Why do I have to renew my American citizenship in another country?
April 27, 2012 11:57 PM   Subscribe

My sister told me that I need to renew my citizenship after I become 18. I was born in another country, but I have an American citizenship, my own SSN, since I was born. I don't have a green card. According to my sister, I have to go back to my birth country to renew my AMERICAN citizenship. Is it true? How is renewing my citizenship different than renewing my passport? I talked to my friends (who are over 18) and they said that they never had to renew their citizenship. What is the world is my sister talking about?
posted by kopi to Law & Government (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not American but I was confused about this in Australia as someone who also has dual citizenship. My passport expired and I thought I was not longer a Dutch citizen. But I was wrong. That doesn't expire, to my knowledge.
posted by jojobobo at 12:08 AM on April 28, 2012

Did you have American citizenship since birth because one of your parents was an American citizen?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:09 AM on April 28, 2012

Here's a State Dept page about situations in which a child born outside the US acquires US citizenship at birth. It covers a number of possible situations about your parents. It doesn't say anything about returning to your birth country at 18, though.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:16 AM on April 28, 2012

It sounds like in order to claim US citizenship, an eligible child born abroad must get a copy of the relevant form (Consular Report of Birth Abroad) before reaching the age of 18, or else different rules apply. Did your parent/s file that form already when you were a child?
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:23 AM on April 28, 2012

My partner was naturalized as a US citizen when he was 18, right before he went to college. He and my other naturalized relatives never had to return to their country of birth to renew their citizenship. Could your sister be pulling your leg?
posted by peripathetic at 12:24 AM on April 28, 2012

Assuming that your parents filled out the appropriate forms, you are set to go.

It sounds like your sister is confusing actually having citizenship (which you do) with having the right to confer citizenship on a child (which you don't have if you didn't live in the US for the appropriate amount of time before age 14 unless you marry and have kids with another US citizen) or with the procedures for processing visas (which do often have to be issued in the holder's country of origin).

If you have specific questions, though, the best thing to do is to call US Citizen Services at the embassy in the country you were born in.
posted by Wylla at 12:33 AM on April 28, 2012

I got citizenship after fourteen years at fifteen, then they switched it to five. It's a one time deal as far as I know. Kind of a big step, picking a new country.
posted by provoliminal at 12:40 AM on April 28, 2012

I am sure my father had American citizenship when I was born. I never had a green card or visas. I didn't know that citizenship had to be renewed, let alone in another country? Once you got it, you got it, right? My sister told me that if I don't renew it, I can't stay in America anymore and that I can't go to school anymore. She never said anything about visas or greencards. I also already have SSN card and passport, and I always enrolled in everything as a domestic. What the hell. By the way, there is a chance that my sister is bsing the whole thing just to get me to another country where I can't help myself if I am forced to do things against my will, so... she might be bsing just to get me trapped. I am just making sure, because I feel icky about the whole situation.

I'll probably have to call US Citizen Services to see what my exact position is anyway.
posted by kopi at 12:41 AM on April 28, 2012

This all sounds like complete rubbish.

If you already have a US Passport then you are fine as it is. If the Passport expires then you just get a new one in the US. You would not need to go back to your birth country.

You may need to obtain a new Birth Certificate, if you have lost your old one? - but that should be possible by post.
posted by mary8nne at 12:48 AM on April 28, 2012

Talk to the consulate or embassy where you live. Seriously. They'll be able to clear this up really quickly.
posted by kdar at 12:55 AM on April 28, 2012

Your sister is completely wrong. Citizenship is not temporary, you don't have to do anything ever to renew it if you are a US citizen. Assuming what you have said in your post is accurate, you have nothing to worry about, and don't need to do anything about your status.
posted by skewed at 12:57 AM on April 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Instead of guessing what your sister might be referring to, ask her. Once you know where her information is coming from, you'll know how seriously to take it.
posted by -harlequin- at 1:02 AM on April 28, 2012

Does your passport have a stamp/endorsement that says, "The bearer of this passport is a United States national and not a United States citizen."? If so then you might have some paperwork to fill out.

If your passport does not say that anywhere, then I'd stop worrying about it. Talk to a State Department official sometime in the next couple months to make sure things are squared away, but in this case I bet they are.
posted by sbutler at 1:02 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

The first thing I thought when I read your question was, hmm, that seems like a ruse to get you to return to your birth country against your will. Then I read your follow-up and some of your previous posts and I'm completely terrified for you. Please don't believe your sister on this. What she's saying makes no sense. Either she's manipulating you, or someone else in your family has manipulated her. Also, now would be a very good time to make sure your passport, birth certificate and other important documents are in a secure place no-one in your family can reach them.
posted by embrangled at 2:14 AM on April 28, 2012 [22 favorites]

By the way, there is a chance that my sister is bsing the whole thing just to get me to another country where I can't help myself if I am forced to do things against my will, so... she might be bsing just to get me trapped. I am just making sure, because I feel icky about the whole situation.

It sure sounds like it.
posted by atrazine at 2:24 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also already have SSN card and passport, and I always enrolled in everything as a domestic.

If you already have a US passport, this cannot be reversed.

At most, what your sister may be referring to is that of choosing between two citizenships, if your birth country has that law or does not permit dual citizenship.

My cousin was born in the UK and was automatically granted the right to British citizenship, which he could choose to claim at age 18 since his parents registered him as an Indian citizen. At 18, he had to formally decline this option since he was going into the Indian Defence Forces and thus, not permitted to hold dual citizenship for obvious reasons.
posted by infini at 2:46 AM on April 28, 2012

Count me as another vote for your sister BSing you --- stay where you are, she's trying to pull something fishy. Citizenship doesn't need to be "renewed", plus, as an American citizen, you don't need any greencard or visa to be in this country.
posted by easily confused at 2:55 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

There are some countries where, when a child is born with potential dual citizenship, they have to formally choose that country's citizenship at the age of majority (18). This could be what your sister is thinking of. I don't think that is the case with US dual citizens, however. The US has a kind of funny policy towards dual citizenship in which they basically tolerate and respect it legally (at the moment) while publicly claiming that they see it as a problem.

The thing is, you absolutely should take the opportunity to investigate what your claim to citizenship is/what the state of your citizenship is and whether there is anything you need to do. Sometimes parents don't file the right papers and although your rights are your rights, it can make things more complicated than necessary, especially if you are estranged. You're still at an age where it is probably not a big deal to correct any oversights. You are correct that citizenship does not need to be renewed. The SSN is a red herring; strictly speaking you don't need to be a citizen to have an SSN or a passport, which is why I think it's a great idea to just find out from the authoritative source.

By the way, there is a chance that my sister is bsing the whole thing just to get me to another country where I can't help myself if I am forced to do things against my will, so... she might be bsing just to get me trapped. I am just making sure, because I feel icky about the whole situation.

Never ignore those icky instincts. Go right ahead and call US Citizen services and you won't have to speculate. If you have any worries, first call them and ask it as a hypothetical until you've verified that there's no big danger.

Having read some of your other questions, feel free to memail me for some help (for instance, I'd be perfectly willing to call US citizen services for you and ask them about the situation as a hypothetical if you're hesitant to do so). I'm American but I'm not in the US so my ability to help is constrained by geography, but not my ability to make a VOIP phone call.
posted by Your Time Machine Sucks at 3:11 AM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Looking at your previous questions, definitely don't ignore those instincts. I am based in the UK so can't give you advice on US citizenship, but have met women through volunteer work at the hospital I was based in who have been spun similar tales and have ended up trapped back in their parent's birth countries. Be careful, and be safe.
posted by ozgirlabroad at 4:26 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am a US immigration attorney but not your immigration attorney, and anyway not this kind of immigration attorney.

You are probably fine and don't need to do anything, but this is serious business, so I recommend you do more than just ask metafilter.

US citizenship law is actually very complicated. The laws have changed again and again over the last few decades and have made figuring out citizenship very murky. If you can, go to a free immigration clinic and see if the attorneys there can help you straighten this out before you turn 18. I only know enough to know its much more complicated than people assume. Believe it or not, plenty of people don't even know they are US citizens (and neither does the US government), for example if they were born outside the US to foreign parents but one of their parents was naturalized before the kid was born and never told the kid. Depending on the circumstances and when this happened, the kid may be a US citizen and may not know it.)

Most likely you are a US citizen and your sister is either wrong or pulling your leg. If you are a US citizen from birth, it's nearly impossible to lose your citizenship, and you have to do a lot (along the lines of taking up arms against the US or formally renouncing your citizenship) to have it legally taken away from you. If you became a US citizen at any point after birth (naturalization) even if you were a baby, it is still hard to take away your citizenship (you had to commit immigration fraud or some very serious crimes) but not quite as hard. You don't just lose citizenship for a failure to renew. It's not like a green card in that way.

You sound like you're 99% sure you're a US citizen. Now is a good time to figure this out for 100% sure. A few thoughts (I am assuming your mom is not a US citizen, or wasn't when you were born, because that would be much simpler):
- if your dad was a US citizen when you were born, you are probably considered a US citizen but it's not quite that simple. Issues could include: paternity questions (were your parents married at the time? If not, did your dad claim you on the birth certificate?), his own citizenship questions (was he born a US citizen or naturalize? If so, when? Did he know he was a US citizen when you were born?)
- Forget the SSN - as someone else said, it's a red herring. Yes it's some evidence that you are likely a citizen, but it's not proof because you can get one without being a citizen
- I would check into the dual nationality question, but just in case you need to do anything vis-a-vis that other country.
- The passport should be a very good indicator, as mentioned above. If it says that you are a citizen (and the passport is real), the US government thinks you're a citizen.
posted by semacd at 4:37 AM on April 28, 2012 [15 favorites]

semacd has given the authoritative answer.

