Citizenship Laws for Children

Do you know how the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 has affected the children definition of citizenship? The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 and other important information is located on our site. We can give you all the relevant data you need to know about citizenship laws and children, including the “children” definition of citizenship for the United States. Answer your questions and find the important information that will make all the difference when filling out your citizenship application.

This section has been specifically tailored to teach you more about the Child Citizenship Act and how your child fits into the citizenship procedure. This section was created to help people with the most commonly asked questions about U.S. citizenship.

Children and Citizenship

Does my child qualify for automatic citizenship under the Children Citizenship act (CCA)?

Under the CCA, your child will automatically acquire U.S. citizenship on the date that all of the following requirements are satisfied:

  • At least one adoptive parent is a U.S. citizen,
  • The child is under 18 years of age,
  • There is a full and final adoption of the child, and
  • The child is admitted to the United States as an immigrant

If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U. S. citizen?

A child who is born in the United States, or born abroad to a U.S. citizen(s) who lived in (or came to) the United States for a period of time prior to the child’s birth, is considered a U.S. citizen at birth.

A child who is:

  • born to a U.S. citizen who did not live in (or come to) the United States for a period of time prior to the child’s birth, or
  • born to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent or two alien parents who naturalize after the child’s birth, or
  • adopted and is permanently residing in the United States can become a U.S. citizen by action of law on the date on which all of the following requirements have been met:
    • The child was lawfully admitted for permanent residence; and Either parent was a United States citizen by birth or naturalization*; and
    • The child was still under 18 years of age; and
    • The child was not married; and
    • The child was the parent’s legitimate child or was legitimated by the parent before the child’s 16th birthday (Stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday do not derive United States citizenship through their parents.); and
    • If adopted, the child met the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) and has had a full and final adoption; and
    • The child was residing in the United States in the legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent (this includes joint custody); and
    • The child was residing in the United States in the physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

If you and your child meet all of these requirements, you may obtain a U.S. passport for the child as evidence of citizenship. If the child needs further evidence of citizenship, you may submit an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship” (Form N-600) to the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship. If the child meets the requirements of Section 101(b)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act as an adopted child, you may submit an Application for Certificate of Citizenship on Behalf of an Adopted Child. (Form N-643). (Note: a child who meets these requirements before his or her 18th birthday may obtain a passport or Certificate of Citizenship at any time, even after he or she turns 18.)

*NOTE: Children who immigrate in the ‘IR-3’ or ‘IR-4’ categories must have had an immigrant petition filed on their behalf before their 16th birthday; see answers to Question 25 below. All adoptions for any other type of immigration benefit, including naturalization, must be completed by the child’s 16th birthday, with one exception: A child adopted while under the age of 18 years by the same parents who adopted a natural sibling who met the usual requirements.

**NOTE: The ‘one U.S. citizen parent. rule only applies to children who were under age 18 on or after February 27, 2001. For children claiming automatic citizenship prior to this date, the individual in certain cases would have to establish that the parent or parents who were not U.S. citizens by birth had naturalized (or that the naturalizing parent was separated or legally divorced and had legal custody of the child).

If I am a U.S. citizen, but my child does not meet the requirements, can I still apply for citizenship for my child?

A child who is regularly residing IN the United States can become a citizen of the United States only by meeting the requirements listed in the answer to Question 24 above. If a child regularly resides IN the United States and is not a lawful permanent resident, he or she cannot acquire citizenship automatically until he or she is granted lawful permanent residence. If a child who has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence fails to qualify for citizenship under the provisions of law, the child may apply for naturalization by filing an N-400 after reaching 18 years of age, provided that he or she has the required 5 years of lawful permanent residence.

U.S. citizens may apply for citizenship for their children by birth or adoption who do NOT regularly reside in the United States, if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The child is under 18 years of age; and
  • The child is not married; and
  • The child regularly resides outside the United States; and
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission and is maintaining such lawful status; and
  • The child is in legal and physical custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen; and
  • The child is the U.S. citizen’s legitimate child, or was legitimated before the child’s 16th birthday (stepchildren or children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday are not eligible for this procedure); and
  • If adopted, the child meets the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) and had a full and final adoption; and either of the following is true:
    • The citizen parent has lived at least 5 years in the United States, and at least 2 of which were after the citizen parent’s 14th birthday; or
    • If the child’s citizen parent has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after that parent’s 14th birthday, the citizen parent currently has a parent (the child’s grandparent) who:
      • is also a U.S. citizen; and
      • lived in the United States for 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the citizen grandparent’s 14th birthday; and
      • is still living at the time of the adjudication of the application and the taking of the Oath.

