Military Children Born Abroad
Service members' assignments take them all over the world. Sometimes, families can join the service members on their overseas deployments. When children of these military families are born abroad, their parents must make sure that the children are citizens of the correct country, that they have appropriate travel documentation, and that they are well-supported.
Many cases may be a simple matter of filing the correct paperwork with a nearby U.S. consulate or embassy. But sometimes cases can get very complicated very quickly. This article provides an overview of how to secure citizenship for military children born abroad. Your commanding officer or legal counsel may be able to help you with additional questions.
Many parents of children born abroad want to know if their children are U.S. citizens. The U.S. grants citizenship in one of three ways: naturalization, in which someone becomes a U.S. citizen sometime after birth; birth on U.S. soil; or birth to parents who are U.S. citizens. Contrary to popular belief, military bases are not considered "U.S. soil" for citizenship purposes. Therefore, the only way children born abroad can acquire citizenship at birth is through their parents.
There are a wide variety of possible family arrangements, and each one has different citizenship implications.
If the parents are married to each other, the child is a U.S. citizen if:
- Both parents are U.S. citizens, and at least one of the parents lived in the U.S. at some point before the child was born; or
- One parent is a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen parent lived in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the child's birth, at least two of which were after the age of fourteen. Time spent serving the military or as a military dependent overseas counts as "time spent in the U.S." for this purpose.
If the parents are not married to each other, the child is a U.S. citizen if:
- The mother is a U.S. citizen, and spent at least one year in the U.S. prior to the child's birth; or
- Only the father is a U.S. citizen, and the father lived in the U.S. for at least five years prior to the child's birth, at least two of which were after the age of fourteen (time spent in the military counts for this purpose). The child's paternity must be established according to the laws of the resident country or through the father's written acknowledgment. DNA testing may be required. In addition, the father must agree in writing that he will financially support the child. Citizenship must be applied for before the child reaches 18.
After the parents have determined that their child is a U.S. citizen, they need to apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at the nearest U.S. consulate. The parents will need to submit an application (PDF), along with documentation proving the parents' citizenship and the record of the child's birth from the resident country. The Consular Report of Birth Abroad can be used later as proof of the child's U.S. citizenship, and may be used to obtain a U.S. passport for the child.
Visas and Dual Citizenship
The child may need a visa to legally stay in his or her resident country. This will depend on the laws of the resident country and any treaties that may be in place with the U.S. Ask your commanding officer or qualified legal counsel about whether your child will need a visa and how to apply for one.
The child may also be able to obtain dual citizenship from certain nations. The United States does not take any official position on dual citizenship, but unofficially discourages dual citizenship because it can lead to a number of complications. For example, a dual citizen may need to pay taxes in two countries. Some countries require young men to serve in their military.
Other countries have their own policies on dual citizenship. Nearly every country has some process for formally renouncing citizenship, which may be necessary to avoid obligations to more than one country. Be sure to check with a local lawyer or a local government office to find out more.
If a service member has a child with a foreign citizen and does not choose to seek U.S. citizenship for the child, that service member may still need to pay child support if a foreign court requires it. All the military branches have regulations in effect that require service members to fulfill their obligations, which includes obligations imposed by foreign courts. Failure to do so may result in a court martial and other non-judicial punishments.
For more information about what to do if you have a child while stationed abroad, you should contact your local legal assistance office or speak with a civilian attorney who specializes in military law. Depending on your situation, you may also want to speak with an attorney that specializes in citizenship and immigration law of a particular foreign country.