Citizenship for Children

Get U.S. Citizenship

Some children acquire citizenship at the time of their birth overseas to a U.S. citizen, provided that the parent has resided in the United States for certain periods of time.  To decide whether an individual born abroad acquired United States citizenship at birth, see Acquiring Citizenship or check Charts A <pdf> and B <pdf>.

Derivative citizenship rules apply to lawful permanent resident children who become citizens automatically when one or both parents become U.S. citizens.  To determine whether an individual derived citizenship through his/her parents, see Deriving Citizenship or check Chart C. <pdf>

If individuals do not qualify for derived or acquired citizenship, they may qualify for citizenship by application.  This also applies to children who are adopted.  To decide whether an individual can obtain citizenship by application, see Citizenship by Application It is important to know that step children cannot derive citizenship through their step parent.

Acquiring Citizenship

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.

To determine whether the child acquired citizenship at birth, first find out if the individual was born in wedlock or out of wedlock.  If the person was born in wedlock, see Chart A. <pdf>  If born out of wedlock, see Chart B. <pdf>  Then establish the individual's date of birth.  Using that date decide if the parents meet the residence requirements necessary to transmit citizenship, as outlined in Charts A <pdf> and B <pdf>.  There is always a residency period required of the citizen parent(s).  Note that for some people born before 12/24/52 there may have been a requirement that they were physically present in the United States for a period of time between their 14th and 28th birthdays.  See Chart A. <pdf>

Note:  Although we are using the term "child," these acquisition rules apply to all individuals regardless of age.  The important thing is whether the rules are met.

Deriving Citizenship

Whether a child derives citizenship automatically upon the naturalization of his/her parent(s) depends on the law at the time.  To determine whether the child derived citizenship, see Chart C. <pdf>  Two of the most recent laws are outlined below.

Individuals Who Turned 18 on or After February 27, 2001:

On February 27, 2001, a law went into effect that changed the rules for who can obtain derivative citizenship.  The law applies to natural born children and adopted children.  It does not apply to stepchildren unless the stepparent legally adopts the child.  Under this law, called the Child Citizenship Act of 2001, a child born outside the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when ALL of the following conditions have been fulfilled in any order:

  • At least one parent of the child is a citizen of the United States, whether by birth or naturalization;
  • The child is under the age of 18 years and is unmarried;
  • The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent;
  • The child is a permanent resident.

If your child is unmarried, under 18 and a permanent resident, when you naturalize, your child automatically becomes a citizen.  If your unmarried child is under 18 and not a permanent resident when you naturalize, he/she will automatically derive U.S. citizenship the moment he/she becomes a permanent resident.

Note that if the child is born out of wedlock and is NOT legitimated before reaching the age of 16, the naturalization of the father will not result in the child gaining derivative citizenship.

Children who are born out of wedlock but are legitimated before the age of 16 do qualify.

Individuals Who Turned 18 Before February 27, 2001

Prior to February 27, 2001, permanent resident children derived citizenship under rules different from those that apply today.  Children who turned 18 prior to this date automatically became U.S. citizens when: (1) a parent naturalized before the child turned 18 and (2) the child became a permanent resident before turning 18 and (3) the child was unmarried, AND ONE of the following requirements was met:

  • The other parent was or became a U.S. citizen prior to the child's 18 birthday.
  • The child was born out of wedlock and not legitimized before the age of 16 and the naturalized parent was the mother.
  • The child's other parent was deceased.
  • The parents were divorced or separated and the naturalized parent had legal custody of the child following the divorce or separation.

Citizenship by Application

Children who are in the U.S. legally but not as permanent residents and meet the requirements listed below become citizens when a U.S. citizen parent files Form N-600K Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate under Section 322.  Most adopted children fall under this category as well as some individuals who do not qualify for acquired citizenship.

To qualify, ALL of the following must be true:

  • One parent must be a U.S. citizen;
  • The child must be legally present in the United States;
  • The child must be under 18;
  • The child must be in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent;
  • That custodial parent must have been physically present in the United States for five years, two of which were after his/her 14 birthday.

If the child is adopted, the child must have been adopted prior to age 16 (unless the child was under 18 and a natural sibling of an adopted child) and must meet all the requirements for an adopted child or orphan.

A citizen parent who has not been physically present in the United States for five years two of which were after his/her 14 birthday may obtain citizenship for his/her child, if the child is under 18, legally present in the United States, in the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent, and a citizen grandparent (parent of the citizen parent) has been physically present in the U.S. for five years, two of which are after the grandparent's 14 birthday.

Filing Form N-600K

Form N-600K is available at the USCIS website or by calling the toll-free forms request line at (800) 870-3676.  The filing fee is $460*.  If the individual is filing on behalf of an adopted minor child, the fee is $420*.  The check or money order must be made payable to "U.S. Department of Homeland Security."

The application must be sent to the USCIS Field Office with jurisdiction over the applicant's place of residence.  To locate an office visit the USCIS Field Office Locator or call (800) 375-5283

*Fees listed as of April 20, 2009.  Please check the USCIS Immigration Forms website for updated fees.