If the foregoing conditions are met, the citizen parent can apply for a certificate of citizenship in behalf of a legitimate or legitimated child using an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship” (Form N-600) or, in the case of an adopted child, an “Application for Certificate of Citizenship on Behalf of An Adopted Child” (Form N-643). If the citizen parent is relying on the grandparent’s physical presence in the United States, the citizen parent should also submit Form N-643, Supplement A. Both the citizen parent and the child must appear at an interview with an U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services officer in the United States. The child must meet ALL of the required conditions at the time when he or she takes the Oath of Allegiance (Note: the Oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it).

My son/daughter was born overseas. Can he/she become a US citizen?

In many/most cases, a child born outside the US to a US citizen or citizens is a US citizen by birth (and, in the opinions of most legal scholars, qualifies as a “natural born” citizen eligible to become President or Vice-President).

So the question is not whether the child can “become” a US citizen, but rather how the parents can go about documenting the fact of the child’s citizenship.

The law on US citizenship for children born outside the US depends on when the child was born, whether one or both parents are US citizens, and how long each parent lived in the US prior (not necessarily immediately prior) to the child’s birth. A table describing US law on this subject during the 20th century (for children born in wedlock) can be found on the Web site of Buffalo immigration lawyer Joe Grasmick. Check with a US consulate for an exact interpretation of the rules with regard to a specific situation; however, here’s a summary of the rules as they pertain to children born now or in the recent past.

For children born abroad since 14 November 1986 to a married couple consisting of two US citizens, at least one of the parents must have “had a residence” in the US at some time in his or her life, prior to the child’s birth. Judging by what I was told in early 1994 by the US consulate in Toronto when I applied to have my son (born in Canada) registered as a US citizen, US officials seem to define “residence” in the US as being physical presence in the US for a total of at least one year prior to the child’s birth. However, the actual law (as enacted by Congress) does not impose this interpretation.

For children born abroad since 14 November 1986 to a married couple consisting of one US citizen and one non-citizen, the American parent must have been “physically present” in the US for a total of at least five years prior to the birth of the child. Further, at least two years out of this five-year period must have been after the parent reached age 14 (e.g., no good if you lived in the US from birth till age five, then left the country never to return). From 24 December 1952 to 14 November 1986, the minimum requirement was ten years (five years of which had to have been after the parent’s 14th birthday).

The time spent in the US need not have been immediately prior to the child’s birth, and it is possible to combine multiple separate periods of physical presence in the US to reach the required figures. Additionally, time spent in US territories or possessions can be counted — as can time spent abroad in the US military, in US government employment, or as a dependent spouse or child of someone posted abroad under such circumstances.

These rules are designed to prevent the proliferation of generation after generation of “Americans” who would be citizens by descent without ever having set foot in the US.

Different rules apply to a child born out of wedlock outside the US. If the mother of an “illegitimate” child is a US citizen, her foreign-born child is a US citizen by birth if she had ever spent at least one year’s worth of continuous literal, physical presence in the US. If the father is a US citizen (and the mother is not), the child is a US citizen only if the father’s paternity is formally established and if the father has agreed to support the child. (This more stringent requirement for an American father to pass along US citizenship to a foreign-born illegitimate son may be on shaky legal ground; see the discussions elsewhere in this FAQ of the court cases Miller v. Albright and U.S. v. Ahumada Aguilar.)

An American who has a child born outside the US should contact the nearest US embassy or consulate as soon as possible, to request an application for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad. This form needs to be filled out by both parents and returned with payment (currently US$10 or the local equivalent, money order or cash only, personal checks or credit cards not accepted) and supporting documents including parents’ birth certificates, marriage certificate, passports, and the child’s own birth certificate. For the supporting documents to be returned, you must enclose sufficient local postage for registered mail (ask the consulate for the required amount), or else bring everything in person to the consulate (in which case they will prepare the certificate while you wait; expect the process to take about an hour).

Note, once again, that a child born abroad under these circumstances is a US citizen by birth (in addition to possibly being a citizen of the country of birth). The “consular report of birth abroad” is not a bestowal of US citizenship, but simply an acknowledgment of same.

Is a child born outside the US to American parents legally eligible to become President?

Most likely yes.