I want to emphasise that you should seek the advice of an attorney, particularly given that your sister/family may be trying to get you out of the country. I have dual citizenship. Eventually I learned not to mention this. It either got me bullied in school or led to people telling me I would have to choose a country when I turned 18 (or, now, asking how I didn't have to choose). Basically, this is something the average person is ill-equipped to comment on, but will comment on anyway.

If you're still in Los Angeles, Google has turned up the FAME legal clinic. The Legal Aid Society has some referrals (scroll down). The Justice Department has a list of attorneys and organisations who do low-cost immigration work (or referrals) sorted by location in California. (Changing the state in the URL seems to work to get the other lists, but I can't find the index by state.)

If you don't have a copy of your birth certificate (if I understand correctly, your birth was registered with the State Department), you can request one from the State Department (though you may have to wait until you're 18 and it costs $50(!)). If you have the $50, it might be worth requesting one so that you have copies of all your citizenship-related papers, rather than your family controlling them.
posted by hoyland at 5:19 AM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I am an American citizen born abroad. I did not have to renew my citizenship upon my 18th birthday; I *certainly* did not have to go back to my birth country to do it. After my family moved to the US, I went back to my birth country once when I was 7 and once on my honeymoon at the age of 28. I have a valid US passport and voter registration card and have traveled internationally many times.

My situation may be different from yours; my mother was the citizen, not my father, for example. However, I stand before you as absolute proof that it is not universally required for an American Citizen born abroad to return to their birth country to renew their citizenship.

While you should absolutely consult an immigration lawyer to be 1000% certain, I am pretty damn sure that anything you would theoretically need to go to your birth country for, you could do at the consulate. Long story short? Your sister is almost certainly either mistaken or trying to trick you.
posted by KathrynT at 10:00 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Both my parents have passports and social security cards, from what I know (I saw them while digging for my own legal docs)
I already took my legal docs, and there seems to be a copy of my birth certificate on regular paper, but not the original. My mom has been trying to fish the docs off of me since.

So, I asked my ssiter, "why do I have to go to ___ to renew my citizenship, where is your source of information coming from? Bs." and she said, "coming from mom". She's also been calling me things and threatening to file the missing person report at my school and call my dorm manager and everything.

Thanks for the referrals though, I will definitely look into those. I am over 18.
posted by kopi at 10:13 AM on April 28, 2012

BOTH your parents are US citizens?! Yeah, this doesn't pass the smell test. Call the consulate and ask them what you have to do to get your birth certificate and your Certificate of the Birth Abroad of an American Citizen, and be on your guard.
posted by KathrynT at 10:18 AM on April 28, 2012

I think your sister may be confusing requirements for foreign-born citizens with those for prospective residents. When my ex-husband applied for his green card, he had to wait for the application to be processed in the country of which he was a citizen (Mexico, in his case.)
posted by path at 10:35 AM on April 28, 2012

Pre-empt your sister/mom and go to your school's dean of students or even just your resident assistant (for starters). Tell them your family has threatened to file a missing person's report about you. Tell them you are obviously not missing, as here you are, in school. Tell them you need help securing your safety and ensuring your family can't screw with your education.

Don't answer any more calls. If your family wants to contact you, tell them they can do so in writing. Let them know that you are not missing, are not falling for their citizenship trap, and that you are not going anywhere.

Seriously, college is one of those amazing places where the resources may be right at your fingertips and easier to access than at any other time in your life. Look at your student handbook to figure out exactly which dean you need to see, and then see that dean and take advantage of the services available on campus. These may range from (a) private protection orders you can get from campus police to (b) mental health services to (c) possibly even help figuring out your citizenship situation.
posted by brina at 11:02 AM on April 28, 2012 [16 favorites]

What the Christ? Your sister is pulling some game on you. Do not believe her. Your mother may be in on this as well.

You can get an official copy of your birth certificate by writing to the appropriate issuing office and paying whatever the fee is. Do not give anyone in your family any of your documents. I would try to get help from someone in my school administration--maybe start with the Dean of Students' office and see where they refer you. (It will also help you to start establishing a paper trail with the school in case you need to refile for financial aid based on your family's unwillingness to support you financially.)

I am so sorry you are dealing with this weirdness from your family. It's wrong. Get some allies to help you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:04 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

And yes, a million times yes, to what brina said. Pre-emptive strike. Put it all out there with your school's administration.

