Former U.S. Citizens Now Eligible to Regain Their Citizenship.

Thousands of Filipinos who lost U.S. Citizenship may now have their U.S. Citizenship restored. However, many former U.S. Citizens are not even aware that they were a U.S. Citizens, and secondly that this benefit may now be restored. This is not surprising, since the laws of derivative citizenship are quite complex and there is little public dissemination of this information.

Qualifying individuals are foreign-born children of United States Citizens (either their mother or father was a U.S. Citizen). The reason many Filipinos are unaware that this new U.S. Citizen benefit is that Congress did not enact the reinstatement provision until October of last year.

In order to understand this exciting new development I need to discuss how the doctrine of jus sanguinis (citizenship based on parentage) developed in the United States. If a child is born in the United States, he or she becomes a citizen automatically under the doctrine of jus soli (citizenship through birth on U.S. soil). Although this right is written into the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, it actually existed even before the Constitution was written.

Citizenship according to parentage, however, is purely statutory. In other words a child born outside the United States with at least one U.S. Citizen parent becomes a U.S. Citizen only if the parents and the child meet the conditions prescribed by Congress. One of these conditions has traditionally been the “retention” requirement. Under this rule a foreign-born United States Citizen child would “retain ” their citizenship only if they lived in the United States (or, in some cases, and “outlying possession” of the United States) for at least two years between the ages of 14 and 28. If they did not meet this residency requirement, they lost their citizenship.

In 1978, this retention requirement was abolished. However, this change in the law was not retroactive and did not help individuals who had already lost their citizenship prior to its enactment. In 1994 the law was amended again to eliminate the retention requirement retroactively. This means that all individuals who lost their citizenship before 1978 for failing to meet the retention requirement may now become citizens again by proving that they are otherwise qualified.

Who qualifies for this type of citizenship? Individuals who were not born in the United States only become citizens of the United States if at least one of their parents was a U.S. Citizen and the U.S. Citizen parent met the residency requirement in affect at the time of the child’s birth. For children born on or after January 13, 1941, the parent could meet the residency requirement by living either in the United States or in one of its “outlying possessions” for at least 10 years prior to the child’s birth.

The Philippines was an outlying possession of the United States until June 12, 1946. Thus, if a U.S. Citizen parent lived in the Philippines (or a combination of the United States and the Philippines) for at least ten years prior to June 12, 1946 and met certain other requirements, any children born to that U.S. Citizen at any time after that are eligible to become U.S. Citizens.

Example #1 Your mother was born on January 1, 1920 during a brief visit to the United States and returned with her family to the Philippines when she was only three days old. Because your mother was born in the United States, she is a U.S. Citizen. You are born on January 13, 1941 after your mother’s twenty-first birthday, and you have lived in the Philippines your entire life. You have never even visited the United States. You may be eligible for United States Citizenship.

Example # 2 Your father is a Filipino who became a U.S. Citizen due to his service in the U.S. Military. He was honorably discharged from the U.S. Military in 1946. You may be eligible for U.S. Citizenship because your father lived in the Philippines while it was still an outlying possession of the United States.

Who benefits from the 1994 Amendment? The individuals who obtain the greatest benefit from the 1994 Amendment are those individuals who had already lost their citizenship for failing to meet the retention requirement before the retention requirement was abolished in 1978. Until the law was changed in 1994, there was no way for these individuals to regain their citizenship.

With the 1994 Amendment however, these individuals may now regain their citizenship by filing an application with the INS to repatriate. In this application, all you need to prove is that you are the foreign-born child of at least one United States Citizen and that your U.S. Citizen parent had met the applicable residency requirements at the time of your birth. Once this is proven, your application will be approved and all you have to do is take the oath of allegiance.

Although the INS has not yet published regulations for this procedure, it is currently accepting applications. If you think you may qualify for this benefit, you should make an appointment to discuss this matter with an immigration lawyer familiar with this area of the law.