The US Constitution (Article II, Section 1, Subsection 4) says: “No person except a natural born citizen, or a citizen of the United States, at the time of the adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty-five years, and been fourteen years a resident within the United States.”

The term “natural born citizen” is not used anywhere else in the Constitution, and it has never been the subject of any federal court ruling. Hence, its exact meaning could be subject to controversy.

While some have suggested that perhaps a “natural born citizen” must have been born on US territory (i.e., in keeping with the definition of a citizen given in the 14th Amendment), other legal experts believe the term refers to anyone who has US citizenship from the moment of his or her birth — i.e., someone who did not have to be “naturalized” because he/she was born “natural” (i.e., born a citizen).

The first Congress enacted a citizenship law which stated that “the children of citizens of the United States, that may be born beyond sea, or out of the limits of the United States, shall be considered as natural born citizens”. [Act of Mar. 26, 1790, ch. 3, 1 Stat. 104.] This strongly suggests that the phrase was understood by the framers of the Constitution to refer to citizenship by birth.

At least three Presidential candidates in recent memory were born outside the US proper:

  • Barry Goldwater, the 1964 Republican candidate, was born in the Arizona Territory in 1909 (Arizona did not become the 48th state until 1912). Goldwater lost the 1964 election to Lyndon Johnson.
  • George Romney, a 1968 Republican hopeful, was born in Mexico in 1907 to American parents who had moved there to escape anti-Mormon persecution in the US. (Contrary to a widely held popular misconception, by the way, Romney’s parents were settlers in Mexico, not missionaries.) Romney’s campaign fizzled following a gaffe about his having been “brainwashed” by the military establishment into supporting US involvement in the Vietnam conflict.
  • John McCain, an early Republican hopeful in the current (2000) campaign, was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 to American parents. McCain dropped out of the campaign in favor of the Republicans’ eventual nominee, George W. Bush.

Some questions were raised at the time regarding both Goldwater and Romney’s eligibility for the nation’s highest office, but no formal legal challenge was mounted in either case.

We will probably never really know whether an American citizen born outside the US can become President (or Vice-President) until a lawsuit involving such a candidate finds its way into the courts. This could happen, of course, if a foreign-born candidate were elected and the electoral college’s choice were challenged in court; or, more likely, if such a candidate’s right to federal campaign subsidies (matching funds) were questioned.

Do I have to apply to U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services for my child’s citizenship?

No. If your child satisfies the requirements, he or she automatically acquires U.S. citizenship by operation of law. If you completed a full and final adoption abroad, your child automatically becomes a citizen on the day he or she is admitted to the United States as an immigrant. If you complete the adoption or have to re-adopt your child after your child has been admitted to the United States as an immigrant, your child automatically becomes a citizen on the day the full and final adoption is completed. Your child’s citizenship status is no longer dependent on U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services approving a naturalization application.

Will U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services automatically provide me with documentation of my child’s citizenship?

Unfortunately, U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services is not able to automatically provide adoptive parents with documentation of their child’s citizenship at this time. However, USCIS will work with Congress, the adoption community and other stakeholders to re-engineer the current process of issuing Certificates of Citizenship for adopted children. This re-engineering will address both the application process and costs.

What documentation can I get of my child’s citizenship?

If you want documentation of your child’s U.S. citizenship, you may obtain a Certificate of Citizenship from U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services and/or a U.S. passport from the Department of State. You do not need a Certificate of Citizenship issued in order to obtain a passport for your child.

What forms do I file and what are the fees to obtain a certificate of citizenship?

If you want to file for a Certificate of Citizenship for your child at this time, file Form N-643, Application for Certificate of Citizenship in Behalf of an Adopted Child, with a $125 filing fee.

What documents do I have to submit with the Form N-643?

For children who have immigrated to the United States, parents will not be required to submit any evidence that is already contained in the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services file, including translations of documents.

If your child has immigrated to the United States (has a “green card”) after a full and final adoption abroad, you should submit the following with the Form N-643:

  • Photographs of your child, and
  • Fee

If your child has immigrated to the United States (has a “green card”) to be adopted or re-adopted, you should submit the following with the Form N-643:

  • Photographs of your child,
  • Fee,
  • Evidence of a full and final adoption, and
  • Evidence of all legal name changes (if applicable)

After review of the application, the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services may ask that you submit additional documents to establish your child’s citizenship status, but these requests generally only will occur in cases where discrepancies need to be resolved between the application and U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services records.

