Idiot’s Guide to Citizenship by Birth in the USA

Citizenship by birth is a legal principle that grants a person the right to be a citizen of a country simply by being born there or to parents who are citizens of that country. In the United States, there are two ways to acquire citizenship by birth: jus soli and jus sanguinis.

Jus soli: Citizenship by birth on U.S. soil

Jus soli means “right of the soil” in Latin. It is the idea that anyone born on the territory of a country is automatically a citizen of that country, regardless of the citizenship or immigration status of their parents. This is the main way that people become U.S. citizens by birth.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees jus soli citizenship to most people born on U.S. territory by the first part of the Citizenship Clause introduced by the Fourteenth Amendment (adopted July 9, 1868), which states: “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”

This clause was added to the Constitution to overturn the Supreme Court decision in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) that denied U.S. citizenship to African Americans, whether born in the United States or not, and whether a slave or a free person.

The U.S. territory includes the 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the inhabited territories of Puerto Rico, the Marianas (Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands), and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

There are some exceptions to jus soli citizenship, such as children born to foreign diplomats or enemy soldiers, or children born to Native Americans living under tribal sovereignty. These groups are not considered to be “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States, and therefore do not automatically acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. However, some of these exceptions have been modified or eliminated by federal laws or court rulings over the years. For example, the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924 granted U.S. citizenship to all Native Americans born in the United States.

Jus sanguinis: Citizenship by birth to U.S. citizen parents

Jus sanguinis means “right of blood” in Latin. It is the idea that a person inherits the citizenship of their parents, regardless of where they are born. This is another way that people can become U.S. citizens by birth, especially if they are born outside of the United States.

The U.S. law that governs jus sanguinis citizenship is the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which has been amended several times over the years. The current law states that a person born outside of the United States may acquire U.S. citizenship at birth if all of the following requirements are met at the time of the person’s birth: 

• The person is a child of a U.S. citizen parent (s);

• The U.S. citizen parent meets certain residence or physical presence requirements in the United States or an outlying possession before the person’s birth in accordance with the applicable provision; and

• The person meets all other applicable requirements under either INA 301 or INA 309.

The specific requirements vary depending on whether the person is born in wedlock or out of wedlock, and whether one or both of the parents are U.S. citizens. For example, a child born outside of the United States to two U.S. citizen parents acquires U.S. citizenship at birth as long as one of the parents has resided in the United States or one of its outlying possessions prior to the child’s birth. On the other hand, a child born outside of the United States to one U.S. citizen parent and one non-U.S. citizen parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth only if the U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of 14, prior to the child’s birth.

A person who acquires U.S. citizenship by jus sanguinis must apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) or a U.S. passport to document their citizenship status. A CRBA is an official record of U.S. citizenship issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. A U.S. passport is a travel document that also serves as proof of U.S. citizenship.


Citizenship by birth is a privilege and a responsibility that comes with being a member of the United States. Whether a person is born on U.S. soil or to U.S. citizen parents, they have the same rights and duties as any other U.S. citizen, such as voting, paying taxes, serving in the military, and obeying the law. They also have the same opportunities and challenges as any other U.S. citizen, such as pursuing education, employment, health, and happiness. Citizenship by birth is a gift that should be cherished and respected by all Americans.

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