Contrary to popular belief, children (minors under the age of 18) generally cannot be naturalized as U.S. citizens of the United States. Naturalization applicants must be 18 years old by law.
But do not worry. This means that children cannot submit the naturalization application or can be included in their parents’ application. Instead, children who meet certain criteria are automatically granted US citizenship when a parent is naturalized. This provision is referred to in the law as child’s derived citizenship.
U.S. Citizenship for Children Under INA Section 320
Child Citizenship Act
Adults who are permanently resident in the U.S. apply for U.S. citizenship using the Naturalization Application Form N-400. Minor children (under the age of 18) are not allowed to use this form. Pursuant to Section 320 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, also known as Child Citizenship Act of 2000Children under the age of 18 are automatically granted US citizenship if the following three conditions are met:
- At least one parent of the child is a U.S. citizen who was born or naturalized.
- The child has a permanent residence under the age of 18.
- The child lives in or has lived in the United States and is under the legal and physical care of the parent of the United States.
If all three conditions are met at the same time, the child is a legal US citizen. The order of events does not matter. If a child is a permanent resident and is under the age of 18 and then at least one parent becomes naturalized, the child automatically becomes a US citizen. If a parent becomes naturalized and the child becomes a permanent resident, the child will become a US citizen the moment they are resident if that happens before the child is 18 years old.
There is no government filing. The law applies to both adopted and biological children. However, stepchildren cannot be granted citizenship by a stepmother or stepfather in accordance with this provision.
The effective date of the Child Citizenship Act is February 27, 2001. Anyone under the age of 18 from that date who meets the legal requirements will automatically be granted US citizenship. However, the Child Citizenship Act does not apply to anyone who was at least 18 years old on February 27, 2001. However, these individuals may have acquired U.S. citizenship in accordance with previous versions of the U.S. Immigration Act. Please contact an immigration lawyer if you think this applies to your situation.
Examples of derivative citizenship for children
The Lee family consists of two parents and three children. They live as permanent residents in the United States. Mr. Lee was recently naturalized as a US citizen. Upon naturalization of their father, the three young children (all under the age of 18) immediately acquire U.S. citizenship.
Mr. and Mrs. Jones were born in the United States and are therefore US citizens. They adopted a girl from a foreign country. The child has entered the United States as a legal permanent residence. This child automatically became a US citizen when she was admitted because she then met all of the above requirements.
Mr. Reyes is a naturalized United States citizen living in the United States. He recently married a Filipino citizen who lives in the Philippines. His new wife also has an existing minor child who immigrates to the United States. Unfortunately, the stepchild is not qualified for a derived citizenship in this situation. The stepchild can be granted US citizenship as soon as his mother becomes a US citizen, as long as he is under the age of 18. If he is 18 before his mother becomes naturalized, he can submit Form N-400 (naturalization application) himself.
Proof of U.S. citizenship for children
It’s not mandatory, but it’s wise to get documentation that shows the child’s U.S. citizenship. The official documentation helps to avoid future complications and problems. There are basically two ways to prove US citizenship for children: a citizenship certificate and / or a US passport. For most people, a U.S. passport is cheaper and more convenient because it can be used for child’s trips abroad.
Obtaining a citizenship certificate for children
To obtain a citizenship certificate, the applicant must submit Form N-600 (Citizenship Certificate Application) to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS).
RECOMMENDED: Proof of your child’s US citizenship after naturalization
Obtaining a passport for children
In order to receive a US passport, applicants must provide proof of US citizenship. If you have a citizenship certificate for the child, you can provide a copy. If you do not have a child’s citizenship certificate, you must provide proof of the child’s derived citizenship by submitting the following documents with your child’s passport application:
Proof of the child’s relationship with a parent of a US citizen
For the natural child of the US citizen, this is usually a certified copy of the foreign birth certificate. In cases where it is not clear that the birth certificate is sufficient evidence of a biological relationship between the child and the parent of the U.S. citizen, other types of evidence, including medical and / or DNA tests, may be required. For an adopted child, it is a certified copy of the final adoption regulation.
Note: All foreign language documents must be accompanied by a certified translation into English.
Proof of the child’s permanent residence status
Proof must be furnished that the child lives or has lived in the US, legally and physically in the care of US citizens who have been legally admitted to permanent residence. Examples of acceptable documents are: the child’s permanent residence permit (green card) or a stamp I-551, which is noted in the child’s foreign passport. Separate evidence showing that the child was in the legal and physical care of US citizens can be requested in the United States. Examples of acceptable evidence are the following documents with your name and address at that time:
Note: Even entering the United States with an immigration visa does not meet the legal requirement that the child “live in the United States”. The determination of whether a child lives or has lived in the United States is usually based on an analysis of both characteristics and the length of stay. A parent may be asked to provide proof of a child’s residence in the United States under the legal and physical care of a US parent to support the application for a child passport.
Proof of childhood
Proof must be furnished that the child is or was under the age of 18 if all the requirements were met.
To get a passport, visit the State Department website or call 1-877-487-2778. As a first applicant, you have to apply personally.
U.S. citizenship for children depends on U.S. citizenship of parents. An estimated 8.8 million permanent residents of the United States are eligible to submit Form N-400 Naturalization Application. To learn more about the application and your willingness to become a US citizen, read the requirements for U.S. citizenship.
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Note to the reader: This article was originally published on August 11, 2015 and has been improved.
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