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This idea of turning in your U.S. citizenship or Green Card is a frequent topic, lately, with my international clientele. This idea is not limited to one single geographically based area with inquiries from Western Europe, Australia and Asia.   However, the majority of inquiries are from individuals who either have lived a substantial part of their adult lives outside of the U.S. or were born outside of the U.S. with one parent being a U.S. citizen that automatically qualifies the new-borne to be a dual citizen with U.S. citizenship.

Before discussing the idea of relinquishing U.S. citizenship, you need to determine if you are a U.S. citizen. Sounds odd, but lets look at the legal tests of U.S. citizenship:

Legal Tests:

  1. Born in the United States or one of its territories;
  2. Born to parents who are U.S. citizens which is termed “acquisition of citizenship”;
  3. Naturalization process wherein an individual applies and passes a citizenship testing; and
  4. One or both of your parents have been naturalized, then you are a citizen by the process of “derivation”.

Consequences of Legal Tests:

Many people in the United States have already obtained their U.S. citizenship without realizing it. These individuals are:

  1. Born in the United States, but have lived most of their lives outside of the U.S. while assuming incorrectly that they lost their citizenship and naturalization by living outside of the country for an extended period of time;
  2. Individuals with ancestors who were U.S. citizens which included parents and even grandparents who were U.S. citizens;
  3. It may be that, even though an individual was born outside of the U.S., an individual is a U.S. citizen if their parents or grandparents were U.S. citizens; and
  4. Minor children of naturalized U.S. citizens or Green Card holders become naturalized U.S. citizens and the children who already have Green Cards will also acquire U.S. citizenship.

Exception to U.S. Citizenship Acquired From Being Born in the United States

Children born in the United States or one of its territories will automatically be U.S. citizens. However, children born to diplomats and other recognized government officials from foreign countries would not receive U.S. citizenship by virtue of being born on American soil.

One the other hand, if you were born in the U.S., then your U.S. citizenship will last your entire life unless you make an affirmative action to give it up by officially filing an oath.

Citizenship by Being Born to U.S. Citizens May Not Be So Simple As Described Above.

As noted above, if you were born to parents with at least one of whom was a U.S. citizen at the time of your birth, then you automatically become a U.S. citizenship through the process of acquisition whether you were born on American soil or foreign. Also, if you have children, then those children will also acquire U.S. citizenship through you at their birth.

Now that we have a solid grasp of the above rules, lets add just a bit of complexity to the formula. The laws regarding citizenship obtained through acquisition can be some of the most complex of all of U.S. citizenship laws and take into account the citizenship of parents, as well as if the child was born in or outside of wedlock. This complexity has not lessened at all; Congress has made major changes to these laws throughout history. Determining the laws will apply to you or your child depends on the following date ranges.

  • Born prior to May 24, 1934
  • Born between May 25, 1934 and January 12, 1941
  • Born between January 13, 1941 and December 23, 1952
  • Born between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, and
  • Born after November 14, 1986.

Derivation of Citizenship and Naturalization of Parents

A child may become a U.S. citizen through the process of derivation if one of child’s parents becomes a U.S. citizen via naturalization. However, at the time the parent becomes naturalized, the child must:

  1. Possess a Green Card,
  2. Under the age of 18, and
  3. Living with the naturalized parent.

A significant benefit to the child who becomes an American resident through this above process does not have to go through the process of applying for and passing a naturalization test!

Like the laws that apply to children acquiring citizenship by being born to U.S. residents, you need to look at the date of naturalization of your parent(s). These dates are:

  • Before May 24, 1934
  • Between May 24, 1934 and January 12, 1941
  • Between January 13, 1941 and December 23, 1952
  • Between December 24, 1952 and October 4, 1978
  • Between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001, or
  • After February 27, 2001


Now that you are able to determine whether you are or can become a U.S. citizen, based on the above, the next series of articles will talk about relinquishing your U.S. citizenship or Green Card.

Michael B. Nelson, Esq.




Michael Nelson

Michael has great depth of experiences and skills that evolved from over 35 years of representing international businesses, executives, expatriates and multi-national families. From these years of successful legal representations of CEOs of Fortune 500 Companies to family clients with needs from complex estate planning to international trusts and private foundations. He is committed to his clients, always finding better alternatives or options for his clients. Dedication to the client is synonymous with his name.