Contrary to popular belief, children (minors under the age of 18) generally cannot become naturalized citizens of the United States. By law, candidates for naturalization must be 18 years of age.
But don’t worry. This means that they cannot file the naturalization application or be included on their parents’ application. Instead, children that meet certain criteria automatically gain U.S. citizenship when a parent naturalizes, a provision in the law known as derivation of U.S. citizenship for children.
U.S. Citizenship for Children Under INA Section 320
Under Section 320 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, also known as the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if the following three conditions have been fulfilled:
- 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;
- The child is residing in or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
Once all three conditions are met, the child is a U.S. citizen by matter of law. The order of events makes no difference. If a child is a permanent resident and under 18, and then at least one parent naturalizes, the child automatically becomes a U.S. citizenship. If a parent naturalizes and then the child gets permanent residence, the child becomes a U.S. citizen the moment he or she becomes a permanent resident, if that happens before the child is 18.
There is no application to file with the government. The law covers adopted children as well as biological children. But a stepchild who has not been adopted does not qualify for citizenship under this provision.
The effective date of the Child Citizenship Act is February 27, 2001. Therefore, persons under the age of 18 on or after that date who met/meet the requirements of the law automatically acquire U.S. citizenship. However, the Child Citizenship Act does not cover persons who were 18 years of age or older as of February 27, 2001. These people may, however, have acquired U.S. citizenship in accordance with prior versions of U.S. immigration law. Please consult with an immigration attorney if you feel this may apply to your situation.
Examples of Citizenship for Children through Derivation
The Lee family consists of two parents and three children. They live in the United States as permanent residents. Recently, the father was naturalized as a U.S. citizen. The three young children (all under age 18) immediately became U.S. citizens upon their father’s naturalization.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones were born in the United States and, thus, are U.S. citizens by birth. They adopted a baby girl from a foreign country. The child was admitted into the United States as a lawful permanent resident. This child automatically became a U.S. citizen upon admission, as she then met all the requirements outlined above.
Mr. Reyes has been a permanent resident living in the United States. After five years as a permanent resident, he married an Filipino citizen residing in the Philippines. His new wife also had an existing minor child. Unfortunately, his wife and young child cannot immediately immigrate to the U.S. due to immigration limits and waiting times. Mr. Reyes plans to naturalize and become a U.S. citizen. He can then petition his wife and child to the U.S. as permanent residents. His adopted child (if still a minor) will automatically become a U.S. citizen through derivation.
Proof of U.S. Citizenship for Children
It is not mandatory, but it can be helpful to obtain documentation that proves the child’s U.S. citizenship. Official documentation will help avoid future complications and hassles. There are essentially two ways to prove U.S. citizenship for children: a Certificate of Citizenship and/or a U.S. passport. For most people, a U.S. passport is less expensive and more functional because it can be used for the child’s travel abroad.
Obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship for Children
To obtain a Certificate of Citizenship for Children, Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, must be filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Obtaining a Passport for Children
To obtain a U.S. passport, applicants must prove U.S. citizenship. This can be done by providing a Certificate of Citizenship issued by USCIS. If the child has not been issued a Certificate of Citizenship by USCIS, the passport application must include the following proof of acquisition of citizenship:
Proof of Child’s Relationship to U.S. Citizen Parent
For the biological child of the U.S. citizen this will usually be a certified copy of the foreign birth certificate. In circumstances where it is not clear that the birth certificate is adequate proof of a biological relationship between the child and the U.S. citizen parent, other types of evidence, including medical and/or DNA tests, may be requested. For an adopted child, it is a certified copy of the final adoption decree.
Note: All documents in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified translation to English.
Proof of Child’s Permanent Resident Status
There must be proof that the child is residing or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent(s) pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence. Examples of acceptable documents include: the child’s permanent resident card (green card) or an I-551 stamp endorsed in the child’s foreign passport. Separate evidence establishing that the child has resided in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent(s) may be requested.
Note: Entry into the U.S., even with an immigrant visa, does not meet the law’s requirement that the child be “residing in the U.S.” Determining whether a child is residing/has resided in the U.S. typically rests on an analysis of both the character and the duration of the stay. A parent may be required to provide supporting evidence regarding a child’s stay in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent(s) in support of the child’s passport application.
Proof of Child’s Age
There must be proof that the child is or was under the age of 18 when all conditions are met.
To obtain a passport, visit the Department of State’s website or call 1-877-487-2778. As a first-time applicant, you must apply in person.
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