U.S. citizens through naturalization. The highest-ranking naturalized citizens to have been excluded from the Presidential Line of Succession were Henry Kissinger and Madeleine Albright, each of whom would have been fourth in line as Secretary of State had they been natural born citizens.
Whether this restriction applies to children born to non-U.S. citizens but adopted as minors by U.S. citizens is a matter of some debate, since the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 is ambiguous as to whether acquisition of citizenship by that route is to be regarded as naturalized or natural-born. Those who argue that the restriction does not apply point out that the child automatically becomes a citizen even though violating every single requirement of eligibility for naturalization, and thus the case falls closer to the situation of birth abroad to U.S. citizens than to naturalization. This interpretation is in concert with the wording of the Naturalization Act of 1790, that "the children of citizens of the United States that may be born beyond the sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens", which does not draw a distinction between biological children and adopted children, even though the process of adoption was certainly well known at the time.
Some argue that the phrase "natural born citizen" describes a category of citizenship distinct from that described by the phrase "U.S. Citizen" in Article Two of the United States Constitution, and this was discussed during the constitutional convention of 1787. While it is true that "natural born citizen" is not defined anywhere within the text of the Constitution and that the Constitution makes use of the phrase "citizen" and "natural born citizen," Supreme Court Decisions from United States v. Wong Kim Ark to the present have considered the distinction to be between natural-born and naturalized citizenship.
Most legal scholars believe that the phrase "natural born citizen" is derived from the works of William Blackstone and depends on the legal doctrine of Jus soli. For example, in her 1988 article in the Yale Law Journal, Jill Pryor wrote, "It is well settled that 'native-born' citizens, those born in the United States, qualify as natural born."
An April 2000 CRS report by the Congressional Research Service, asserts that most constitutional scholars interpret the phrase "natural born citizen" as including citizens born outside the United States to parents who are U.S. citizens under the natural born requirement.
Chester Arthur (born of an American mother and Irish father, purported birthplace of Canada) was sworn in as President, however his status as a "Natural born citizen" was challenged because he was born with British citizenship (therefore not jus sanguinis) and it is contended, on foreign soil (therefore not jus soli). Some argue that those born abroad to U.S. citizens are not eligible to ascend to the Presidency (not jus soli), since an act of the United States Congress such as the Naturalization Act may not overrule the Constitution (see "Natural born citizen" as presidential qualification). Presidential candidates George W. Romney (born in Mexico), Barry Goldwater and John McCain (born in U.S. territories), were never seriously challenged on the basis of their "natural born" citizenship, but no candidate falling under this classification has ever actually become President.
Expeditious naturalization of children
Effective April 1, 1995, a child born outside the U.S. to a U.S. citizen parent, if not already a citizen by birth because the parent does not meet the residency requirement (see above), may qualify for expeditious naturalization based on the physical presence of the child's grandparent in the U.S. In general the grandparent should have spent five years in the U.S., at least two of which were after the age of 14.
The process of naturalization, including the oath of allegiance, must be completed before the child's 18th birthday. It is not necessary for the child to be admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident.
Child Citizenship Act of 2000
Effective February 27, 2001, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provided that a non-U.S. citizen child (aged under 18) with a U.S. citizen parent, and in the custody of that parent, automatically acquired U.S. citizenship. To be eligible, a child must meet the definition of "child" for naturalization purposes under immigration law, and must also meet the following requirements:
- The child has at least one United States citizen parent (by birth or naturalization)
- The child is under 18 years of age
- The child is currently residing permanently in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the United States citizen parent
- The child has been admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident or has been adjusted to this status
- An adopted child must also meet the requirements applicable to the particular provision under which they qualified for admission as an adopted child under immigration law
Based on the U.S. Department of State regulation on dual citizenship (7 FAM 1162), the Supreme Court of the United States has stated that dual citizenship is a "status long recognized in the law" and that "a person may have and exercise rights of nationality in two countries and be subject to the responsibilities of both. The mere fact he asserts the rights of one citizenship does not without more mean that he renounces the other," (Kawakita v. U.S., 343 U.S. 717) (1952). In Schneider v. Rusk 377 U.S. 163 (1964), the US Supreme Court ruled that a naturalized U.S. citizen has the right to return to his native country and to resume his former citizenship, and also to remain a U.S. citizen even if he never returns to the United States.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) neither defines dual citizenship nor takes a position for it or against it. There has been no prohibition against dual citizenship, but some provisions of the INA and earlier U.S. nationality laws were designed to reduce situations in which dual citizenship exists. Although naturalizing citizens are required to undertake an oath renouncing previous allegiances, the oath has never been enforced to require the actual termination of original citizenship.
