Jus soli, or right of the soil in Latin, is the legal rule that a child’s citizenship is determined by his or her place of birth. The opposing legal rule is jus sanguinis, or right of the blood. Jus sanguinis holds that a child’s citizenship is determined by his or her parents’ citizenship.
The majority of countries adhere to the rule of jus sanguinis. The controlling rule in America is jus soli, as established in the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution. As a result, all people born in the United States are automatically American citizens no matter where their parents were born or what citizenship they hold.
By the 19th century, many nations were divided between those that recognized jus soli and those where jus sanguinis ruled. The latter remains the preferred citizenship rule throughout Europe, with the exception of France and Germany after 2000. Labor migration has complicated the strict application of either of these citizenship rules in the past half century.
Select jus soli countries like New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and Australia have modified the rule in the past two decades. The modifications tend to make it more difficult for the children of foreign parents to automatically claim citizenship. It is increasingly typical to require that one of the parents be a permanent resident.
Although jus soli is the controlling rule with regard to citizenship in the United States, the American government also recognizes jus sanguinis in certain circumstances. A child born to parents who are U.S. citizens is automatically a citizen no matter where the birth takes place. If the child was born after November 14, 1986, only one parent has to hold American citizenship for the baby to be considered a U.S. citizen.
Children born to foreign diplomats stationed in America are the exception to the jus soli rule in the United States. The 14th Amendment states that, to be a citizen, the person born in the United States must be subject to American jurisdiction. Foreign diplomats have diplomatic immunity while on American soil, are not subject to U.S. jurisdiction, and therefore their children cannot claim citizenship under jus soli.
American politicians have considered abolishing jus soli on various occasions. The motivating factor behind abolition is often illegal immigration; some politicians want to deny automatic citizenship to children born in the United States to illegal immigrant parents. Such a change has yet to be successful because it would most likely require altering the constitution’s 14th Amendment.