Children can be or become citizens through their parents.
Children can automatically become United States citizens, even if they were born outside of the United States. In addition, a United States citizen parent can apply for the naturalization of his or her children.
There are three ways a child automatically becomes a citizen:
- Birth: Child is born in the United States or its territories.
- Acquisition: Child is born outside of the United States or its territories, but acquires citizenship at birth through a United States citizen parent.
- Derivation: Child becomes a citizen before age 18 on the basis of one parent’s citizenship. The parent may be a citizen by birth or by naturalization.
Territories = The current territories of the United States are Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. “I am a citizen because I was born in a United States territory.”
note: Although citizenship is automatic in these cases, the child may not have proof of citizenship. This is why the child may apply for a United States passport or a Certificate of Citizenship. Both documents are proof of citizenship. There is one way a child can apply to become a citizen.
Naturalization: Citizen parent applies for a Certificate of Citizenship on child’s behalf. Child must complete the naturalization process before age 18.
Acquisition of Citizenship
Children can acquire citizenship at birth when they are born outside of the United States. You may have acquired citizenship at birth if you had at least one United States citizen parent. The laws for acquiring citizenship at birth have changed often over the years. Much depends on when you were born and what law for acquisition of citizenship was in effect at that time.
- (children born after November 14, 1986)
- Child with two Citizen parents
- One parent must have been physically present in the United States or its possessions at any time before the child’s birth.
- Child with One Citizen parent and One national parent
- The citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States or its possessions for at least one continuous year before the child’s birth.
- Child with One Citizen parent
- The citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States for five years before the child’s birth. At least two of the five years must be after the citizen parent was 14 years old. However, if the child was born in a possession, the citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States or its possessions for at least one continuous year before the child’s birth.
- Child Born Out of wedlock to a united states Citizen Mother
- The citizen mother must have been physically present in the United States or its possessions for one continuous year before the child’s birth.
possessions = Currently the possessions of the United States include American Samoa, Swains Island and the United States territories of Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. “My mother lived in a U.S. possession before I was born.” national = A non-citizen born in a United States possession. “My father is a national because he was born in American Samoa.” out of wedlock = Born of parents who are not married. “He was born out of wedlock, but then his parents married when he was six months old.”
Documenting Birth Abroad
A Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States (Form FS-240) is an official document certifying acquisition of citizenship for a child born outside of the United States. This document provides the same evidence of citizenship as a United States passport, a Certificate of Naturalization, or a Certificate of Citizenship. However, a United States passport is the most useful document to have. The application for a consular report must be submitted before the child’s 18th birthday and the child must be living outside the United States.
The child’s parent or legal guardian completes an Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad of a Citizen of the United States (Form DS-2029). Do not sign the form until directed to do so. The application is normally made in the consulate of the country where the child was born. Check the U.S. Department of State website for the current fee.
Evidence of the child’s birth is needed, as well as evidence of the parent(s)’ United States citizenship, marriage (if applicable), and previous physical presence in the United States. If the parents are unmarried and the father is a citizen and the mother a non-citizen, the consular officer usually requires that the father sign an affidavit saying that he is the child’s biological father and that he will support the child financially. Additional evidence such as divorce decrees from previous marriages or blood tests may also be required.
The child is required to go to the consulate in person with the parent or guardian.
Once the consular officer approves the application, he or she signs and issues the consular report of birth (Form FS-240).
Derivation Of Citizenship
Derivation of citizenship is when a child automatically becomes a citizen on the basis of one parent’s citizenship. The parent may be a citizen by birth or by naturalization. As with acquisition of citizenship, the laws have changed over time. Much depends on when you were born and what law was in effect during your childhood. Previous laws allowed derivation only through naturalization of both parents, or one parent with custody in cases of death or divorce. Current requirements. Effective February 27, 2001.
Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, a child automatically becomes a citizen when all of the following conditions are met:
- at least one parent is a citizen, either by birth or by naturalization;
- the child is under age 18;
- the child is not married;
- the child is a lawful permanent resident; and
- the child is living in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent.
note: The law is not retroactive, so a person who was 18 or older on 2/27/01 would not be able to benefit from the Child Citizenship Act.
note: An adopted child who meets the conditions listed above can derive citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act if there is a full, final, and complete adoption and the child meets certain additional requirements for adopted children under immigration law. Stepchildren can not derive citizenship.
example: Ahmed, age 12, lives outside the United States with his mother. His parents are divorced and have joint legal custody of Ahmed. Ahmed’s father lives in the United States and recently became a U.S. citizen. He filed an I-130 petition to bring Ahmed to the United States. When Ahmed enters the United States at the age of 13, joins his father, and receives lawful permanent resident status, he will become a U.S. citizen by derivation.
Documenting Derivation of Citizenship
You can prove derivation of citizenship using one of two documents:
- a United States passport
- a Certificate of Citizenship
It is easier, faster, and cheaper to apply for a United States passport than a Certificate of Citizenship. To get these documents, you will need to prove that you meet the legal requirements that were in effect before you reached age 18.
How Does a Child Show Lawful Permanent Residence?
A child who has lawful permanent residence (LPR status) will have a permanent resident card (green card). Another way to show LPR status is the I-551 stamp in the child’s passport. This stamp shows the child has entered the United States on an immigrant visa and/or has been admitted as a lawful permanent resident.
Must the Child Get a Certificate of Citizenship?
You do not have to apply for a certificate of citizenship for your child.
How Does the Child Get a Passport Under the Child Citizenship Act?
You will need the following when the child applies for a passport:
- Proof of the child’s relationship to the American citizen parent. For the biological child of the American citizen this will be a certified copy of the foreign birth certificate (and translation if not in English). For an adopted child, it is a certified copy of the final adoption decree (and translation if not in English);
- The child’s foreign passport showing the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security (USCIS) I-551 stamp in the passport, or the child’s permanent resident card (green card);
- Proof of identity of the American citizen parent(s)
- Passport application, passport photographs and fees. Go to Passport Services for forms and full instructions.
Can My Child Get a Birth Certificate (Consular Report of Birth Abroad or CROBA) from the Embassy or Consulate?
No. Only a child who acquired citizenship at birth can get a birth certificate from an embassy or consulate.
Proving the Citizenship status of your Parent
Evidence: naturalization certificate; birth certificate; U.S. passport.
Proving your Relationship with your Parent
- Evidence: birth certificate; baptismal certificate; medical records; religious records; school records; blood tests.
- proving your parent had legal and physical custody of you
- Evidence: marriage certificate; divorce decree; death certificate; separation and custody documents.
- proving Your lawful permanent resident status
- Evidence: Alien registration card, ie green card; entry documents.
note: There is no deadline when applying for documentation of derivative citizenship. Derivation happens automatically and requires only verification of the evidence.
example: Maria is 30 years old, but she has lived in the United States as a lawful permanent resident since the age of 5. When Maria was 10, both of her parents became U.S. citizens, and she automatically derived citizenship from them. She has been a citizen since the age of 10, but she never applied for proof of her citizenship status until now.
example: Igor, age 9, is a lawful permanent resident who lives with his parents in the United States. Igor’s father recently became a U.S. citizen, but his mother is still a non-citizen. Igor derived citizenship from his father. Igor’s father will apply for a passport or Certificate of Citizenship on Igor’s behalf, as proof of citizenship.
Certificate of Citizenship
A Certificate of Citizenship is given to people who became citizens through acquisition or derivation. Also, it is given to children when they naturalize. You can get a Certificate of Citizenship by filing Form N-600 with the necessary evidence.
Procedures-only for those who acquired or derived citizenship.
The applicant files Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship to the appropriate USCIS Field Office with the following: check or money order for the application fee; three identical, passport-style photos (2×2 inches); evidence of meeting the legal requirements for acquisition or derivation (see page 271 for a list of documents showing evidence of acquisition and page 274 for a list of documents showing evidence of derivation); translations of any documents not in English.
exception: For children who have immigrated to the United States, parents are not required to submit documents that are already in the USCIS file, including translations of documents. Applicants can state that they wish to rely on these previously submitted documents and give the name and A-number for the file containing the documents.
note: Adopted children applying for evidence of derivative citizenship use the same form (N-600). However, the fee is lower. The applicant must include a copy of the full, final adoption decree and, if the adoption took place outside the U.S., evidence that it is recognized by the state where the child resides.
note: If the applicant is age 18 or older, he or she must sign the application. For younger applicants, the citizen parent or legal guardian must sign it.
