How Foreign-Born Adopted Children Get U.S. Citizenship

Learn about the two ways foreign-born adopted children can become U.S. citizens through their adoptive parents.

If you are a U.S. citizen who has adopted a child from another country, your child is eligible for U.S. citizenship. If you are residing in the United States with your child, U.S. citizenship can automatically be acquired once certain requirements are met. If you are residing abroad with your child and do not maintain a U.S. address, you will have to apply for naturalization for your child once certain requirements are met.

How Your Adopted Child May Automatically Acquire U.S. Citizenship 

If you are residing in the United States, your child will automatically acquire U.S. citizenship once two sets of criteria are met.

First, your child must satisfy the criteria set forth in the definition for an adopted “child” in the Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.). These criteria apply to all adopted children, including orphans. Second, your circumstances must satisfy the separate criteria set forth by the I.N.A. for automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship.

Definition of Adopted Child 

An adopted child for U.S. immigration purposes is one who satisfies all of the following requirements:

  • The child was legally adopted under the age of 16 years.
  • The child has been in the legal custody of the adoptive parents for at least two years; and
  • The child has resided in the physical custody of the adoptive parents for at least two years.

It is important to understand that you do not have legal custody of your child until you resume responsibility under the laws of the state and under the approval of a court of law or other appropriate government entity. This is true even if the child was residing with you before legal custody was granted.

Criteria for Automatic Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship

Once your child meets the definition of an adopted child, he or she automatically acquires U.S. citizenship once all of the following requirements are satisfied:

  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization.
  • The child is under 18 years of age; and
  • The child is lawfully admitted to the United States as a permanent resident and is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

Once your child has met all of the requirements for automatic acquisition of citizenship, he or she is a U.S. citizen and nothing else technically needs to be done. However, it is a good idea to secure a Certificate of Citizenship from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which will serve as evidence of your child’s citizenship.

See U.S. Citizenship for Children by Birth To Citizen Parents (Acquisition) for more detail and legal issues.

Securing a Certificate of Citizenship

Your child will automatically receive a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS if and when the following conditions are met:

  • The adoption is finalized outside the United States.
  • All the requirements for citizenship are met before the child’s admission; and
  • Both adoptive parents saw the child before or during the foreign adoption proceeding.

If these conditions have been met, your child will have been admitted to the United States in the IR-3 or IH-3 category and he or she should receive a Certificate of Citizenship within 45 days of admission. There are a few exceptions to this, which can be found here.

If your child is not eligible to automatically receive a Certificate of Citizenship, you can apply for one from USCIS. This application is filed on Form N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

Citizenship Through Naturalization

If you do not live in the United States but you want your adopted child to have U.S. citizenship, you can submit an application to have your child naturalized. This application is filed on Form N-600K Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322.

Know that this application will require you to travel to the United States with your child for an interview before a final decision can be issued.

Before you file the N-600K Application for Citizenship, you will need to satisfy two sets of regulatory criteria. The first is that the child must satisfy the definition of an adopted child as set forth by the I.N.A. See “Definition of Adopted Child,” above. The second set of criteria is set forth in Section 322 of the I.N.A. Section 322 provides several requirements, all of which must be satisfied before you can submit the N-600K Application for Citizenship. These are that:

  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen.
  • The U.S. citizen parent has been physically present in the United States or its outlying possessions for at least five years, at least two of which were after the age of 14. (If the parent can not satisfy this requirement, the child is still eligible for naturalization if he or she has a U.S. citizen grandparent who can satisfy this requirement.)
  • The adopted child is under 18 years of age.
  • The adopted child is residing in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent; and
  • The adopted child is temporarily present in the United States at the time of the interview pursuant to a lawful admission.

Generally the parent and child can be lawfully admitted as tourists if the only purpose of the trip is to participate in the interview.

When to Talk to an Immigration Attorney

If it is not clear that your child is eligible for U.S. citizenship, either by automatic acquisition or naturalization, it is a good idea to consult with an immigration attorney to find out what your options are. An immigration attorney can also assist you in preparing and filing the necessary paperwork for either process.

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