In a scenario in which a pregnant Russian woman were to give birth while visiting the International Space Station, and if she were to give birth while on the American side of the ISS, would that baby be an American citizen based on America's Birthright Citizenship law?

In other words, does America's Birthright Citizenship law apply to the American side/sections of the ISS?

  • 6
    $\begingroup$ space law is absolutely on-topic. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Apr 23, 2019 at 22:17
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Note that it's generally assumed that a zero-gee + cosmic ray environment will very likely lead to pregnancy complications, so the scenario is unlikely to actually occur. $\endgroup$ Apr 23, 2019 at 23:37
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Does a child born in a US ship get US citizenship? Space law is not that different from sea law. $\endgroup$
    – Pere
    Nov 12, 2020 at 18:05

2 Answers 2


Seems Like It

Absurd hypotheticals aside, the Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) specifies in Article V:

[E]ach Partner shall retain jurisdiction and control over the elements it registers...and over personnel in or on the Space Station who are its nationals.

This ESA resource summarizes:

The Intergovernmental Agreement allows the Space Station Partners States to extend their national jurisdiction in outer space, so the elements they provide (e.g. laboratories) are assimilated to the territories of the Partners States.

For ESA astronauts/modules, I believe this means property/jurisdiction of the EU.

This article interviewing a "space lawyer" explains it essentially as:

multiple embassies floating right over our heads

I think it's fair to say that if a Russian woman gave birth in, say, the Destiny module it would probably be treated the same as if she had walked into the U.S. and given birth. Of course, the U.S. and Russia could just as easily say that they are making an exception to the IGA for an unorthodox situation and that would probably be the end of discussion.

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    $\begingroup$ "Jurisdiction of the EU" Given the differences in laws and jurisdictions between member states, how would that work there? Which law would be applied? $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Apr 24, 2019 at 9:06
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    $\begingroup$ The second link adds: "The European States are being treated as one homogenous entity, called the European Partner on the Space Station. But any of the European States may extend their respective national laws and regulations to the European elements, equipment and personnel." This is almost more confusing. I'm not very familiar with what jurisdiction the EU has vs. member states, and I'm not sure if the EU and the aforementioned "European Partner" consist of the same member states, so I won't venture a guess here. $\endgroup$
    – ben
    Apr 24, 2019 at 17:20
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    $\begingroup$ Well, this clearly deserves its own question then $\endgroup$
    – Eth
    Apr 24, 2019 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ Nope, jurisdiction and control is not the same as being on national territory. Added an answer below. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 18:47
  • $\begingroup$ FYI the "European partners" mentioned in the IGA are the (14 I think?) ESA member states that actually signed the IGA themselves and actively participate in ISS operations. Not all ESA Members do. $\endgroup$ Mar 27, 2021 at 18:49

No. Although as stated in another answer, the International side of the ISS is under the jurisdiction and control of the relevant partners, that doesn't mean that those modules are the TERRITORY of the relevant states. It is a lot like embassies, which, despite the Simpsons episode to the contrary, are absolutely not territory of their home state, despite being subject to their home state laws. The 14th Amendment of the U.S. constitution requires being born "in the United States" AND being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States (eg not a foreign diplomat located in the U.S.) for birthright citizenship. Babies on an American module of the ISS would meet the second criteria but not the first.

Adding a reference to an excellent SE answer about why babies born in U.S. embassies are NOT automatically American citizens. Same reasons I've described above. https://politics.stackexchange.com/questions/2318/are-persons-born-in-u-s-embassies-u-s-citizens-if-their-parents-are-not-citiz


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