Instant Citizenship



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You have probably heard about the story of a famous Filipino actor who became an “instant” U.S. citizen. His case caught the imagination of so many Filipinos. Suddenly, they began building their family tree, wondering if the branches would lead back to America. But more than the desire to go to America, there is really something wonderfully exciting about learning your true heritage.

A few weeks ago, a nice young couple and their cute little daughter stepped into my office. They were sent by a dear friend from the Philippines. My friend’s note asked me to see what I can do to help Tony get his green card faster. His mother petitioned him in 2000 under the FB-3 category as a married son of a U.S. citizen. When I checked the current visa bulletin, it showed that Tony still has to wait another 10 years or so. Nothing can be done but to wait, I told Tony. During our conversation, I uncovered other interesting facts. His mother became a U.S. citizen not by naturalization but by being recognized as one. In fact, her certificate of Citizenship said that she became a U.S. citizen since birth in 1934. Digging deeper, I also learned that her mother has never left the Philippines until she came to the U.S. in 2000. Tony was amused with the so many questions I was asking him, when all he wanted was to find a way to speed up his immigrant petition.

I told Tony that he may have a chance of becoming an “Instant Citizen”, but that his mother seemed to lack the required presence in the U.S. I explained to him that under the law, he can derive U.S. citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent but only if before he was born, his parent had physically resided in the U.S. for 5 years, 2 of which was after the age of 14. I let him in a little known fact – the Philippines is considered an “outlying possession” of the U.S. from 1899 until July 4, 1946. Thus, if during that period, his mother resided in the Philippines for 5 years, 2 of which was after his mother turned 14, then Tony would have a shot at instant citizenship. Too bad his mother turned 14 in 1948, after the Philippines had ceased to be an outlying possession of the U.S. and, therefore, his mother could not have satisfied the residency requirement.

As is typical in my meetings with clients, our conversation turned casual. Then, at one point, Tony narrated to me that during his father’s funeral, another woman showed up claiming to be his father’s first wife. Was it true, I asked? He told me that they investigated and was able to get a copy of the marriage contract between his father and the woman from the National Statistics Office. It turned out that his father had married the other woman a year earlier. That’s it, I exclaimed to Tony and his pretty wife. If we can prove that your parents’ marriage is bigamous, that makes you an illegitimate child. They seemed amused that something good would come out of Tony’s illegitimacy.

I explained to Tony that the case of an illegitimate child of an American mother presents an exceptional case because only one year of physical residence is required for the mother. Since his mother was born in the Philippines in 1934 and was physically present there at least until 1946, then she satisfies the one year requirement. It would have been different if it was his father who was the American, because the law would still require the 5 years/2years physical residence. The one year requirement favors only the illegitimate children of American mothers.

The law in point is Sec. 309 (c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which states that “a person born, after December 23, 1952, outside the United States and out of wedlock shall be held to have acquired at birth the nationality status of his mother, if the mother had the nationality of the United States at the time of such person's birth, and if the mother had previously been physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year.” As mentioned, Tony’s mother has been a U.S. citizen since 1934 and physically resided in the Philippines as an outlying possession of the U.S. from her birth in 1934 until the Philippines ceased to be an outlying possession of the U.S. in 1946. She satisfies the physical presence requirement of at least a year prior to Tony’s birth. For his part, Tony was born in 1964.

But how about the fact that Tony’s birth certificate indicates that he is legitimate and that his parents were married in 1958? Does he still need to go to court to annul his parents’ marriage and then to correct his birth certificate? At this point, our knowledge of Philippine laws comes very handy. Article 80 of the Philippine Civil Code states that bigamous marriages are void from the beginning. This means that they do not legally exist at all. Other provisions of the same Civil Code imply that there is no need for a court declaration before bigamous marriages can be considered as void. In other words, Tony does not need to go to court. All he needs are proper documentation to prove the fact that his father was already married when he married Tony’s mother in 1958.

Tony may not be an actor, but he is on his way to sharing the famous star’s luck. We are sure that because of our colorful history, countless other Filipinos have yet to learn and claim their birthright as U.S. citizens. So, if you have American blood running through your veins, and you believe that your case is somehow similar to Tony's, we encourage you to immediately consult an immigration attorney.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Atty. Rogelio Karagdag, Jr.
Atty. Rogelio Karagdag, Jr. is licensed to practice law in both California and the Philippines. He practices immigration law in California and the Philippines, and has continuously been a trial and appellate attorney in the Philippines since 1989. He travels between both countries.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.