by Sharon Rondeau

(May 7, 2016) — On Tuesday, The Post & Email spoke with Elizabeth A. Finan, Press Officer, Bureau of Consular Affairs, U.S. Department of State, regarding questions we had about the citizenship status of children born in foreign countries to U.S.-citizen parents.

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?

Finan responded:

Hi Sharon,

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.

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  1. I have a question when I apply for a crba for my son do they give too you right away if your approved and if so can my son cross the border with just his crba and a Mexican school certificate with his picture ???

  2. Immediately one sees that NATURAL born is “on the spot”…”NO ambiguity”..”No effort to establish”…at the very least.

    Registering a birth gives CITIZENSHIP.

    It is not “ON THE SPOT” at birth. It IS Ambiguous to a point as the parent(s) must show his/her/their CITIZENSHIP proof.

    One has an increasingly nagging suspicion that TED was OVERREACHING in his OVERACHIEVING (as per his mother) and OVERSIMPLIFYING “citizenship,” creating some hitherto unknown category :”what the heck; what does it matter anyway” citizenship status.

  3. Sharon, just a note about border crossing in early 1970s. I spent a good portion of my childhood and teen years in a northern border city. My parents owned summer property in Canada. Border crossing was routine. Literally hundreds of trips were made from 1968 to 1978. We were NEVER asked for any document (birth certificate). Not even once. In fact we never even carried them.

    The standard question back when used to be “Where were you born?” Some agents would maybe change up the phrasing a bit. Can’t remember when, maybe late 1970s, they started asking “What is your Citizenship?”

    As for the 1980s, I don’t recall ever needing to show a document to cross. I used to work in Niagara Falls NY and used to sneak across the border for lunch if the bridge traffic was light.

    Things were WAY different back then.

  4. The following Q’s and A’s are from the docs Sharon referenced:
    I was born overseas. I believe I was a U.S. citizen at birth
    because one or both my parents were U.S. citizens when I
    was born. But my birth and citizenship were not registered
    with the U.S. Embassy when I was born. Can I apply to
    have my citizenship recognized?

    Whether or not someone born outside the United States to a U.S.
    citizen parent is a U.S. citizen depends on the law in effect when
    the person was born. These laws have changed over the years, but
    usually require a combination of the parent being a U.S. citizen when
    the child was born, and the parent having lived in the United States
    or its possessions for a specific period of time. Derivative citizenship
    can be quite complex and may require careful legal analysis.

    How do I apply to have my citizenship recognized?
    You have two options:

    • You can apply to the U.S. Department of State for a U.S.
    passport. A passport is evidence of citizenship and also serves
    as a travel document if you need to travel. For information about
    applying for a U.S. passport, see the U.S. Department of State
    Web site at http://www.state.gov.
    • If you are already in the United States, you also have the
    option of applying to USCIS using Form N-600, Application for
    Certificate of Citizenship. However, you may find applying for
    a passport to be more convenient because it also serves as a
    travel document and could be a faster process.

    Following is a link to the Form N-600 – Application for Certificate of Citizenship

    Question 16 in the Form N-600 is interesting. It asks how one entered the United States, what port of entry, what documentation was used to enter, etc.

    This looks to be information worth requesting via a FOIA/PA

  5. Hi Sharon: So that 25 year old born overseas who had a Citizen parent if he or she meets the statutory requirements of the applicable law would be issued a passport. And that passport would be their only proof of citizenship for the rest of their life? The don’t get a CRBA or a U.S. citizenship certificate or some other piece of paper, just the passport? Maybe some reader fits into such a scenario where they were born overseas to a citizen parent and never applied to have their U.S. Citizenship until after age 18 and they can tell us more about said process if one attempts to perfect their citizenship for the first time at or after age 18, the age of majority. To me it would seem that how one conducted oneself upon reaching the age of majority would also have some effect. CDR Kerchner (Ret)

    1. That is my understanding. I will check with Ms. Finan on the circumstances under which a Certificate of Citizenship would be issued, as that is something I did not think to ask at the time. But yes, the CRBA is not issued to anyone 18 or older.

  6. Below is part of the FOIA/PA request I submitted to the DOS associated with Ted Cruz:

    According to State Depart documentation, parent(s) of a child born to a United States citizen while living abroad could either file a CRBA, Consular Report of Birth Abroad OR only apply for a U.S. passport for the child. The site goes on to say that “By law, U.S. citizens, including dual nationals, must use a U.S. passport to enter and leave the United States. It has been well documented that Ted Cruz left Canada in 1974 with his parents and together they moved to Texas.


    Consular Report of Birth Abroad for Rafael Edward Cruz which would include the supporting documentation cited above regarding his parent’s status, and

    Evidence of a United States passport issued in the name of Rafael Edward Cruz which, by law, he would have needed to enter the United States in 1974 at which time he left Canada as a documented Canadian citizen and moved permanently to the United States with his parents to live in Texas.

