The children of legal permanent residents and United States citizens enjoy preferential treatment under American immigration law.
While not all children automatically become U.S. citizens when their parents are naturalized, there are several potential avenues for children to become citizens.
Some children of naturalizing American citizens automatically become citizens but others may take longer – often subject to the per-country quota system – nearly all children of any U.S. citizen should be able to naturalize eventually.
A child under the age of 18 automatically becomes a citizen when all of the following conditions are met:
- The child is a legal permanent resident
- At least one of the child’s parents (biological or adoptive) is a U.S. citizen (either by birth or through naturalization)
- The child lives in the United States and is in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent
Provided that each of these requirements are met, this is the simplest way for a child of a naturalized U.S. citizen to become a citizen. [i]
Children who were eighteen years of age or older on February 27, 2001, can qualify for citizenship as well but under different requirements.
A child born outside the United States to foreign national parents acquires citizenship if the child’s parents meet at least one of the following requirements:
- Both parents have become U.S. citizens;
- One surviving parent has become a U.S. citizen and the other parent is deceased;
- One parent who has legal custody of the child has become a U.S. citizen and the parents are legally separated; or
- The child was born out of wedlock, paternity has not been established by legitimation, and the child’s mother has become a U.S. citizen.
For a child to automatically become a citizen according to these requirements he or she must also meet the following conditions:
- The child was under eighteen years of age when his or her parent(s) became citizens
- The child is residing in the United States after being lawfully admitted for permanent residence at the time his or her parent(s) became citizen(s)
How to Obtain a Certificate of Citizenship
If a child meets either set of requirements provided above he or she is automatically recognized as a citizen. Because citizenship is automatic in such cases, he or she is not required to file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.
However, a person who seeks documentation of citizenship status in such circumstances should submit the N-600 Application to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship issued by United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.
This person may also apply for a U.S. Passport through the Department of State which will serve as evidence of his or her American citizenship.
If the applicant is eighteen years of age or older, he or she may submit the Application for Certificate of Citizenship on his or her own behalf. If the applicant is under the age of eighteen his or her biological parent, adoptive parent, or legal guardian must submit the application on his or her behalf.
The USCIS website provides general instructions for submitting an Application for Certificate of Citizenship and what documents need to be included with Form N-600.
You should also consult an immigration attorney if you or someone related to you is applying for citizenship or proof of citizenship in the United States.
Once the application is approved USCIS will issue a Certificate of Citizenship as proof of his or her citizenship.
Oath of Allegiance
Upon approval of the Application for Certificate of Citizenship, USCIS administers the Oath of Allegiance.
However, if the applicant is a child under the age of fourteen USCIS has determined that he or she would be unable to understand the meaning of the oath and is therefore exempt from this requirement.
Sons and Daughters Who Don’t Qualify for Automatic Citizenship
If you have become a citizen of the United States and your son or daughter does not qualify for automatic citizenship, he or she may still be eligible for legal permanent residence and eventually may qualify for citizenship.
Children of American citizens, including those who are unmarried as well as those who are married and/or twenty-one years or older may apply for legal permanent residence.
The parent who is a citizen must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative to initiate this process.
If your child is under twenty one years old and unmarried, in addition the Petition for Alien Relative you may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status on his or her behalf. As an immediate relative your child will be eligible for permanent residence. [ii]
If your child is married and/or twenty-one years or older, he or she may also be eligible for legal permanent residence subject to a waiting period as prescribed by the immigration quota system.
In this case, you can petition for his or her permanent residence and check the Visa Bulletin to determine when his or her priority date becomes current thereby authorizing him or her to become a legal permanent residence. [iii]
Once a person has been a legal permanent resident for at least five years he or she may apply for citizenship. At this time the permanent resident can apply for naturalization with Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, provided that he or she:
- Is eighteen years or older at the time of filing,
- Has lived within the state or district with jurisdiction over the applicant’s place of residence for at least three months prior to filing the application,
- Has been present in the United States for at least thirty months of the past five years,
- Can read, write, and speak English and has knowledge and understanding of U.S. history and government,
- Is a person of good moral character, attached to the principles of the United States Constitution, and well-disposed to the good order and happiness of the United States during all relevant periods under the law. [iv]
Many children automatically become U.S. citizens when their parents become citizens provided they meet the requirements described above.
Children who do not acquire automatic citizenship are often eligible for permanent residence with what is commonly known as a green card and after five years he or she may apply for citizenship.