The different paths to U.S. citizenship for children – and adults – with American parents.
When a child is born, most families are relishing in the joy of new additions and getting to know their new family member. The Constitution and laws of the United States have established who is entitled to have United States citizenship, and for most American families, establishing that right for their children is a given. For others, especially those who are born abroad, there are important aspects of citizenship to keep in mind. Depending on the circumstances, there may be some complicated rules for claiming U.S. citizenship through parents. Accordingly, children may be able to obtain U.S. citizenship at the time of birth abroad or derive citizenship from parents after birth.
This article covers the various ways that a child may become a U.S. citizen through his or her parents. Even if that child is now an adult, there is generally a way to document that citizenship and get proof (i.e. U.S. passport). However, waiting can be detrimental. Therefore, acquiring proof of U.S. citizenship through parents as soon as possible is important. This article addresses the following scenarios:
My parent(s) was already a U.S. citizen when I was born abroad AND I am still under 18
My parent(s) was already a U.S. citizen when I was born abroad AND I am now over 18
My parent(s) became a citizen after my birth abroad AND before I reached age 18
My parent(s) became a citizen after my birth abroad AND after I reached age 18
Become a Citizen through Birth in the U.S.
The 14th Amendment to the Constitution establishes that people who are “born or naturalized” in the United States are citizens. Children who are born in the United States are entitled to United States citizenship, regardless of the nationality of their parents, or their immigration status. This is what many people call “birthright citizenship.” So if your child is born in the United States, the claim to citizenship is clear and can be established with a birth certificate.
It’s important for parents of children born in the United States to make sure they obtain an official birth certificate. In most states, you can get a birth certificate through the state’s Vital Records Office. Since children born in the United States are American citizens, they may also apply for an American passport. Again, the birth certificate is evidence of U.S. citizenship for the purposes of applying for the American passport. Maintaining a valid passport is the easiest way for the child to reenter the country at a later date.
Claiming U.S. Citizenship for a Child Born Abroad
If you’re a U.S. citizen whose child is born abroad, you should report the child’s birth at the nearest U.S. embassy. The U.S. embassy or consulate will issue a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA). The CRBA is similar to a birth certificate. It establishes citizenship through the parents and makes obtaining a U.S. passport much easier. However, the child cannot use the CRBA for travel to the United States.
Even if you did not obtain a Consular Report of Birth Abroad immediately after your child’s birth, you may generally apply for one provided that the child continues to be under the age of 18. (Adult children may claim citizenship a different way.)
If a U.S. citizen has a child born in a U.S. territory, that child is already an American citizen and doesn’t need the CRBA. Remember that the United States doesn’t only include the fifty states and the District of Columbia, but also U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Instead of the CRBA, request a birth certificate to establish his or her citizenship.
Getting Ready for the CRBA Application
To prepare for a successful Consular Report of Birth Abroad filing, the State Department provides a checklist to guide you through the process and ensure you have information about the proper documents and fees. Although the checklist is the same regardless of the location, you may want to download it from the U.S. embassy website in your location. One important thing to remember about your forms for this application is to complete them, but not sign them, before submitting them.
Currently, you must satisfy multiple conditions to establish a claim to U.S. citizenship for a child born outside of the United States:
- At least one of the parents has to be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth;
- The child born abroad continues to be under the age of 18;
- The parent has to establish a relationship with the child – either biological or legal (including adoptive parents); and
- U.S. citizen parent must have been physically present in the United States.
The physical presence requirements for the U.S. citizen parent vary significantly based on the date of birth and the marriage status of the parents. If both parents are citizens and married at the time of the child’s birth, simply establishing previous physical presence in the U.S. is sufficient. However, children born out of wedlock or to just one citizen parent have additional criteria. These individual scenarios can be reviewed in our article about acquisition of citizenship.
File for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad
Apply for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad through the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where your child was born. Procedures for each embassy can vary. Therefore, it’s best to check the embassy’s webpage for specific instructions. Generally, you’ll need to submit the following documents:
- Completed and unsigned Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad (DS-2029)
- Child’s birth certificate
- Evidence of the parent(s)’ U.S. citizenship and identity (such as a U.S. passport, U.S. passport card, Consular Report of Birth Abroad, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship or timely filed U.S. birth certificate)
- Evidence of the U.S. citizen parent(s)’ physical presence or residence in the United States prior to the birth of the child (such as school, employment, tax, bank, and medical records, utility bills, rent receipts, affidavits or other official public documents)
- Parents’ marriage certificate (if applicable)
- Evidence previous marriages have been terminated (if applicable)
Filing for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad costs $100. The fee is non-refundable. If your documents are incomplete, your application will not be processed and you’ll have to reschedule your appointment.
