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Becoming a U.S. Citizen Through Your Parents

From Carl Shusterman, Esq.

U.S. Citizenship by Acquisition or Derivation

Generally, people become U.S. citizens by one of three following methods:
  • 1. Birth in the U.S.
  • 2. Naturalization
  • 3. Acquiring Citizenship at birth, or as a minor, through their U.S. parent(s) or grandparent(s).

    Most immigration attorneys and quite a number of our readers understand the first two categories.

    We link to extensive information regarding the naturalization process from our "citizenship page" at http://shusterman.com/toc-usc.html#2

    The ever-changing rules for obtaining U.S. citizenship through your parents or grandparents (called citizenship by acquisition or citizenship by derivation) are, however, often obscure even to persons with considerable expertise in immigration and naturalization laws and procedures.
    I am very fortunate in this regard. During the 1970s when I was employed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), I served as a General Attorney (Nationality). Simply put, this means that I spent two years interviewing applicants for naturalization, and another two years interviewing applicants for U.S. citizenship by acquisition and derivation.

    I can assure you that when it comes to developing an expertise in this seldom used area, there is no substitute for conducting thousands of such interviews and writing decisions on these applications.
    One tremendously helpful tool were the "derivative charts," a series of tables which guided us in determining whether a person was, in fact, a citizen through their parent(s). I still use my old government charts in my law practice. The reasons that I have never posted them on my Web site are three: (1) The law has changed numerous times since the 1970s making my charts somewhat out-of-date; (2) My hope that the CIS web site would post updated charts on their web site, thereby relieving me of this considerable chore; and (3) pure laziness.

    I did post articles about derivative citizenship on our site including the popular "Obtaining Citizenship Through Parents" at http://shusterman.com/acquisit.html and what I consider my most notable success story at http://shusterman.com/olsen.html, and http://shusterman.com/olsen2.html.

    However, when our Web site had its 10th birthday in September, I started to seriously think about this revising my old derivative citizenship charts and placing them online as a guide to our readers.
    First, I googled the charts hoping that some governmental agency had placed them online. Surprisingly, I found charts three and four on the CIS Web site. However, I tried in vain to locate charts one and two. Maybe, they are somewhere on the CIS web site, but I could not locate them. So, I created the charts myself.

    Now, all four "National Charts" are online on our "Citizenship" page at http://shusterman.com/toc-usc.html#5.

    We have saved numerous clients from deportation by use of these charts. We hope that posting them online will save many more persons from such a fate.
    If you had a parent who was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth or while you were a minor, you may want to spend some time reading these charts.

    * Carl Shusterman is a Certified Specialist in Immigration and Nationality Law. He formerly served as an INS Attorney (1976-82) before entering private practice. The above article will appear in the November 2005 issue of his free, monthly e-mail newsletter, SHUSTERMAN'S IMMIGRATION UPDATE, which has 43,000 subscribers in over 150 countries. You may subscribe online at http://shusterman.com/subscribe.html#subscribe

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