Birthright citizenship is a governmental policy under which any child born within a country's borders or territory is automatically granted citizenship in that country—even if their parents are not citizens. At present, 33 countries in the world (and two territories) have unrestricted birthright citizenship, also known as jus soli, and another 32 nations have some form of restricted birthright citizenship (see table after body text).
Every Country with Unrestricted Birthright Citizenship (jus soli):
The following countries have unrestricted birthright citizenship: Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Brazil, Canada, Chad, Child, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Fiji, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago, Tuvalu, the United States, Uruguay, and Venezuela.
Nuances of birthright citizenship
Interestingly, nearly every nation that offers birthright citizenship is located in North or South America. This is considered by many scholars to have begun in colonial times, in which European countries eager to populate their settlements in the "New World" established more lenient and immigration-friendly citizenship policies. It should also be noted that birthright citizenship often has at least one exception: The children of foreign ambassadors or other diplomats serving in a country for work are frequently excluded.
In addition to the nations listed above, various other countries may offer birthright citizenship under certain circumstances. For instance, Luxembourg, Guinea-Bissau, Azerbaijan, and Chad will sometimes grant jus soli when the child is orphaned. Chad extends jus soli, but not until the child reaches the age of 18, when they can choose whether to accept Chadian citizenship or that of their parents. Tanzania has a similar system in which a newborn child is granted jus soli until the age of 18, at which time they must choose one citizenship or the other.
Benefits of living in a country that offers birthright citizenship
One of the most significant benefits to living in a country that upholds birthright citizenship is that it grants citizenship to anyone born in that country with no other requirements. This can give the child valuable legal rights, such as protecting them from unwarranted extradition or enabling them to benefit from social programs that would not otherwise be available to them.
Benefits such as this are the reason expectant parents are sometimes compelled to move to a country that offers birthright citizenship. Depending upon their current situation, they can sometimes secure a better life for their children simply by giving birth in a different country—provided it has birthright citizenship.
Birthright citizenship also has opponents. These are typically citizens of the "host" nation who feel the policy enables foreigners to enter the country for the sole purpose of giving birth to "anchor babies", a practice which exploits the system and siphons off funds that would otherwise be used to benefit existing citizens. Such "birth tourism" is illegal in the United States, though the procedures used to deter or detect the perpetrators and enforce the laws are not always clear.
The difference between jus soli and jus sanguinis
In contrast to jus soli, nearly every other country on Earth offers jus sanguinis, which grants citizenship as long as one parent (or sometimes both parents) are citizens. Examples of this include Poland (both parents), Andorra (mother), Bahrain (father) and Iran (father). This is sometimes referred to as establishing citizenship through inheritance rather than residence.
How birthright citizenship, jus soli, and jus sanguinis work in various countries
Antigua and Barbuda
There are three ways of receiving citizenship in the Caribbean country of Antigua and Barbuda. Birthright citizenship is one way. Any individual born in Antigua and Barbuda on or before October 31, 1981 (the date the policy went into effect) is considered a citizen by birth.
The other two ways of acquiring citizenship are descent (having a parent or grandparent who is a citizen) and naturalization (live three years with a spouse who is a citizen or live unmarried in the country for seven years). These two variations of obtaining citizenship are still valid. Still, they involve playing an active part in getting your citizenship rather than receiving it at the time of your birth.
In 1951, the Pakistan Citizenship Act established an all-encompassing birthright citizenship policy, declaring that anyone born in Pakistan is naturally and officially considered a citizen of the country of Pakistan—even if they were born before the Act had entered into force. The Pakistan Citizenship Act also defines two other ways of obtaining citizenship: descent or legal migration. These three ways of acquiring citizenship in Pakistan are very similar, if not identical, to other countries' citizenship processes around the world.
The United States of America declared birthright citizenship for USA-born individuals in 1868, as part of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which was created in the wake of the Civil War. In addition to granting citizenship to all former slaves in the United States, the 14th Amendment officially established that any child born on U.S. soil (meaning any U.S. state or territory) was automatically a citizen of the United States.