    In response, on April 6, the DOS sent me the following:

    Dear Requester:

    RE: Consular Report of Birth Abroad for Rafael Edward Cruz

    This is in response to your request dated 3-13-2016. We have assigned Case Control Number F-2016-01859 and will begin the processing of your request based upon the information provided in your communication.

  7. I requested information from the DOS under a FOIA/PA submission documents associated with Eleanor Darragh Wilson Cruz. In Response to this request, the DOS sent me a confirmation letter which stated:

    Dear Requester:

    Re: Consular Report of Birth Abroad for Rafael Edward Cruz, Eleanor Darragh Wilson Cruz U.S. passport, any Consular forms documenting Eleanor’s marriage to Rafael Cruz.

    This is in response to your request dated 3-16-16. We have assigned Case Control Number F-2016-02137 and will begin the processing of your request bases upon the information provided in your communication.

    When the DOS stated they would process my request based upon the information provided in my communication, below is the list of documents requested in my communication.


    Consular Report of Birth Abroad for Rafael Edward Cruz which would include the supporting documentation such as the child’s birth certificate, evidence of Eleanor’s citizenship, a marriage certificate of the parents, and evidence of the termination of any prior marriages whether done through the U.S. Consulate in Calgary or as a result of a passport request made in Houston, TX,

    Evidence of a valid United States passport issued in the name of Eleanor Elizabeth (Darragh Wilson) Cruz at the time she re-entered the United States from Canada in or around 1975 when she returned to the United States with her child and husband,

    Any consular forms documenting Eleanor’s marriage to her Canadian husband in support of Rafael B. Cruz’ entry into the United States as the spouse of a U. S. citizen in or around 1975,

    Any consular forms documenting any request or consideration by Eleanor Cruz to renounce her United States’ citizenship as was done by her husband when he became a Canadian citizen, and

    The A-File number for Rafael B. Cruz if shown on any consular records.

    From the interview Sharon conducted, it would certainly seem that Felito was a U.S. citizen from birth whether or not a CRBA or U.S. passport was obtained during the time the Cruz family was in Canada ASSUMING that Eleanor retained her U.S. citizenship.

    Still unanswered are questions related to Eleanor’s citizenship status while she was in London in the 1960-1967 time period and in Canada during the 1967-1974 time period. Was she naturalized while in Britain? Did she obtain Canadian citizenship during the time she lived in Canada? Did she ever affirmatively renounce her U.S. citizenship either while in England or in Canada?

    Associated with these questions are ones regarding how RBC obtained Canadian citizenship in what seems to be a much shorter time period than what is required.

    One final thought for Sharon, did you discuss the nuances of “natural born” during your interview? If not, that might be worth a follow up discussion especially given that Felito only had at most, one parent who might have been a U.S. citizen at the time he was born.

    If Eleanor retained her U.S. citizenship then any questions regarding Ted’s citizenship status when he was elected to the U.S. Senate are laid to rest. As stated in the interview, whether or not Ted had a CRBA and even if he did not obtain one until much later in his life, he was nevertheless a U.S. citizen from the time of birth.

    If the above were true, then that leaves open the question “what type of citizen?”.

  8. Aa I read this article, and maybe I missed it, but what does a person do if the singular parent citizen did not file for a CRBA form prior to the child turning 18 and now the child is 18 or over and he/she decides he/she needs documentary proof of their citizenship by birth. What does the 18+ year old person have to do get to get some piece of paper or a document to show others that they are a U.S. Citizen. Can a person 18 or over record their own birth abroad to an American citizen and get that coveted CRBA retroactively once past their 18th birthday. Or is that door shut for that CRBA document once they reach the age of majority, 18. And if they can no longer get a CRBA, then what document do they get to prove to other and show to others that they are a U.S. Citizen. What documentation does an 18+ year old have to produce to get that citizenship document? These are the questions that went through my mind as I read the article. Again, if I missed something point it out to me. CDR Kerchner (Ret)

    1. I believe she covered that here:

      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.

  9. Many unanswered questions.

    “and his parents are married and they are both U.S. citizens,” She never said what the difference is if only one parent is a citizen, that is the million dollar question of the day.

  10. Thank you Sharon. For me, the biggest take-away from this interaction is the statement made by Ms. Finan: “If a person is in front of me who is 17 years old, and his parents are married and they are BOTH [SIC] U.S. citizens, all I need to know is that his parents had a residence in the United States.”

  11. Are there Government Manuals on this? This article speaks of
    evidence, can’t say Obama has proof since his narrative has flipped
    and has flopped and lacks real documentation.

    Our concern with Obama and Cruz is they are not Natural Born Citizens.

    When did Obama and Cruz get a Cribba and passport? Oh! I almost forgot, they both sealed their records.

    This article states the Consular Officer can find evidence of
    citizenship, let’s have Congress do an investigation on Obama
    and Cruz from this government agency.