Child Citizenship, Derivative Citizenship or Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship at Birth

Some people can automatically derive or acquire citizenship and skip the formal naturalization process which is limited to permanent residents who are over 18 years old. If you meet the one of the following three criteria, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship immediately.

Birth in U.S. or its territories

Anyone who is born in the United States is a U.S. citizen, regardless of the citizenship of his parents and regardless of whether the parents are legally residing in the United States.  This is a right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  The right also extends to those who are born in U.S. territories.  In addition to the 50 states, these currently include: District of Columbia; Puerto Rico; the U.S. Virgin Islands; Guam; American Samoa; Swains Island; and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.  Certain people who were born in the Panama Canal Zone when it was under U.S. control also are included.  Additionally, people who were born in Alaska or Hawaii before they became states also are U.S. citizens by birth.

Automatic Acquisition of Citizenship

A child who is born outside the United States but who has one or both parents who are U.S. citizens may automatically be a citizen under certain circumstances. Normally, a child born abroad to two U.S. citizens is automatically a U.S. citizen. In this case, the parents will not need to meet any residency requirements. If only one parent is a U.S. citizen, then the parent will be subject to a residency requirement. The U.S. parent needs to prove he or she has resided in the United States for a certain period of time prior to leaving.  Because the law has changed so many times regarding this instance, the residency period the parent will need to prove will depend on when the child was born.  Periods of time in which the parent was residing in a U.S. territory or on a U.S. military base abroad count towards this “residence in the United States” period.  The requirements are slightly different for children who were born out of wedlock than those who were born in matrimony. Requirements for adopted children are also different.

Derivation of Citizenship

Children who are permanent residents and reside in the United States with their parents will automatically become U.S. citizens when their parents naturalize. They do not have to apply for naturalization.  The rules for derivative citizenship are slightly different depending on the age of the person because of a change in the law.

Anyone who turned 18 prior to June 13, 2001, the law required that both parents must naturalize before the child under age 18 would derive citizenship, unless the other parent was deceased or the child was living in the sole legal custody of the parent who has naturalized.  If the child was born out of wedlock, he or she would derive citizenship when the mother naturalized if the child was never legitimized by the father. In 2000, Congress passed the Child Citizenship Act, which allows a child to derive citizenship when only one parent naturalizes, instead of both parents.  The new law applies to anyone who turned 18 after the effective date of the law, June 13, 2001 and meet the other requirements of derivative citizenship.  These requirements are:

  • You must have become a lawful permanent resident before the age of 18
  • You must have been residing in the United States as a lawful permanent resident before the age of 18
  • Your parent or parents must have obtained citizenship by naturalization before you turned 18

If you are a U.S. citizen on the basis of either birth in the United States or territory, automatic acquisition of citizenship at birth, or derivative citizenship, you do not need to go through the naturalization process. If you think you qualify, call our office today to learn how you can bypass that process and immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.