Q. I was born in the United States while my parents were there temporarily for studies. Do I have a claim to American citizenship?
Yes, almost anybody born in the United States is an American citizen regardless of the nationality or status of the parents. The only exceptions are children of foreign diplomats who have full diplomatic immunity. Anyone else can apply for an American passport by presenting an original birth certificate showing birth in the United States and adequate identity documents.
Q. I am an American citizen. I recently had a child born in Cambodia. Does she have a claim to American citizenship?
Most likely. Whether an American citizen can transmit citizenship to a child born overseas depends on several factors: whether both parents are American, whether the child is born in wedlock, when the child is born. The most common case is a child born in wedlock to one American citizen parent, and one non-American parent. The American citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States for five years prior to the birth of the child. In addition, two of those five year must be after the parent reached the age of fourteen. For children born before 1986, the parent must have spent ten years in the United States with five years after the age of fourteen. The five years is cumulative so a few months here and a few years there can be used to add up to the five years. When both parents are American, they need only show that one of them has ever resided in the United States (no specified time). An American citizen mother of a child born out of wedlock needs to show that she spent one continuous year in the United States. An American citizen father of a child born out of wedlock must have the five years and must have recognized the child and agreed to the child’s financial support.
Q. My daughter has lived all her life in Cambodia and cannot give American citizenship to her children. Is there any way they can become American through their grandparents?
Yes. When American citizens cannot transmit citizenship to their children born overseas because they do not have the required physical presence in the United States, they have two options:
- They can apply for the expeditious naturalization of their children, if an American citizen grandparent has enough physical presence in the United States. This procedure must be done through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). The process takes longer (up to 3 years) and the child must go to the United States to be naturalized, but the end result is that the child receives a Certificate of U.S. Citizenship and is an American citizen. The process must be completed before the child is eighteen.
- The U.S. citizen parent may file for an immigrant visa for a child. Under the Child Citizenship Act, once the child enters the U.S. on an immigrant visa, the child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. The child must be under 18 and in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent at the time of entry. Immigrant visas may be obtained through the Embassy in Cambodia.
Q. We are Americans living in Cambodia. We just adopted a Vietnamese girl and she is living with us there. How do we get her an American passport?
The same process mentioned above can be used for children adopted overseas by American citizens. While adoption by a U.S. citizen parent does not automatically confer citizenship, it does qualify a child for expeditious naturalization, or citizenship upon entry to the U.S.
Q. My son has both Cambodian and American citizenship. At what age must he choose which citizenship he wants to keep?
American citizenship is for life. The laws covering the retention of citizenship have been greatly liberalized. No child has to do anything at any age to retain, choose, affirm, or confirm American citizenship. In the 1980s, the Supreme Court ruled that citizenship is a Constitutional right, which cannot be taken away from a citizen who does not intend to relinquish it. Therefore, such actions as naturalization in a foreign election, do not automatically jeopardize American citizenship.
Q. If we don't plan to travel back to the United States any time soon, why should we renew our passports now?
- the passport is proof of American citizenship. Every American abroad should have valid proof of her or his citizenship at all times.
- life is unpredicatable. You will never know when you may need to travel suddenly to the United States. Last thing you need to do in an emergency is worry about getting your or your child’s passport renewed. It is much better to do it when it is convenient for you.
Q. I travel frequently and my passport is always at some Embassy to obtain a visa. Can I get a second passport?
Generally, citizens are allowed to carry only one valid passport at a time. In some cases, the issuance of a second passport is possible: frequent travel and the delays due to visa applications; the presence of a stamp from one country that causes problems in another country. We will ask for justification from any employer or proof of compelling reasons for personal travel.