“CRBA” DOCUMENT IS “PROOF OF CITIZENSHIP”
by Sharon Rondeau
Finan had responded to several questions we had submitted by email, which we began by asking:
If an American parent fails to register his/her child as a U.S. citizen born abroad shortly after the birth, how would that child later on prove that he is an American citizen? Would he be an American citizen?
There is no requirement that parents register their children as U.S. citizens “shortly” after birth. While do recommend that parents apply for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad as soon as possible, we will issue this document to any U.S. citizen up to the age of 18. The CRBA is only issued to those who acquire citizenship at birth – but even if a child waits until he is 17 to apply for the CRBA, he has still been a U.S. citizen all along. A CRBA is distinct from a naturalization certificate.
There are different requirements for acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth, depending on the citizenship and marital status of the parents. The parents’ time spent in the United States also plays a role in determining whether they can pass on their U.S. citizenship to their child. Our website explains these requirements: https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/legal-considerations/us-citizenship-laws-policies/citizenship-child-born-abroad.html
I hope that helps. If you have further questions, please give me a call at 202-485-6147, as sometimes it is easier to explain these types of things via phone.
We did so, and a conversation ensued in which Finan described how the Bureau of Consular Affairs determines whether or not a person is deemed a U.S. citizen.
We first asked what the process is if a U.S.-citizen parent or parents wishes to apply for a U.S. passport for their child but never obtained a Consular Record of Birth Abroad (CRBA) for him or her after his birth in a foreign country.
MS. FINAN: They would apply for a passport at the U.S. consulate in the country where they are living.
THE POST & EMAIL: Without a CRBA, what would they use to obtain a U.S. passport?
MS. FINAN: We’ll start with the Consular Record of Birth Abroad. We call it a “Cribba.” The Cribba is proof of the child’s citizenship. It’s not a birth certificate per se, but it’s proof of citizenship and it’s very useful, particularly if the child is born abroad and the family has come back to live in the United States and is enrolling the child in school. If you, say, have an Israeli birth certificate and try to use it to enroll a child in school here in the U.S., they would question it.
The Cribba has no photo on it, so it’s not a proof of identity; only a proof of citizenship. The passport, on the other hand, is proof of both identity and citizenship because it has your picture on it, and if you have a U.S. passport, that means you’re a U.S. citizen.
Many parents – I would say a majority of parents – choose to get both documents for their child, so they will apply for the Cribba and the passport.
THE POST & EMAIL: Do they have to do it at the same time?
MS. FINAN: They don’t have to do it at the same time. Passports and Cribbas can be expensive for some families. The Cribba costs $100 and the passport for a child, first-time application, costs $135. Some families, if they don’t have any plans to travel anytime soon but still want to document their child as a U.S. citizen, may elect just to get the Cribba, and at some other time down the road, they will elect to get the passport.
This is rare, but in my short experience, some families could choose not to get the Cribba at all and just to get the passport. If you choose not to get the Cribba, you still have to provide the same proof that you are entitled to that passport as if you’re applying for a Cribba.
THE POST & EMAIL: If a child grows up in a foreign country through age 17 and never had a Cribba, what would his parents show to the consulate to say, “This child has been a U.S. citizen his whole life?”
MS. FINAN: It’s based on his parents. This is complicated, but it depends on the parents’ marital status at the time of the birth, and it also depends on the time that the parents lived in the United States. That is what goes into consideration when we’re making this decision.
THE POST & EMAIL: Because Congress has passed statutes which mandate these things…
MS. FINAN: Exactly. If a person is in front of me who is 17 years old, and his parents are married and they are both U.S. citizens, all I need to know is that his parents had a residence in the United States. There are various ways that you can prove a residence. If his parents show me their passports indicating that they were born in the U.S., I’m going to probably assume that they were resident in the U.S.
Documentation to prove that would include bills, if they owned a house, had utility bills, school records, or a pay stub from a job. There’s a lot of different evidence that shows residence. The other section of law on which you could pass citizenship is called ‘physically present,’ and is more for when the parents are not married and it was a out-of-wedlock birth. So it depends on the marital status of the parents, whether they just need to show that they were resident or that they were physically present, but regardless, there are a number of ways you can show your presence in the U.S. Photographs, utility bills, the parents’ passports – all of those things are evidence, and if we are able to check all the boxes and say, ‘Yes, these parents met the requirements to pass on their citizenship to their child, then that child is eligible to have the Cribba and has been a U.S. citizen since birth.
If you are overseas and age 25 and you figure out that your parents are Americans and that you might have an entitlement to U.S. citizenship, we’re not going to give you a Cribba anymore, but we can look at all of the evidence we just talked about and see if your parents did indeed pass on citizenship to you so that you would be eligible for a U.S. passport.
THE POST & EMAIL: So someone could find out by surprise that he has been a U.S. citizen his whole life?
MS. FINAN: Even if a U.S. citizen doesn’t realize he’s a U.S. citizen or doesn’t have the documentation to say that he’s a U.S. citizen, we find out that they are. For example, this happens sometimes, where someone will come in and apply for a non-immigrant visa to come visit the United States. They will show us their foreign passport that has a birthplace of somewhere in the United States, and we say, “Well, you are a U.S. citizen because you were born in Florida, so you are not eligible to apply for a non-immigrant visa, but I’m going to send you to my colleagues over there and they’re going to tell you how to apply for a passport.” So they would not be a visitor; they are actually a citizen. So even if they didn’t have any documentation, we still consider them a citizen.
THE POST & EMAIL: Would the person know if he has a Social Security number?
MS. FINAN: If they’re born overseas, you have to apply for their Social Security number. Most people will apply for the Social Security Number at the same time that they apply for their child’s Cribba and the passport. You’re at the embassy already; might as well just fill out one extra form. The embassy will collect that form on your behalf and forward it to the Social Security Administration.
THE POST & EMAIL: So you could do everything at once.
MS. FINAN: Yes, or you can do it piece-by-piece.
THE POST & EMAIL: Who are the individuals who conduct interviews? What title do they have?
MS. FINAN: Their title is “Consular Officer” when they’re working in this section, and they are diplomats.
THE POST & EMAIL: Is a certain amount of experience required?
MS. FINAN: Yes. All of our diplomatic corps have a variety of experience before they even enter the Foreign Service. If you are going to serve as a Consular Officer at an embassy, you undergo rigorous training in order to become familiar with the laws on how to adjudicate citizenship cases.
THE POST & EMAIL: If a child is born outside of the United States, is he considered a foreign citizen until he obtains that Cribba or passport?
MS. FINAN: You are a U.S. citizen from birth whether or not you have that documentation. If you come in without the proper evidence that your parents passed their citizenship on to you, then that’s a different story. Then, obviously, you were not born a U.S. citizen.
If you come to us and give us the documentation, we’re just giving you the piece of paper that says to the world that you are a U.S. citizen, but you have always been a U.S. citizen. That’s what differentiates this process from naturalization, which is that you become a U.S. citizen on a certain date. I can’t speak to the naturalization process, which is handled by a totally different agency.
THE POST & EMAIL: Does one need a passport to come in from Canada and Mexico?
MS. FINAN: You need a passport to go there and come back as of 2007.
THE POST & EMAIL: Before that, it used to be much easier, particularly perhaps with Canada, where people could just drive back and forth; is that correct?
MS. FINAN: Yes, prior to 2007, you could cross the border with just your birth certificate.