Do Children Have to Go Through the Naturalization Process?

In the United States, citizenship is a constitutional right under the 14th Amendment, which states that anyone born in the United States or naturalized is a lawful American citizen, regardless of nationality or immigrant status. Under the amendment, all American citizens, regardless of birthright, nationality, or race, are afforded equal rights and protections.

The right of citizenship, equal rights, and protections extends to family members as well, if certain requirements are met, including children born outside the United States. Children whose parents have obtained American citizenship may also be eligible based on the laws in effect during the year of their birth. Naturalization laws change over time, along with qualifications.

Do My Children Qualify for United States Citizenship?

In 2008, Congress enacted the Child Citizenship Act, which establishes that all biological and adopted children of American citizens born outside the United States are eligible for citizenship. Children must be under 18 years of age and meet certain qualifications.

Minor children are classified for citizenship through acquisition or derivation, both of which are based on the child’s location at birth and the naturalization status of at least one parent at birth. Other requirements differ somewhat:

Qualifications For Acquisition of Citizenship at Birth:

A child born abroad to biological parents may automatically acquire citizenship without application if one or both parents are American citizens at the time of the child’s birth.

For automatic qualification, the parent with American citizenship must have resided or been physically present in the United States for a specific number of years, which varies based on the year the child was born and the law at that time.

Currently, foreign-born adopted children do not qualify for acquisition of citizenship.

Qualifications For Derivation of Citizenship:

Children born abroad to one or more parents with lawful permanent resident status (Green card) at the time of the child’s birth may be eligible to derive citizenship when the parent becomes an American citizen. Adopted children are also eligible for derivation, including legally adopted stepchildren.

Requirements for citizenship through derivation are also based on the laws the year the child was born, but they differ based on where the child resides:

Children currently residing in the United States, but were born in a foreign country may be eligible if:

  • The child is a current lawful permanent resident.
  • The parents have legal and physical custody of the child and currently reside together.

Children born and currently residing in a foreign country may be eligible if:

  • At least one parent is a United States citizen by birth or naturalization, including adoptive parents.
  • The child is under the age of 18.
  • The American parents or grandparents have lived in the United States for at least five years.
  • The child currently lives with the American parent who has legal and physical custody or a guardian who will support the citizenship application.
  • The child is legally residing the in the United States at the time the application and naturalization are approved.

Children immigrating to the United States through adoption automatically acquire citizenship when the adoption is legally finalized, provided they meet the requirements and are under age 18 at the time.

Adult children who are over 18 when a parent obtains American citizenship are also eligible for citizenship, but the process has different requirement. Depending on whether the child is married, adult children residing outside the United States must apply for a family-based visa, have an American sponsor, and complete the naturalization requirements before applying.

There are also certain circumstances that may affect the child’s eligibility for acquisition or derivation of citizenship:

  • Child born out of wedlock: A child born abroad to an American father who is not married to the birth mother is not automatically eligible for citizenship under current laws. In this circumstance the father must legally acknowledge the child as biological and provide evidence that he has resided in the United States for at least 10 years before the child’s birth, five of which must be after age 14. In some cases, the United States may still require the birth parents to marry before granting citizenship to the child.
  • Stepchildren: As there is no biological relationship to one parent, stepchildren are not currently eligible for naturalization or citizenship. If the non-biological parent legally adopts the child, provides legal documentation of the adoption, and the child meets the other requirements, the child may be eligible for citizenship.

Laws regarding both of these circumstances change over time and children may become eligible for citizenship at that time. If your child is a stepchild or born out of wedlock, consulting an experienced immigration attorney is strongly recommended.

How Do I Obtain Citizenship for My Child?

You will need to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for your child. The certificate, which is a government-issued photo identification, is proof of your child’s citizenship, and never expires. In addition to the application, Form N-600, you will need to provide supporting documentation, including:

  • A legal copy of the American citizen parent’s birth certificate.
  • A legal copy of the child’s birth certificate.
  • Documentation of the parent’s American citizenship, the Naturalization Certificate.
  • A legal copy of the parent’s marriage certificate.
  • If parents are divorced or separated, a copy of the legal custody for the child.
  • A copy of the child’s lawful permanent residency.
  • Proof the child resides or has been physically in the United States, such as employment, school records, or housing documentation.

Supporting documents in a language other than English must be accompanied by an officially translated copy.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin P.C. Assist Families Seeking United States Citizenship for Their Children

The opportunity to become a citizen is a constitutional right in the United States, including children born to a natural American citizen or immigrants who have completed the naturalization process. If you are, or have become, a United States citizen and are seeking citizenship for your children, our Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin P.C. have years of experience and are available to guide you through the application process. Call us at 215-925-4435 or contact us online to schedule an initial consultation today. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania.