Ask a JAG

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Q: I am planning to marry a German but am unsure of how she can become an American citizen.  We also plan to have a child soon.  If the child is born in Germany, is there anything we must do to ensure that the child is an American citizen?

A: Before the non-citizen spouse may permanently relocate to the U.S., you as the citizen-spouse will need to sponsor your non-citizen spouse for an immigrant visa.  
Following the marriage, the citizen-spouse should file a Petition for Alien Relative with the local Consulate General’s Office in Frankfurt.  You can obtain forms online or by contacting the Stuttgart Law Center. Along with the petition, applicants must include certain other items, including a copy of the marriage certificate and a translated copy of the document. Although applications may be mailed to the Consulate’s Office, to avoid unnecessary delays, it is wise to make an appointment to visit that office. 

Once the petition is approved, the applicant will be instructed on how to file for a visa, commonly referred to as a “green card.” After an interview and upon approval of the application, the non-citizen spouse will be granted a visa.

The visa, however, is normally valid for a short period of time, during which the non-citizen spouse must travel to the U.S. to receive Lawful Permanent Resident status from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If the couple has been married for less than two years, the non-citizen may still receive LPR status, but that status will be conditional and subject to termination if, for example, the couple divorces during that period.

Regarding the possibility of your child being born abroad, there are certain instances when a person born outside of the U.S. may be considered a U.S. citizen at birth.

One such instance is where a child is born overseas and his or her parents are both U.S. citizens. When a child is born in a German hospital, however, a German birth certificate will be issued. This is not sufficient to establish the child’s U.S. citizenship. Therefore, new parents should contact the Consulate’s Office to file a Report of Birth Abroad and file for a U.S. passport for the child. If only one parent of the child is a U.S. citizen, additional steps must be taken through the Consulate’s Office for the child to acquire U.S. citizenship.

Please note that unlike the U.S., Germany does not automatically confer citizenship to any individual born within its boundaries. For citizenship to be conferred upon birth, one of the child’s biological parents must be a German citizen.

This column is not intended as individual or specific legal advice. If you have specific issues or concerns, you should consult a judge advocate at 421-4152/civ. 0711-729-4152.