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Derivation of U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization of a Parent

In addition to automatic acquisition of citizenship at birth in the United States, birth abroad to U.S. citizen parents, and naturalization by application, the United States also recognizes citizenship derived automatically through other means, which may be documented by a Certificate of Citizenship.

Current law is the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, codified at Section 322 of the Immigration & Nationality Act, and effective as of 02/27/2001.

A child born abroad who was not a U.S. citizen at birth automatically acquires U.S. citizenship whenever all of the following conditions are met, on or after 02/27/2001:
  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization; AND
  • The child is residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent; AND
  • The child has been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident; AND
  • The child is still under age 18 (and unmarried, which is part of the definition of "child").
This is not satisfied merely by filing an N-400 before the child reaches 18; it means a parent must complete the naturalization interview and oath ceremony to become a US citizen before the child's 18th birthday 
 
Before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, the only means of becoming a U.S. citizen other than at birth or by application for naturalization as an adult, was to derive citizenship through the naturalization of a parent. As with other paths to U.S. citizenship, the applicable law changed over time. However, many individuals covered under the previous sections of law, now repealed, will fall into the period between 12/24/1952 and 02/27/2001, although there are certain qualifying factors even within this time period. During this period, generally, the child derived U.S. citizenship if:

Under former INA §320:
  • One parent was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child's birth and remained a citizen thereafter, and the other parent was a foreign national who became a naturalized U.S. citizen before the child reached age 18;

  • AND

  • The child was lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident;
  • The child began to reside permanently in the U.S. with the parents before age 18; and
  • The child remained unmarried at the time the parent naturalized.
  • As of 10/05/1978, this provision also applied to an adopted child lawfully admitted to permanent residence and residing in the U.S. with an adoptive parent who naturalized before the child reached 18. A stepchild cannot derive U.S. citizenship.


Under former INA §321:
  • Both parents were foreign nationals who became naturalized U.S. citizens before the child reached age 18; or,
  • One parent was deceased and the other became a naturalized U.S. citizen before the child reached age 18; or,
  • The parents were divorced or legally separated and the sole parent having legal custody became a naturalized U.S. citizen before the child reached age 18; or
  • The child was born out of wedlock, not legitimated by the father abroad, and the mother became a naturalized U.S. citizen before the child reached age 18;

  • AND
  • The child was lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident;
  • The child began to reside in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the parent(s) who naturalized, before reaching age 18.
  • The child remained unmarried at the time the parent naturalized.


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Karin Wolman is admitted to the bar in the State of New York.
Her practice is limited to U.S. Immigration & Nationality law.

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