Elon Musk’s father — Errol Musk — was a South African citizen, and his mother — Maye Musk — was a Canadian citizen. In 1971, Maye Musk gave birth to her first child — Elon Musk — in Pretoria, South Africa. Therefore by birth, Elon is a South African citizen.
So, how did Elon Musk become a US citizen? Elon got Canadian citizenship through his mother. Then he came to the US as a student from Canada. After completing a bachelor’s degree and deferring the Ph.D. for six months, Elon started an internet company — Zip2. When investors in Zip2 realized Elon does not have a green card, they helped Elon to get an EB-5 investor green card in 1997. In 2002, Elon became a US citizen through the naturalization process.
Appalling childhood in South Africa:
Elon Musk had a rough childhood. When he was 9, his parents got divorced. Elon decided to live with his father.
Elon’s parents thought that he was autistic. He was shy, introverted, and could not speak well. At school, he was bullied a lot. One time, the bullies beat child Elon so much that he almost died. At home, living with his father was not comfortable either.
“He was such a terrible human being. You have no idea. My dad will have a carefully thought-out plan of evil” – Elon Musk1.
Elon had a miserable childhood.
Elon decides to come to America:
There was no comforting place for Elon. That’s why he started reading books at a very early stage. He was an avid reader, and science fiction, and comics was his favorite. According to the book — Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future — this science fiction motivated him to build clean energy and build rockets to extend the human species reach into the future.
But at an early age, he found that most of the innovation is happening in America. “It always seemed like when there was cool technology or things happening, it was kind of in the United States. So, my goal as a kid was to get to America basically,” Elon Musk said in a 2012 interview2.
There was no one in the house to help with household chores. Therefore, Elon, his brother, sister, and father used to do everything in their home. Elon grew up playing a game called “America, America” with his father, Errol Musk. In this game, Elon and his siblings had to do everything at home an American kid would do at home — cooking, cleaning, lawn mowing, etc. The game was not a problem. The problem was, his father was verbally abusive.
However, the final straw came when Elon graduated from High School. Due to South African laws at that time, Elon had to join the army.
“I don’t have an issue with serving in the military per se, but serving in the South African army suppressing black people just didn’t seem like a really good way to spend time,” Elon said in an interview.
So Elon Musk decided to come to America.
Elon becomes a Canadian citizen:
Elon found that it would be easier to come and settle in the USA as a Canadian rather than a South African citizen. Therefore, Elon convinced his mother to apply for her and his Canadian passport. As Elon’s mother was a Canadian national, Elon got his Canadian passport after several months. Within three weeks, Elon, at the age of 17, came to Canada after receiving his passport.
“I arrived in North America at 17 w $2000, a backpack & a suitcase full of books. Paid my own way thru college. Dropped out of Stanford Eng/Phys grad school w $110k in college debt,” Elon Musk on Twitter3.
Elon comes to the US as a student:
Elon’s next step to settle in the US was to get an American Green Card. As a Canadian passport holder, Elon can come to the US and go to Canada at any time. However, Elon found that this way, he can’t obtain a Green Card.
So, Elon’s initial plan was to get a US student visa, complete his study, and get a job. After getting an H-1B visa through an employer, he can get a green card through that employer.
That’s why Elon started his bachelor’s degree in 1992 at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned bachelor’s degrees in physics and business. The only reason Elon completed his bachelor’s degree is to get an H1-B visa.
Elon wanted to make an Electric car company. That’s why after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he went to Stanford University to do a Ph.D. on super-capacitors.
However, Elon soon got distracted by internet innovation. At that time, he realized the internet is the next revolution.
Therefore, Elon decided to pause his Ph.D. for a few months because he wanted to start a new internet business with his brother Kimbal Musk. Elon’s plan was if the business succeeds, he does not need the Ph.D. anymore. However, if the business fails, he can always come back and complete his Ph.D.
So, after two days at Stanford, he went to the Chairman of the department. Elon Musk asked him for a deferment for six months. Which he granted and said he might not see Elon again.
In 1995, Elon, Kimbal along with Greg Kouri, launched the Zip2.
Elon gets investor Green Card:
According to US immigration rules, except for a few exceptions, a student can’t work, and an employer can’t hire a student. However, there’s no rule against forming a company or starting a business. There’s also no rule that you can’t earn money through your own business in the US while on a student visa. It’s a gray area, but it’s not illegal.
Zip2 was a success, and Elon managed to get some VC funding. However, soon investors realized Elon and his brother are neither US citizens nor have US green cards. Therefore, those investors helped Elon to get a US green card. However, according to circumstantial evidence, we found that Elon and his brother Kimbal got US green cards through business investment, known as “EB-5 immigrant investors.”
Elon got his EB-5 green cards in 1997.
Becomes naturalized US citizen:
According to US immigration rules4, a lawful permanent resident can become a naturalized US citizen after five years of getting their green card.
Therefore, In 2002 Elon applied to become a US citizen through naturalization. After initial biometric and FBI verification and citizenship interviews, Elon took his oath to become a US citizen at the Pomona Fairplex, California, USA.
Elon Musk is the success story of the American dream. Elon’s life journey to become a US citizen shows how long term Elon plans. Whatever he is doing, doing for a reason.