The Child Citizenship Act: Getting Citizenship Through Your Parents

Some people wishing to apply for naturalization may be surprised to learn that they may already be United States Citizens. In fact, there are three ways in which U.S. Citizenship may be obtained:

1) Naturalization
This is by far the most common avenue to US Citizenship. Under most circumstances, a lawful permanent resident will have to demonstrate lawful permanent residence for a requisite number of years, physical presence, continuity of presence, good moral character, knowledge of American history, and a basic comprehension of English.

2) Acquisition
Some individuals may acquire US Citizenship at birth by virtue of having been born abroad to a US Citizen parent. This is a very arcane area of law, with different rules applying to different time periods.

3) Derivation
Under certain conditions, some lawful permanent residents may automatically become US Citizens when their parent(s) naturalize.

Under acquisition and derivation, individuals do not need to take a test, as they are already United States Citizens.

In most cases, derivation today occurs under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which was signed into law by President Clinton.

What does the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provide?

The law became effective on February 27, 2001 and applies to any case on or after that date. It provides that children who are lawful permanent residents will automatically become United States Citizens provided all of the following conditions are satisfied:

  • The child has at least one United States citizen parent (by birth or naturalization)
  • The child is under 18 years of age
  • The child is currently residing permanently in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the United States citizen parent
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident

Upon fulfillment of these conditions, the child derives United States citizen through the parent. There is no need to file for naturalization. However, if the individual needs proof of his/her citizenship, he/she will need to either apply for a Certificate of Citizenship (through Form N-600) or a United States Passport.

Revisions to Form N-400

In fact, because people who may already be citizens may unnecessarily be applying for naturalization, the N-400 Application for Naturalization has been revised to include some new questions alerting the applicant that he/she may be eligible to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship instead.

Part 5 of the Application requests information about the applicant's parents and says:
If your biological or legally adoptive mother or father is a U.S. citizen by birth, or naturalized before you reached your 18th birthday, you may already be a U.S. citizen.

  1. Were your parents married before your 18th birthday?
  2. Is your mother a U.S. citizen?
  3. Is your father a U.S. citizen?

Advantages of Derivation

If you are already a U.S. citizen by birth or acquisition, there are a number of benefits that may not be readily apparent. Besides enjoying all the privileges and rights of U.S. Citizenship, a citizen can never be deported. For example, a lawful permanent resident with a criminal record may not be able to naturalize without risking exposure to possible deportation and removal. In contrast, if that same person is already a U.S. Citizen, his/her criminal record would not be relevant since he/she is already a citizen.

Of course, merely applying for proof of citizenship does not guarantee that the applicant will be furnished with proof or confirmation of citizenship. The application needs to be adjudicated by an Immigration Officer who will determine whether the applicant lawfully has, in fact, already become a citizen.

For more information on eligibility requirements on proving citizenship through derivation, please contact our office.