Among the many questions that arise as immigration issues are discussed in the U.S. is the issue of birthright citizenship. Most Americans understand that almost everyone born in the U.S. is automatically a U.S. citizen (children born to foreign diplomats accredited to the U.S. are the exception), regardless of the legal status or length of residence of the parents. But how is citizenship at birth determined in other countries, and how different is the U.S. system from that of other countries?
How is Citizenship Determined at Birth?
The two systems used to determine citizenship at birth are known by their Latin names: jus soli (“right of the soil, ” or where you were born), or jus sanguinis ("right of blood,” or being born to parents who are citizens of a particular country). U.S. citizenship at birth is determined through jus soli, meaning that the baby is a U.S. citizen regardless of the citizenship of its parents. Many other countries accord citizenship at birth only to babies whose parents are citizens or who have been legal residents of that country for a specified period of time.
History: Why the U.S. Has Birthright Citizenship
This article discusses the history of birthright citizenship in the U.S. since the time of the first naturalization law in 1790, when only free whites were granted birthright citizenship (Native Americans and enslaved people were not citizens). The 1868 Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution codified birthright citizenship in the U.S. and arose from debate during and after the Civil War regarding citizenship of black Americans.
What Are Other Countries' Policies?
While many countries in the Western Hemisphere accord citizenship via jus soli, most countries determine citizenship of babies through the citizenship, or at least residency/legal status, of the parents. For a detailed discussion and map, see the Library of Congress article, "Birthright Citizenship Around the World." This study states, "While most of the countries that provide for unrestricted birthright citizenship are located in the Western Hemisphere, many nations around the world make birthright citizenship conditional on the legal status of the parents, or the age and length of residency in the country of the person applying for citizenship based on the fact of his or her birth in the country’s territory."
Automatic birthright citizenship has at times proven controversial in the U.S., Canada, and elsewhere, as any baby born in these countries is accorded citizenship regardless of the legal status of the parents. Some countries have abolished birthright citizenship in recent years, and the Trump administration is considering attempting to do so as well. This article from The Atlantic gives interesting examples of several countries' birthright citizenship policies.