Under certain circumstances a child may obtain U.S. citizenship from a U.S. citizen parent or parents. The child might acquire U.S. citizenship at the time of birth abroad or derive U.S. citizenship after birth if the child and parent(s) meet certain conditions. In either case, the child does not apply to naturalize. Instead, the “child” – even if now an adult – applies for documentation to prove that he/she is a U.S. citizen. Note: the child does not lose citizenship by becoming an adult. The child continues to be a U.S. citizen even after turning 18 and can apply for proof of U.S. citizenship regardless of age.

Acquiring U.S. Citizenship
Acquisition of citizenship refers to someone becoming a U.S. citizenship at the time of birth outside the United States. A U.S. citizen parent or parents transmits their citizenship to the child when the child is born abroad. In order for the U.S. citizen parents to transmit their citizenship to the child, generally the U.S. citizen parents must meet certain requirements before the child is born (such as residency inside the United States or its outlying possessions). The rules for acquisition of citizenship vary depending on the law in effect at the time the child was born. Furthermore, there are different standards for those children who, under the laws of their country, are considered to be born in wedlock as opposed to those born out of wedlock.

Derivative Citizenship
Some children derive citizenship after birth abroad to a parent or parents who are not U.S. citizens when a parent or parents become U.S. citizens. The parent(s) and the child must meet certain conditions before the child can derive U.S. citizenship from the parent(s). Generally speaking, derivative citizenship rules apply to unmarried children under age 18 who are lawful permanent residents and who are residing in the United States with their U.S. citizen parent or parents. The rules for derivative citizenship vary depending on the law that was in effect on the date all the conditions were met.

Under derivative citizenship rules, children who are born out of wedlock must meet different conditions than children born within wedlock. Under certain circumstances, a child who meets the definition of “adopted child” under the immigration law might derive U.S. citizenship. Unadopted step-children do not derive U.S. citizenship.

Citizenship by Application
Children who do not meet the requirements for acquisition of citizenship or derivative citizenship might still become U.S. citizens by a process called citizenship by application if he/she:

  • has one parent who is a U.S. citizen;
  • is legally present in the United States;
  • is under 18;
  • is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. parent, and the custodial parent has been physically present in the United States for five years, two of which were after the parent’s 14th birthday.

Under certain circumstances, if the parent cannot meet the physical presence requirements he or she might still be able to transmit citizenship to the child if the parent’s parent (e.g., the child’s grandparent) can meet the physical presence requirements.

To request Citizenship by Application and to obtain a certificate of citizenship, the child or the parent can file the Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate under Section 322 of the INA. Certain children who meet the definition of adopted children for immigration purposes might also qualify for citizenship by application.

If you think that you or a family member might have derived or acquired citizenship, or to request Citizenship by Application, contact one of our immigration centers to schedule an appointment for an immigration consultation.