Derivation of U.S. Citizenship for Children

Derivation of U.S. Citizenship for Children

Contrary to popular belief, children (minors under the age of 18) generally cannot become naturalized citizens of the United States. By law, applicants for naturalization must be 18 years of age.

But don’t worry. This means that they cannot file the application or be included on their parents’ application. Instead, children that meet certain criteria automatically gain U.S. citizenship when a parent naturalizes, a provision in the law known as derivation of U.S. citizenship for children.

Child Citizenship Act

Adult permanent residents apply for U.S. citizenship by filing Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. But minors may not use this form, children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if the following three conditions have been fulfilled:

  • At least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
  • The child is a permanent resident under 18 years of age;
  • The child is residing in or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

Once all three conditions are met, the child is a U.S. citizen by matter of law. The order of events makes no difference. If a child is a permanent resident and under 18, and then at least one parent naturalizes, the child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen. If a parent naturalizes and then the child gets permanent residence, the child becomes a U.S. citizen the moment he or she becomes a permanent resident, if that happens before the child is 18.

The law covers adopted children as well as biological children. But stepchildren may not derive citizenship from a stepmother or stepfather under this provision. ​

Effective Dates

The effective date of the Child Citizenship Act is February 27, 2001. Consult with an immigration attorney if you believe this may apply to your situation, or if not, ask for any applicable laws that may apply.

We are NOT attorneys, and we cannot and will not, at any time, give legal advice. / This is an informative article and does not try to give legal advice.


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