An interview is usually not required, but may be required to verify the evidence. If the applicant is under age 18 the citizen parent must attend the interview to provide testimony on the applicant’s behalf.
If USCIS denies the application, the applicant receives a written notice by mail of the reason for the denial. The decision may be appealed to the USCIS Field Office within 30 days using Form I-290B. Check the USCIS website, http://www.uscis.gov, for the current fee.
If approved, the applicant will take the oath of allegiance at the interview. The oath will be waived if applicant is too young or too disabled to understand it, or if no interview is required.
The applicant signs the Certificate of Citizenship, if he or she is able. If not, the parent signs it on the applicant’s behalf. The Certificate of Citizenship is given at the interview or sent by certified mail within the United States only.
Naturalization of Children
When a child does not qualify for automatic citizenship by acquisition or derivation, a citizen parent may apply to naturalize the child. The parent applies for naturalization on the child’s behalf using Form N-600K. The child does not become a citizen until USCIS approves the application. This procedure is for children living outside the United States with their citizen parent(s).
Current requirements; (effective February 27, 2001)
Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, a citizen parent may apply for naturalization on a child’s behalf if the following requirements are met:
- at least one parent is a citizen, either by birth or by naturalization;
- the citizen parent must have lived in the United States for a total of five years, at least two of which were after age 14; OR the United States citizen parent of the citizen parent (child’s grandparent) must have lived in the United States for a total of five years, two of which were after age 14;
- the child is under age 18, and remains under age 18 until the naturalization process is completed;
- the child is not married;
- the child is residing outside of the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent; and
- the child is temporarily present in the United States under a lawful admission, and remains in lawful status until the naturalization process is completed.
note: Adopted children can be naturalized under the Child Citizenship Act. They use the same form (N-600K), but the fee is lower. They need to submit evidence of a full and final adoption.
note: If the U.S. citizen parent is deceased, the U.S. citizen grandparent or legal guardian can file this application within five years of the parent’s death.
example: Erika, age 5, is an orphan who lives overseas with two U.S. citizen adoptive parents. She has never lived in the United States and is not a lawful permanent resident. Therefore, she does not qualify for derivative citizenship. Erika’s parents will apply to naturalize her using Form N-600K, then apply for Erika’s lawful entry into the United States to attend the USCIS interview.
Naturalization Procedures for Children
The United States citizen parent files the following with the preferred USCIS Field Office:
- Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322;
- Check or money order for the application fee;
- Three identical passport-style photos (2×2); and
- Evidence of meeting the legal requirements for the child’s naturalization (see N-600K instructions for a list of documents).
note: The citizen parent must sign the application on the child’s behalf.
2. Send a cover letter with the application giving the following information:
- Write the preferred interview dates when the child, who lives abroad, is available.
- If the child is almost 18 years old and close to “aging out,” request expedited or quick processing in the cover letter so the child can take the oath before his or her 18th birthday. Use red ink or bold lettering so USCIS will see it. For example, “AGe Out – 03/15/11.”
- Mail the package.
USCIS reviews the application.
If the child appears to be eligible, USCIS will issue a notice that the application has been preliminarily approved. The notice will give an interview appointment date. The parent can present the appointment letter at the United States embassy in the country of residence to request a nonimmigrant visa if required for entry into the United States.
If anything is incomplete or missing from the application, USCIS will return the application with instructions on how to correct the problem.
If it appears that the child is not eligible for the certificate, USCIS will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny the Application, giving a specific number of days for the applicant to reply and correct the problem. If an application is denied, the decision can be appealed within 30 days using Form I-290B.
An interview is required for the U.S. citizen parent and the child. At the interview the USCIS officer verifies the information on the N-600. Documentation of the child’s lawful status in the United States must be provided at the interview. Once the information is verified, the USCIS officer will approve the application.
The child is required to take the oath of allegiance at the interview before receiving a Certificate of Citizenship. However, the oath may be waived if the child is unable to understand its meaning due to age or disability. The child becomes a citizen on the date of the oath. The child signs the certificate, if he or she is able. If not, the parent signs it on the child’s behalf.