You may think that children (minors under the age of 18) may only obtain their citizenship until they are adults. This is inaccurate. To naturalize as a U.S. citizens, by law, applicants must be 18 years of age, but there are other ways to become a U.S. citizen. Instead of filing for N-400 for naturalization, children that meet certain criteria automatically gain U.S. citizenship when their parent naturalizes, this is called derivative citizenship for children.
Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) children may acquire citizenship after birth. According to the law, a child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when all of the following conditions have been met on or after February 27, 2001:
- The person is a child of a parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization;
- The child is under 18 years of age;
- The child is a lawful permanent resident (LPR); and
- The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
Legal and Physical Custody of U.S. Citizen Parent
Legal custody refers to the responsibility for and authority over a child. In this case, USCIS presumes that a U.S. citizen parent has legal custody of a child and recognizes that the parent has lawful authority over the child, absent evidence to the contrary, in all of the following scenarios:
- A biological child who currently resides with both biological parents who are married to each other;
- A biological child who currently resides with a surviving biological parent, if the other is deceased;
- A biological child born out of wedlock (legitimated) and currently resides with the parent;
- An adopted child with a final adoption decree who currently resides with the adoptive U.S. parent;
- A child of divorced or legally separated parents where a court of law or other appropriate government entity has awarded primary care, control, and maintenance of the child to a parent under the laws of the state or country of residence.
Children of Armed Forces Members or U.S. Government Employees (or their Spouses)
On March 26, 2020, the Citizenship for Children of Military Members and Civil Servants Act was enacted into law. This Act provides that, under certain conditions, children of U.S. armed forces members or U.S. government employees (or their spouses) who are residing outside the United States acquire citizenship. This applies to such children who were under the age of 18 on that date.
A child born outside of the United States acquires automatic citizenship under INA 320 in cases where the child is an LPR and is in the legal and physical custody of his or her U.S. citizen parent who is:
- Stationed and residing outside of the United States as a member of the U.S. armed forces;
- Stationed and residing outside of the United States as an employee of the U.S. government; or
- The spouse residing outside the United States in marital union with a U.S. armed forces member or U.S. government employee who is stationed outside of the United States.
In cases involving the child of a U.S. armed forces member residing outside the United States, the child must be authorized to accompany and reside with the U.S. armed forces member as provided by the member’s official orders.
The official orders that authorize a child and, if applicable, his or her U.S. citizen parent, to accompany and reside with the member of the U.S. armed forces outside of the United States are a statutory requirement for that child to acquire citizenship under INA 320. If the child (and, if applicable, U.S. citizen parent) being added to the orders is the last action for the child to qualify for acquisition, then the date of the order becomes the date of acquisition. There is no statutory requirement for children of U.S. government employees or their spouses to be included on the employee’s official orders.
Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600)
1. Submission of Application
A person who automatically obtains U.S. citizenship is not required to file an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600). A person who seeks documentation of U.S. citizenship, however, must submit Form N-600 to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS.A person may also apply for a U.S. passport with the U.S. Department of State to serve as evidence of U.S. citizenship.
USCIS issues proof of U.S. citizenship in the form of a Certificate of Citizenship if the Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600) is approved and the person takes the Oath of Allegiance, if required to do so.
2. Photographs and Signature
USCIS may require the applicant (person seeking the Certificate of Citizenship), regardless of age, to appear at a local Application Support Center (ASC) for photograph and signature submission. A parent or legal guardian may sign for a child under the age of 14. The parent or legal guardian of the person for whom the Certificate of Citizenship is sought does not submit any photographs in connection with the Form N-600.
Photograph Submission Outside the United States
A person seeking a Certificate of Citizenship who is residing outside the United States only needs to submit two passport-style photographs with the properly submitted application. USCIS does not schedule overseas applicants for an ASC appointment.
Failure to Appear for the ASC Appointment
USCIS may consider the Form N-600 abandoned in cases where the person seeking a Certificate of Citizenship fails to appear for the biometrics appointment, unless, by the appointment time, USCIS receives a change of address or rescheduling request that USCIS concludes warrants excusing the failure to appear.
If USCIS denies the application due to abandonment, the person eligible for the Certificate of Citizenship, or the parent or legal guardian of the person eligible for the Certificate of Citizenship, or the parent or legal guardian who filed on behalf of a child seeking a Certificate of Citizenship, may submit a motion to reopen or reconsider by filing a Notice of Appeal or Motion.
Documentation and Evidence
The applicant must submit the following required documents unless such documents are already contained in the USCIS administrative record or do not apply:
- The child’s birth certificate or record.
- Marriage certificate of child’s parents, if applicable.
- Proof of termination of any previous marriage of each parent if either parent was previously married and divorced or widowed, for example:
- Divorce Decree; or
- Death Certificate.
- Evidence of United States citizenship of parent:
- Birth Certificate;
- Naturalization Certificate;
- Consular Report of Birth Abroad (FS-240);
- A valid unexpired U.S. passport; or
- Certificate of Citizenship.
- Documents verifying legitimation according to the laws of the child’s residence or domicile or father’s residence or domicile if the child was born out of wedlock.
- Documentation of legal custody in the case of divorce, legal separation, or adoption.
- If applicable, official orders from the respective department that authorized the child of the U.S. armed forces member, or the child of the spouse of such member and the spouse, to accompany the U.S. citizen parent.
- Copy of Permanent Resident Card or Alien Registration Receipt Card or other evidence of lawful permanent resident status, such as an I-551 stamp in a valid foreign passport or travel document issued by USCIS.
- Copy of the full, final adoption decree,
- Evidence of all legal name changes, if applicable, for the child and U.S. citizen parent.
Citizenship Interview and Waiver
In general, an applicant must appear in person for an interview before a USCIS officer after filing an Application for Certificate of Citizenship. This includes the U.S. citizen parent or parents if the application is filed on behalf of a child under 18 years of age. USCIS, however, may waive the interview requirement if all the required documentation necessary to establish the applicant’s eligibility is already included in USCIS administrative records or if the required documentation is submitted along with the application.
Decision and Oath of Allegiance
If an officer approves the Application for Certificate of Citizenship, USCIS administers the Oath of Allegiance before issuing a Certificate of Citizenship. However, the law permits USCIS to waive the taking of the Oath of Allegiance if USCIS determines the person is unable to understand its meaning. USCIS has determined that children under the age of 14 are generally unable to understand the meaning of the oath.
Accordingly, USCIS waives the oath requirement for a child younger than 14 years of age. If USCIS waives the oath requirement, USCIS issues a Certificate of Citizenship after the officer approves the application.
Denial of Application
If an officer denies the Certificate of Citizenship application, the officer must notify the applicant in writing of the reasons for denial and include information on the right to appeal in the notice. An applicant may file an appeal within 30 calendar days after service of the decision (33 days if the decision was mailed).