The U.S. Department of State recommends that you file for the Consular Report of Birth Abroad as soon as possible. Both the U.S. citizen and the child have to be present when you apply for the CRBA. If you plan to travel with your child, you need to request the report at least three months in advance of your travel so you have enough time to apply for a U.S. passport for your child.
When one of the parents is not a U.S. citizen, documents required for a CRBA include an affidavit from the U.S. citizen parent explaining they are the biological or adoptive parent and will be in charge of supporting the child as additional documentation.
U.S. citizens, including those in same-sex marriages, who have a child abroad through Assisted Reproductive Technology or adoption can also claim U.S. citizenship for their child through the same channels.
However, parents who have utilized in-vitro fertilization, egg/sperm donors or a surrogate, have more complicated situations. Like in other cases of Consular Reports of Birth Abroad, the parents have to establish a relationship with the child. This can get extraordinarily complicated. Please utilize an attorney to help establish citizenship through parents in these cases.
Replace a CRBA
By the way, the U.S. Department of State has a process to replace a lost Consular Report of Birth Abroad. If you know that your parents obtained a CRBA but the document is now missing, you can likely replace it.
Adult Children Born Abroad May Claim U.S. Citizenship through Parents
If you are the child of a United States citizen, you may have a claim to citizenship through parents, even if you were born outside the United States many years ago. If you were born to at least one U.S. citizen parent but you’re no longer a child, you can still claim your citizenship. In other words, you may apply for a Certificate of Citizenship, instead of applying to the Consular Report of Birth Abroad, once you’ve reached the age of 18. You will need to prove your relationship to your U.S. citizen parent and show proof of their U.S. citizenship.
At the time of your birth, at least one parent had to be a citizen and meet certain physical presence requirements. Here’s where it gets a little complicated. The laws have changed several times over the years. You can use a service like CitizenPath to confirm your eligibility and request the certificate correctly.
If you were born abroad to two U.S. citizens and at least one of your parents lived in the United States at some point in his or her life, then in most cases you are a U.S. citizen. If you were born abroad to one U.S. citizen, on or after November 14, 1986, you are likely a U.S. citizen if all of the following are true:
- One of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born;
- Your U.S. citizen parent lived at least five years in the United States before you were born; and
- At least two of the five years in the United States were after your U.S. citizen parent’s 14th birthday.
As mentioned, the laws have changed. The above conditions are not relevant for individuals born before November 14, 1986. For more information, review our article that addresses Acquisition of Citizenship for Children Born Abroad.
Apply for a Certificate of Citizenship
To apply for the certificate, you’ll need to file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship. The certificate is a citizenship document, and you use it as evidence of your citizenship. With the certificate, you may also obtain an American passport.
When a Child Becomes a Citizen through Parents after Birth
A child can also obtain U.S. citizenship through parents after his or her birth. Derivative citizenship may be established after birth but before the age of 18. If you have a parent that became a U.S. citizen after your birth and met a few other requirements, you could be a U.S. citizen automatically through this path.
To become a citizen through parents after birth, the following three requirements must be true at the same time:
- At least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
- The child is a permanent resident under 18 years of age; and
- The child is residing in or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
They can happen in any order, but they all must be true at the same time.
Most often, derivative citizenship happens when a permanent resident child lives with at least one permanent resident parent in the United States and that parent naturalizes. As mentioned, American citizenship through parents is acquired automatically. However, the beneficiary needs documentation as evidence of citizenship status.
To prove status, you’ll need to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship using Form N-600. You must submit supporting documents that prove the three conditions above were true simultaneously. Not sure what to do? CitizenPath’s N-600 citizenship package helps ensure you prepare the application correctly and provides detailed instructions on the supporting evidence to submit for your situation. Our service will help you confirm your eligibility for citizenship through parents before you pay.
Replacement of Certificate
If USCIS previously issued you a certificate in the past, do not file Form N-600 again. Instead, you’ll need to submit an application to replace the certificate. CitizenPath can also help you prepare Form N-565, Application for Replacement Naturalization/Citizenship Document.
Path for Adult Children of a U.S. Citizen
What if your parent naturalized but officially became a U.S. citizen after you turned 18 years of age? If you are a permanent resident or even a foreign national living abroad, there’s likely still a path for you to become a citizen as well.
If your parent naturalized but you are already 18 or older, you’ll simply need to file your own naturalization application. File Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, once you meet the citizenship requirements.
Immigrate through Parent
If one of your parents became a U.S. citizen after you turned 18, your parent can petition for you as an adult child of a U.S. citizen using Form I-130. The U.S. citizen parent files Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative. Adult children fall into either the F1 or F3 family preference categories, depending on their marriage status. After immigrating and fulfilling naturalization requirements, you too can apply to become a citizen through the regular naturalization process.
Whether you are starting on your citizenship journey for your newborn child, or as an adult, it’s equally important to submit complete applications. CitizenPath’s free resources and step-by-step instructions ensure you submit your application the right way on your first try.