One other possible wrinke to this if you are a man--if you do have dual citizenship in your parents' native country, going there might mean that you would be subject to conscription for national service or military service, if that is the law there. I knew several dual citizens who chose simply to avoid their or their parents' home countries between the ages of 18 and 22, or whatever the conscription requirements of that country happened to be, rather than engage in complicated and possibly costly litigation to be exempted.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:09 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

There may also be someone in your school's administration who is experienced in dealing with international students' documentation issues who can help you fill in whatever gaps there might be in your documents.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:25 AM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

threatening to file the missing person report at my school and call my dorm manager

There are laws about what information a college can release about a student who's over 18. Generally, the college is not allowed to tell your family anything without your consent. Some schools are sloppy about this, so it might be a good idea to get in touch with someone in the administration of your school (Dean of Students, Student Life, whoever is in charge of the dorms is a good place to start) and tell them "don't release ANY information to my family". They should be able to put a note in your file indicating that.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:43 PM on April 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Coming in late to this but I agree that something doesn't add up here. Follow brina'a advice and take proactive steps against whatever game your mother and sister are playing right now. Tonight.
posted by ob1quixote at 4:59 PM on April 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

Mr. Leezie was born in Australia to a US citizen who was married to an Australian. At his birth, he got an Australian birth certificate and a US birth certificate. The fact that his parents were married at the time of his birth (thus his father, the US citizen was presumed to be the father) and thus citizenship was conferred automatically.
posted by Leezie at 5:57 PM on April 28, 2012

Ugh, last sentence should have read: "The fact that his parents were married at the time of his birth meant that there was a presumption that his dad, the US citizen, was the father and thus citizenship conferred automatically."
posted by Leezie at 5:59 PM on April 28, 2012

Don't leave the country if you have any concerns about your citizenship status - you might have a lot of trouble re-entering. Also, your sister and mom sound like they are not acting in good faith. Citizenship does not need to be renewed - you have it or you don't. If you don't, you'll definitely want to deal with that but leaving the US is not one of the ways (unless you have to).

Keep your ID documents, do anything you can to protect yourself from familial ID theft, and do not go to any place where you might not be allowed to act on your own free will.
posted by SakuraK at 9:51 PM on April 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, my sister is definitely pulling on me. The things she says doesn't make sense. First, she said my 'citizenship card' (whatever that is) needs to be applied for this year in the foreign country, I don't know if she meant apply for a new one or to renew an existing citizenship. She says she "thinks" I have to renew it because I am past 18. She said that I will run into problem with social security number in the foreign country (I don't even plan on going there ever anyway). She says this is because I am a citizen in the other country. But, you know what? I am not a citizen in the other country. Last year, my dad told me that I was OFFERED a citizenship if I showed up in that country as the other country thinks that I live with my dad in the foreign country, so that means I was never a dual citizen in the first place, only American. So basically, my sister is telling me to renew my *non-existant* foreign citizenship in order to stay in America, while I've already been using my US passport and applying as domestic all my life. That's beyond absurd.

I already got my school to keep information from strangers (it's FERPA in action), and my school people are aware of my family situation. I am so glad to have such helpful people. I will definitely ask them about finding out my status and all, though. You guys are helpful too
posted by kopi at 11:45 PM on April 28, 2012

Looking over your previous questions, it sounds like your family objects to your having a life independant of them, and perhaps they also object to aspects of your lifestyle. On the bright side, it also sounds like you KNOW this, and are taking steps to protect yourself --- bravo!

You were right to collect your birth certificate, passport and other personal documents: obviously leaving them in the family home isn't safe, but I also wouldn't leave them in your college dorm. Get a safe deposit box at a bank, and store your documents there --- there's NO WAY your family could get them then. As for protecting yourself, you seem to be on the right track: you've moved into that dorm, and you're rightly suspicious of their attempts to get you out of this country to somewhere where you'd have little to no freedom of movement. So far, so good! But unfortunately you might need to go even further, and stop even visiting them at the family home.

And just as you're doing with this "must renew your citizenship" BS from your mother and sister, always always ALWAYS check and get official confirmation of every single thing they tell you!
posted by easily confused at 3:31 AM on April 29, 2012

So, I asked my friend's parent (who regularly work with immigrants) and showed her my passport. The parent said that there's nothing wrong with my passport and that I am a citizen, no doubt. She said that my sister was wrong.

I really, really do not want to go back to my family's home at all, so I am trying to figure out a way how to get my braces completed. If I ever go back to my old city, it will be after I figure out how I'll get transportation and shelter without them.
posted by kopi at 6:27 PM on April 29, 2012 [3 favorites]

if you have any other questions about your immigration status, let me know. I work at the office of an immigration lawyer and can help you for free.
posted by Tarumba at 8:11 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

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