Will the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services require an interview to adjudicate Form N-643?

An interview generally will not be required for obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship under the CCA. However, U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services may request an interview if discrepancies between the application and USCIS records need to be resolved.

Where should I File the Form N-643?

File the Form N-643, with required supporting documents, at the U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services district office or suboffice in the United States that has jurisdiction over your place of residence.

Will my child be harmed if I wait for USCIS to re-engineer its process to document my child’s citizenship?

No. Your child’s citizenship status will not be negatively affected if you wait for U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services to re-engineer its process before you document your child’s citizenship. If your child satisfies the requirements for automatic acquisition of citizenship, his or her citizenship is obtained by operation of law and cannot be lost by failure to document it. You can obtain a passport from the Department of State, even if you decide to wait to re-engineer its process. As part of those efforts U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services intends to implement a streamlined process for the automatic issuance of Certificates of Citizenship.

Will the re-engineering address the affidavit of support requirement?

Yes. The U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services intends to remove the Affidavit of Support (Form I-864) requirement for children adopted abroad who will receive citizenship at the time of entry as lawful permanent residents. This is the vast majority of cases. However, children born and residing outside of the United States or children who will not be adopted until after they enter the United States will still require the affidavit of support.

Is automatic citizenship provided for adopted children living outside the US?

No. In order for a foreign-born child living outside the United States to acquire citizenship, the U.S. citizen parent must still apply for naturalization on behalf of the child. The naturalization process for such a child cannot take place overseas. The child will need to be in the United States temporarily to complete naturalization processing and take the oath of allegiance.

To be eligible, a child must meet the following requirements:

  • The child has at least one U.S. citizen parent (by birth or naturalization);
  • The U.S. citizen parent has been physically present in the United States for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of 14-or the U.S. citizen parent has a citizen parent who has been physically present in the United States for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of 14;
  • The child is under 18 years of age;
  • The child is residing outside the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States-having entered the United States lawfully and maintaining lawful status in the United States; and
  • The child must meet the requirements applicable to adopted children under immigration law

If the naturalization application is approved, the child must take the same oath of allegiance administered to adult naturalization applicants. If the child is too young to understand the oath, U.S. of Citizenship and Immigration Services may waive the oath requirement.

Is automatic citizenship provided for those who are 18 years of age or older?

No. Individuals who are 18 years of age or older on February 27, 2001, do not qualify for citizenship under the CCA, even if they meet all other criteria. If they wish to become U.S. citizens, they must apply for naturalization and meet eligibility requirements that currently exist for adult lawful permanent residents.

Does my Child qualify for US Citizenship?

The following are all ways your child may qualify for US Citizenship under the law:

  1. Birth Abroad to Two U.S. Citizen Parents in Wedlock: A child born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under section 301(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). One of the parents MUST have resided in the U.S. prior to the child’s birth. No specific period of time for such prior residence is required.
  2. Birth Abroad to One Citizen and One Alien Parent in Wedlock: A child born abroad to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent acquires U.S. citizenship at birth under Section 301(g) INA provided the citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. for the time period required by the law applicable at the time of the child’s birth. (For birth on or after November 14, 1986, a period of five years physical presence, two after the age of fourteen is required. For birth between December 24, 1952 and November 13, 1986, a period of ten years, five after the age of fourteen are required for physical presence in the U.S. to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child.
  3. Birth Abroad Out-of-Wedlock to a U.S. Citizen Father: A child born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen father may acquire U.S. citizenship under Section 301(g) INA, as made applicable by Section 309(a) INA provided:
    1. a blood relationship between the applicant and the father is established by clear and convincing evidence;
    2. the father had the nationality of the United States at the time of the applicant’s birth;
    3. the father (unless deceased) had agreed in writing to provide financial support for the person until the applicant reaches the age of 18 years, and
  4. while the person is under the age of 18 years —
    1. applicant is legitimated under the law of their residence or domicile,
    2. father acknowledges paternity of the person in writing under oath, or
    3. the paternity of the applicant is established by adjudication court.
  5. Birth Abroad Out-of-Wedlock to a U.S. Citizen Mother: A child born abroad out-of-wedlock to a U.S. citizen mother may acquire U.S. citizenship under Section 301(g) INA, as made applicable by Section 309(c) INA if the mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth, and if the mother had previously been physically present in the United States or one of its outlying possessions for a continuous period of one year.