Under U.S. immigration law, an individual must be 18 or older in order to apply to become a U.S. citizen. Even though children are not allowed to apply for naturalization, they may automatically become citizens thanks to automatic acquisition of citizenship rules.
Derivative citizenship for children
Automatic acquisition of citizenship after birth can take place only when certain requirements are met (on or after February 27, 2001). These requirements include:
- The child has a least one parent who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization.
- The child is under the age of 18.
- The child is a lawful permanent resident, or "green card" holder.
- The child is living in the U.S. and in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
Here are three examples of how derivative citizenship works for children of U.S. citizens:
When permanent resident parents are naturalized
The minor children of permanent residents derive U.S. citizenship automatically when either of their parents is naturalized and they meet the requirements above.
When U.S. citizen parents adopt a child from abroad
If U.S. citizen parents adopt a child from another country and that child is brought to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident, the child automatically becomes a citizen upon admission.
When a permanent resident parent naturalizes while child is abroad
If a permanent resident parent becomes naturalized as a U.S. citizen while his or her child is abroad, that child will automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon entering the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident, so long as the requirements above are met.
What to do when a child does not qualify
The rules regarding automatic acquisition of citizenship were broadened by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. However, there are some cases in which a U.S. citizen has a child that was born in another country and does not qualify for derivative citizenship.
In these cases, it will be necessary to work with an immigration lawyer who has experience handling family-based immigration matters.