Proof of U.S. Citizenship

Often necessary in dealings with federal government agencies, proof of U.S. citizenship centers on specific documents showing either naturalized or derived citizenship. Understanding citizenship criteria and obtaining supporting documentation ensures a smooth process when requesting benefits allotted only to U.S. citizens.

Documents normally accepted to prove U.S. citizenship include:

  • Birth Certificate
  • U.S. Passport
  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Naturalization Certificate

Birth Certificate

Individuals born on U.S. soil, U.S. military grounds or in a U.S. territory obtain citizenship by birth. The birth certificate issued by the state– not the birth certificate issued by the hospital– serves as the primary proof of citizenship in these cases.

U.S. Passport

Issued by the Department of State, a U.S. passport provides proof of citizenship and also serves as a travel document. The Department of State sometimes requires U.S. citizens born abroad who apply for a U.S. passport to provide evidence of U.S. citizenship through such things as tax records or employment records.

Both U.S. passport offices and U.S. consulate offices abroad process passport applications.

Naturalization Certificate

Foreign-born individuals who’ve pursued the naturalization process receive a naturalization certificate of citizenship. Just as a state-issued birth certificate serves as a primary document showing proof of citizenship for natural-born Americans, a naturalization certificate issued by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) serves as a primary document to prove American citizenship for immigrants to the country.

In some cases, immigrants who become citizens through naturalization also extend citizenship to their children. Children under the age of 18 who are categorized as permanent residents, and who were born to one immigrant parent that naturalized after Feb. 21, 2001, automatically gained U.S. citizenship. Before Feb. 21, 2001, children classified as permanent residents under the age of 18 may have automatically gained U.S. citizenship when both parents naturalized, or when the remaining parent naturalized in families with a single immigrant parent.

Immigrant children must apply for their individual naturalization after establishing permanent residency for at least 5 years when parents naturalize after children turn age 18.

Certificate of Citizenship

An individual born outside of the United States or its territories might still qualify as a U.S. citizen. Generally, this is the case when one or both parents hold U.S. citizenship at the time of the child’s birth. Sometimes establishing derived citizenship can involve a combination of parents and grandparents. In each of these situations, a child gains the possibility of citizenship through derivation.

With a certificate of consular registration of birth abroad– also known as a certificate of citizenship– individuals establish derived U.S. citizenship. The timeframe for requesting a certificate of citizenship remains open only for a period of 5 years. In other words, parents must register their child’s birth by the child’s fifth birthday to obtain the certificate of citizenship. Consulate offices do not supply duplicate copies of these certificates and do not replace lost documents.

“Whether or not someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent is a U.S. citizen depends on the law in effect when the person was born,” according to USCIS information. While laws have changed over the years, the essence “usually requires a combination of the parent being a U.S citizen when the child was born, and the parent having lived in the United States or its possessions for a specific period of time.” Whatever the case, according to agency information, “derivative citizenship can be quite complex and can require careful legal analysis.”