Although the U.S. Government does not endorse dual citizenship as a matter of policy, it recognizes the existence of dual citizenship and completely tolerates the maintenance of multiple citizenship by U.S. citizens. In the past, claims of other countries on dual-national U.S. citizens sometimes placed them in situations where their obligations to one country were in conflict with the laws of the other. The 2012 case of US-Thai dual national Joe Gordon is a case in point, where entered Thailand using a US passport but was arrested and imprisoned as a Thai national. However, as fewer countries require military service and most base other obligations, such as the payment of taxes, on residence and not citizenship, these conflicts have become less frequent. As a result, there has been a dramatic increase in recent years in the number of people who maintain U.S. citizenship in other countries.
One circumstance where dual citizenship may run counter to expectations of government agencies is in matters of security clearance. Any person granted a Yankee White vetting must be absolutely free of foreign influence, and for other security clearances one of the grounds that may result in a rejected application is an actual or potential conflict of national allegiances.
Nationals who are not citizens
Although all U.S. citizens are also U.S. nationals, the reverse is not true. As specified in , a person whose only connection to the U.S. is through birth in an outlying possession (which as of 2005 is limited to American Samoa, Swains Island, and the unincorporated US Minor Outlying Islands), or through descent from a person so born, acquires U.S. nationality but not U.S. citizenship. This was formerly the case in only four other current or former U.S. overseas possessions
The U.S. passport issued to non-citizen nationals contains the endorsement code 9 which states: "THE BEARER IS A UNITED STATES NATIONAL AND NOT A UNITED STATES CITIZEN." on the annotations page.
Non-citizen U.S. nationals may reside and work in the United States without restrictions, and may apply for citizenship under the same rules as resident aliens. Like resident aliens, they are not presently allowed by any U.S. state to vote in federal or state elections, although, as with resident aliens, there is no constitutional prohibition against them doing so.
Citizenship at birth on the U.S. territories and former U.S. territories
Separate sections handle territories that the United States has acquired over time, such as Puerto Rico , Alaska , Hawaii , the U.S. Virgin Islands , and Guam . Each of these sections confer citizenship on persons living in these territories as of a certain date, and usually confer native-born status on persons born in those territories after that date.
For example, for Puerto Rico, all persons born in Puerto Rico between April 11, 1899, and January 12, 1941, are automatically conferred citizenship as of the date the law was signed by the President Harry S. Truman on June 27, 1952. Additionally, all persons born in Puerto Rico on or after January 13, 1941, are native-born citizens of the United States. Note that because of when the law was passed, for some, the native-born status was retroactive.
The law contains one other section of historical note, concerning the Panama Canal Zone and the nation of Panama. In , the law states that anyone born in the Canal Zone or in Panama itself, on or after February 26, 1904, to a mother and/or father who is a United States citizen, was "declared" to be a United States citizen.
All persons born in the U.S. Virgin Islands on or after February 25, 1927, are native-born citizens of the United States. The also indicate that all the persons and their children born in the U.S. Virgin Islands subsequent to January 17, 1917, and prior to February 25, 1927, are declared to be citizens of the United States as of February 25, 1927 if complied with the U.S. law dispositions.
All persons born in Alaska on or after June 2, 1924, are native-born citizens of the United States. Alaska was declared a U.S. State on January 3, 1959.
All persons born in Hawaii on or after April 30, 1900, are native-born citizens of the United States. Hawaii was declared a U.S. State on August 21, 1959.
