UNITED STATES: Citizenship

I asked: Does the foreign-born son of an American man automatically have US  citizenship? Istvan Simon replies: The answer is no. There are various rules on acquiring US citizenship.  In the case of a foreign-born son  within a marriage, the son becomes an American citizen without any hassles, if his birth is reported at the American Consulate, provided that the American parent  has lived in the U.S. for at least 5 years, and at least 2 of which after age 14.  (This is current law. The law was even more stringent for births between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986:.)

(Strangely, this  requires the parent to be at least 16 years old....The law does not want young parents, so it seems, or if they wish their children to be  Americans, they should arrange for the birth to be in  the United States.)  If the son is born  out of wedlock, the law distinguishes between whether the mother or the father is the American citizen, and favors the mother, presumably because maternity is evident, but paternity is not. The complete rules are complicated and too numerous to summarize here. For those interested it can be found for example  at


Former CIA officer Miles Seeley describes his own experience with the US citizenship problem: When my son was born in Tangier, Morocco in 1960, I was not "officially" a US Government employee. When we came back to the US, we had to go to I&NS Headquarters and fill out a whole bunch of papers so that he would be registered as a US citizen born abroad. He then was a dual citizen and had to renounce his Moroccan citizenship when he turned 18 (or be eligible to be drafted into the Moroccan Army!!). Obviously, we had help from the Agency in getting this done, but it indicates it may not be so easy for a child born abroad, and perhaps impossible unless the couple was married. I therefore doubt the account of the prostitutes' children.

David Crow writes:Messrs. Simon and Seeley are correct about the process through which children born abroad to a father or mother who is a U.S. citizen.  Although a son or daughter in this situation has the right to U.S. citizenship, it not granted automatically.  Rather, the child must be registered with the corresponding embassy through a process called "Consular Report of Birth Abroad".  My son was born in Mexico City in April and my wife (a Mexican citizen) and I reported his birth shortly after.  The process was fairly easy and the embassy personnel were helpful, friendly, and even jocular. 

One complication was the our son was conceived (though not born) out of wedlock.  U.S. law requires proof of a pre-existing relationship.  The proof I provided was hard copies of our extensive electronic amorous correspondence during the time we were geographically separated (imagine Abelard and Heloise in the Internet age, but with a happier ending) and dated photos of our participation in an anti-war rally on Feb. 15, 2003, in Mexico City.  One of the photos had the U.S. embassy in the background, and an embassy employee joked (at least I think she was joking) that we were already on file!  But it turned out that the most convincing evidence was a U.S. entry stamp in my wife's passport.  I at least hope the embassy staff had a good laugh at my love letters--some of which actually weren't so bad from a literary point of view.  From the standpoint of efficacy, I'd say they achieved the desired result!

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Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: December 5, 2004