What? I’m Suddenly Not a U.S. Citizen?

Immigration lawyers have always encountered people who thought they were U.S. citizens only to find out they aren’t. The issue often arises when the individual goes to renew his/her driver’s license and doesn’t have a birth certificate or passport, or when the person seeks to renew his passport. Whether this issue will become more common because of the more rigid requirements states are imposing to obtain driver’s licenses or because USCIS and DOS are more closely scrutinizing applications and petitions, remains to be seen.

Determining citizenship can be complicated, especially when a child of U.S. citizens is born abroad. Different rules govern depending on the year of birth, whether the parents were married at the time of birth, whether both parents are U.S. citizens, or whether the U.S. parent lost the right to confer citizenship to his or her children due to spending too much time outside of the United States.

In other cases, children rely on their parents telling them that they are U.S. citizens throughout their youth, only to find out years later that they never were. They’ve spent their lives saying that they U.S. citizens — on work applications, on college applications, everywhere. A false claim to U.S. citizenship is a permanent, nonwaivable ground of inadmissibility.

And, then there are children born in the U.S. to diplomats. Were they born after the diplomat’s termination of status? Are they U.S. citizens? Some children find out only when renewing a passport that they were not, in fact, ever eligible for citizenship even though they had received numerous U.S. passports in the past.

Foreign nationals who encounter issues surrounding proof of their U.S. citizenship are encouraged to seek the advice of experienced immigration counsel to learn their true status.

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