All persons born in the island of Guam on or after April 11, 1899 (whether before or after August 1, 1950) subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, are declared to be citizens of the United States.
Currently under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) effective from December 24, 1952 to present the definition of the "United States" for nationality purposes, was expanded to add Guam; and, effective November 3, 1986, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (in addition to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of the United States). Persons born in these territories on or after December 24, 1952 acquire U.S. citizenship at birth on the same terms as persons born in other parts of the United States; and "Outlying possessions of the United States" was restricted to American Samoa and Swains Island.
Congressional Research Service Report number RL30527 of April 17, 2000, titled "Presidential Elections in the United States: A Primer" asserts that citizens born in Guam, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands are legally defined as natural born citizens, and are, therefore, also eligible to be elected President.
Loss of citizenship
As a historical matter, U.S. citizenship could be forfeited upon the undertaking of various acts, including naturalization in a foreign state or service in foreign armed forces. In addition, before 1967 it was possible to lose the citizenship due to voting in foreign elections. However, the Supreme Court ruled unconstitutional the provisions of Section 349(a) which provided for loss of nationality by voting in a foreign election in the case Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 253, . specifically outlines how loss of nationality may occur, which predominantly involves willful acts over the age of 18 with the intention of relinquishing United States nationality. U.S. Supreme Court decisions beginning with Afroyim v. Rusk constitutionally limited the government's capacity to terminate citizenship to those cases in which an individual engaged in conduct with an intention of abandoning their citizenship.
Current U.S. State Department rules automatically assume that an individual does not intend to give up citizenship when performing one of the above potentially expatriating acts. If asked, the individual can always answer that they did not intend to give it up; this is sufficient to retain their citizenship. Hence, the U.S. effectively allows citizens to acquire new citizenships while remaining a U.S. citizen, becoming a dual citizen.
There are also special provisions for persons who are deemed to have renounced citizenship for purposes of avoiding U.S. taxation (which is, in some cases, applicable on certain income for up to ten years after the official loss of citizenship, Internal Revenue Code, section 877), which in theory can result in loss of right to entry into the United States. However, the loss of right of entry ((a)(10)(E)) has never been enforced by the Attorney General since its enactment in 1996. Further, since the creation of the Department of Homeland Security in 2002, the Attorney General (Department of Justice) would no longer be empowered to bar a former U.S. citizen from entering the United States.
No new legislation has modified (a)(10)(E) to enable the DHS Secretary to bar a former U.S. citizen from entering the United States. Lastly, IRC section 877 and Revenue Rulings was modified in 2004 to discontinue the practice of the Internal Revenue Service issuing rulings to determine if a former U.S. citizen had a tax-related motive in renouncing U.S. citizenship. Instead, IRC section 877 establishes an objective test to determine if the section 877 regime will apply.
If the former U.S. citizen fails one of these objective tests, for ten years after the individual's expatriation they are subject to the 877 regime. In practice, given the various modifications since the enactment of (a)(10)(E), that the U.S. government has never enforced (a)(10)(E) since its inception in 1996, a former U.S. citizen may freely travel to the U.S. subject to normal visa restrictions.
After a U.S. citizen satisfies the Department of State procedures, the Department of State issues a Certificate of Loss of Nationality (CLN) signifying that the Department of State has accepted the U.S. Embassy/Consulate's recommendation to allow the renunciation. Renunciation of citizenship includes renunciation of all rights and privileges of citizenship. A person who wants to renounce U.S. citizenship cannot decide to retain some of the privileges of citizenship, as this would be logically inconsistent with the concept of renunciation. Thus, such a person can be said to lack a full understanding of renouncing citizenship and/or lack the necessary intent to renounce citizenship, and the Department of State will not approve a loss of citizenship in such instances.
It is also possible to forfeit U.S. citizenship upon conviction for an act of treason against the United States. Prominent former Nazi officers who acquired American citizenship have also had it revoked if the Office of Special Investigations has been able to prove that the citizenship was obtained by concealing their involvement in war crimes committed by the Nazis in World War II.
Emigration from United States
Notes and references
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