Automatic citizenship and the US Department of State

In this day and age, the best travel document in your hands would be a U.S. passport.  Hence the  sense of urgency among immigrants to become U.S citizens.  International travel and the   globalization drumbeat, among others, prompts members of the immigrant community to acquire the proper documentation to ease their  entry and exit to and from the United States.

There is a growing trend among young people to pursue college education in other countries or simply, to explore.  By law, an immigrant with a green card cannot stay out of the country longer than 365 days. A violation  will cause the loss of  lawful permanent residency status.  In most countries collegiate studies usually lasts 4 years.  If the student is not a citizen, a re-entry permit which will allow a 2-year stay outside of the U.S. is usually applied for. If one can apply to become a U.S. citizen or is already a citizen by law, it is a no-brainer.  On 10/30/2000, then President Bill Clinton signed into law the “Child Citizenship Act of 2000” (CCA) which became effective on 02/27/2001 (incorporated as §320 {INA}).  The CCA makes it possible for immigrant children under 18 years old whose parent/s are U.S. citizens, to automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon fulfillment of certain conditions, namely, (a) at least one parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization; (b) the child is under 18 years old; and (c) the child resides with the U.S. citizen parent under her/his legal and physical custody and pursuant to a lawful permanent resident status.  It does not matter that the child’s birth was prior to the parent’s naturalization; as long as the child enters the U.S. before turning  18.  The child maybe legitimate or illegitimate as long as the parent-child relationship can be solidly established. This rule covers adopted children as well. CCA also provides for children of U.S. citizens who are petitioned and enter the U.S. before they turn 18 years old.  They are automatically U. S. citizens by operation  of  law. “Automatic” means they do not have to undergo a procedure such as naturalization (that requires waiting for 5 years residency after entry or reaching the age of 18, whichever comes later) in order to become U.S. citizens.  All they need is to be documented as U.S. citizens.  These “lucky’ ones can do either or both of these: (1)  apply for a Certificate of Citizenship at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or U.S, Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and/or (2) apply for a U.S. passport at the Passport Services of the U.S. Department of State (DOS).   Applying for a Certificate of Citizenship is more tedious and costly.  The easier and economical route is to apply for a U.S. passport.

Lately however, it has not been easy to obtain a U.S. passport based on the automatic citizenship law for children (under 18) of U.S. citizens. The Passport Service Office of the Department of State is requiring more documentation to prove that an applicant is qualified to be  a U.S. citizen.  Submission of the parent’s original copy of the  Certificate of Naturalization and the applicant’s actual green card is not enough. Failure to submit the required documentation within approximately three (3) months will cause the denial of the passport application. In the meantime, one takes the risk of losing  original documents in the mail or not returned properly.  The best proof to expedite issuance of a passport is  the original  Applicant’s Certificate of Citizenship.   But this certificate has yet to be applied for at the DHS (USCIS).  Processing time right now is approximately 8-9 months depending on where the applicant resides. Have patience though  because it is a guaranteed way to go in a time  of policy thru tweets.

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Maria Rita Reyes-Stuby is a licensed attorney in Michigan. She is a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law. She specializes in immigration and practices in Las Vegas, Michigan, California and other states. Bernadette Bretana, a graduate of the Ateneo Law School and Ms. Stuby are licensed attorneys in the Philippines. Please call @702-403-4704 or email her at [email protected] or go to for any questions on this article.

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