American Citizenship: Derivative Citizenship

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Derivative citizenship is citizenship given to children through the naturalization of parents or, sometimes, to foreign-born children adopted by United States citizen parents, if certain conditions are met. Naturalization is the process of getting citizen status.

When a person gets derivative citizenship, it happens automatically. Neither the parent nor the child must apply. However, the legal requirements for derivative citizenship are very complex and have changed a lot over the years.

There have always been two important elements of derivative citizenship. They are naturalization of the parent or parents before the child reaches a certain age and lawful permanent residence of the child before a certain age. Other requirements have been added at different times.

Child Citizenship Act

The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) is the current law that includes guidelines for children that were born outside the US, but who automatically become US citizens if certain conditions are met. This law came into effect on February 27, 2001.

The CCA allows certain foreign-born, biological and adopted children of American citizens to get American citizenship automatically. These children did not acquire American citizenship at birth. They are granted citizenship when they enter the United States as lawful permanent residents.

The CCA governs how a child may automatically derive US citizenship from the naturalization of a parent or from adoption by a US citizen parent. Children who qualify under the law "automatically" become citizens without having to apply for a certificate of citizenship or a passport, although they may get such documents in order to have proof of their status.

Under the CCA, your child will automatically acquire U.S. citizenship on the date that all of the following requirements are met:

  • At least one parent is a US citizen, whether by birth or naturalization
  • The child is under age 18
  • The child is currently residing permanently in the US in the legal and physical custody of a US citizen parent
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident

In addition, if the child is adopted, the adoption must be full and final.

Age 18 before Effective Date of CCA

Individuals who were 18 years of age or older on February 27, 2001, don't qualify for automatic citizenship under the CCA, even if they meet all other criteria. If they wish to become US citizens, they must apply for naturalization and meet eligibility requirements for adult lawful permanent residents.

Adopted Children

A child who enters the United States on an IR4 visa (to be adopted in the US) will acquire American citizenship when the adoption is full and final in the US.

Proof of Citizenship

If your child permanently resides in the US, you can apply for proof of citizenship by filing form N-600 (Application for Certificate of Citizenship).

Questions for Your Attorney

  • How can I apply for permanent residency for my child in order that she/he can get US citizenship?
  • How can I show that I have permanent and legal custody of my child, in order to meet the requirements under the CCA?
  • What documentation do I need to prove that my child is a U.S. citizen?
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