Contrary to popular belief, children (minors under the age of 18) generally cannot naturalize as U.S. citizens of the United States. By law, applicants for naturalization must be 18 years of age.
But don’t worry. This means that children 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 derivative citizenship for children.
The children of naturalized U.S. citizens generally become citizens automatically. In other words, current law extends U.S. citizenship to the permanent resident children of parents that become citizens through naturalization. After filing Form N-400 and being granted U.S. citizenship, the parent can also apply for child citizenship in the form of a Certificate of Citizenship. Even if the parent forgot to file the application for the child, the child may obtain the certificate many years later. If the child is over the age of 18, he or she will have to fill out the form for themselves.
U.S. citizenship carries tremendous privileges, rights and benefits. That’s why people will sacrifice so much to immigrate to America and seek citizenship. According to a senior fellow at the Migration Policy Institute, “citizenship is a very, very valuable commodity.” If you’re a permanent resident, our Citizenship Cost Calculator can show you how much you will save over a lifetime by becoming a U.S. citizen.
There are four fundamental ways to obtain U.S. citizenship: citizenship by birth in the U.S., citizenship through derivation, citizenship through acquisition, and citizenship through naturalization. Most immigrants in the United States become citizens through the naturalization process. An average of almost one million permanent residents apply for naturalization each year.
Citizenship through Birth
Under United States law, any person born within the United States (including the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands) is automatically granted U.S. citizenship. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.”
Citizenship through Acquisition
In some circumstances, a child automatically “acquires” citizenship even though that child was born outside the United States. At least one parent needs to be a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth and several other conditions must be met. When this child marries and has children, those children may also acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. The ways a child can become a U.S. citizen through acquisition generally include:
Both parents were U.S. citizens
Both parents were U.S. citizens at the time of the child’s birth and the parents were married at the time of birth, and at least one parent lived in the U.S., or its territories, or both, prior to the child’s birth.
One parent was a U.S. citizen
One parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth; and the child was born on or after November 14, 1986; and the parents were married at the time of birth; and the U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a period of at least five years at some time in his or her life prior to the birth, of which at least two years were after his or her 14th birthday.
One parent was a U.S. citizen
One parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth; and the birth date is before November 14, 1986, but after October 10, 1952; and the child’s parents were married at the time of the birth; and the U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. or its territories for a period of at least ten years at some time in his or her life prior to the child’s birth, at least five of which were after his or her 14th birthday.
When a parent naturalizes, his or her children (under the age of 18 and living with the parent at the time) may “derive” U.S. citizenship automatically, provided they are also permanent residents. What’s more, a child who gets U.S. citizenship through derivation does not have to participate in a naturalization ceremony. Generally, foreign-born children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if three requirements are met:
The child must have U.S. lawful permanent resident status (“green card” holder); and
At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen; and
The child must be residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent.
Naturalization refers to the process in which a person not born in the United States voluntarily becomes a U.S. citizen. For foreign-born persons, naturalization is the most common way to become a U.S. citizen. There are several requirements that must be fulfilled before an individual can apply for citizenship. Generally, applicants must be 18 years old and fall into one of the following three basic eligibility categories:
For more information about how to become a US citizen, download Become a U.S. Citizen – a free ebook for permanent residents interested in naturalization.
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There are fundamentally two ways that a child (under the age of 18) can automatically become a U.S. citizen at birth. It’s common knowledge that a child born on United States soil automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. But a child born outside of the United States can also acquire U.S. citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent. This is known as acquisition of citizenship for children.
A child born outside of the United States generally becomes a U.S. citizenship at birth if that child has at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen parent meets certain residence or physical presence requirements in the United States prior to the person’s birth. For purposes of this article, the United States includes the 50 states and the territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Continue reading →