It is sometimes the case that a person born outside of the U.S. that seeks to become a citizen already has U.S. citizenship–and doesn’t even know it. That is because the U.S. federal law on citizenship is one of the more complicated laws you will encounter in the world of immigration. It is not that the principles of the law are that complicated, it’s that Congress has tinkered with the law continuously over the years. Each time the law changes, the previous provisions are left pretty much as is and are grandfathered into the new law. The last time this happened was in 2000, when Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act.

The applicability of the older laws is based on dates set in the statute.

The statutes are also broken down by method of transmission, i.e. through a person’s mother or father, and whether or not both parents are U.S. citizens. Add in one more complicating factor: whether or not someone’s parents were married at the time of that person’s birth. All of these different circumstances are broken down by applicable sets of dates.

In addition to all this, the person transmitting citizenship, whether a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization, must spend at least five years in the United States, two of which must be after the citizen’s fourteenth birthday.

In future posts I am going to dig into these requirements in more detail.