In short, no — a child born in the United States to a foreign diplomatic officer does not receive U.S. citizenship at birth. However, many employees of foreign governments — including consular officials — are not considered “foreign diplomatic officers” for purposes of U.S. immigration law.
For those individuals who were born to foreign diplomat parents on U.S. soil, there are specific laws that allow them to become lawful permanent residents and, ultimately, naturalized U.S. citizens, should they choose this option.
What does the law say?
While the U.S. Constitution has little to say about immigration, the 14th Amendment does state that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
A child born to a foreign diplomat on U.S. soil is clearly “born … in the United States,” but they are not “subject to the jurisdiction” of the United States. As a result, a child born in the U.S. to foreign diplomat parents is not a U.S. citizen at birth.
8 CFR 101.3(a)(1) makes the point explicitly. Quoting the section in full:
“A person born in the United States to a foreign diplomatic officer accredited to the United States, as a matter of international law, is not subject to the jurisdiction of the United States. That person is not a United States citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution. Such a person may be considered a lawful permanent resident at birth.”
We will return to this last point about lawful permanent residency — and how it can lead to naturalization and citizenship — in a moment. But first, a definitional question:
Who is — and who is not — a “foreign diplomatic officer”?
A foreign diplomatic officer is a person listed on the U.S. Department of State’s Diplomatic List, or “Blue List.” The Blue List is an interesting document, providing the names of those individuals and their spouses who serve foreign states and international organizations and, as such, are generally immune from “any form of arrest or detention.” The list includes, among others, ambassadors, ministers, and those with diplomatic status and immunities who work for the United Nations.
It is important to note who is not considered a “foreign diplomatic officer” for purposes of U.S. immigration law — in other words, the individuals whose children, if born in the United States, would automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. Such individuals include, for example:
- Consular officials and other foreign government employees with limited or no diplomatic immunity,
- Employees of foreign diplomatic missions (listed on the Dept. of State’s so-called “White List”), and
- Employees of foreign diplomatic missions accredited to the United Nations.
See 8 CFR 101.3(b) for additional details on who is not considered a foreign diplomatic officer.
Note that if either parent of the child born on U.S. soil is a U.S. citizen or a non-citizen U.S. national, the U.S. government deems that the child was born subject to the jurisdiction of the U.S., and the child would then acquire citizenship at birth. In other words, if either parent did not have full diplomatic immunity at the time of the child’s birth — for example, by being a U.S. citizen or non-citizen U.S. national — then the child would be subject to U.S. jurisdiction and would therefore be a U.S. citizen at birth. See the USCIS website for more information.
How can the child born to a foreign diplomatic officer on U.S. soil pursue U.S. citizenship?
As is noted in 8 CFR 101.3(a)(1), quoted earlier, a person born in the U.S. to a foreign diplomatic officer “may be considered a lawful permanent resident at birth.” Such individual’s registration as a lawful permanent resident of the U.S. is entirely voluntary.
In order to be eligible, the individual must maintain continuous residence — not continuous physical presence — in the United States. To request creation of a record of lawful permanent residence, the individual (or their parent, if under 18 years old) would file Form I-485 with the required fee and supporting documentation (including, but not limited to, their birth certificate, a list of their arrivals to and departures from the U.S., proof of continuous residence in the U.S., and two photographs). Note that the applicant would also need to waive any privileges and immunities they received pursuant to their parent’s diplomatic status by filing Form I-508. See 8 CFR 264.2 for additional details on the application process and required documentation.
If the application is approved, the date of permanent residence will be the individual’s date of birth. As with other green card holders, the individual will also be on the path to citizenship, should they choose to pursue that option. Depending on the individual’s age and the amount of time they have had continuous residence in the U.S. at the time they register as a lawful permanent resident, they may be able to become a naturalized citizen not long thereafter.
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