A child can, under certain circumstances, derive U.S. citizenship
automatically through the naturalization of a parent. The exact terms of
this depend upon the laws in place when certain key events occured. In
most cases, you need to have already held U.S. lawful permanent
residence (a green card) in order to derive U.S. citizenship.
Don't confuse this with the other method of gaining automatic citizenship even if born outside the U.S., described in "U.S. Citizenship for Children by Birth To Citizen Parents (Acquisition)".
Overview of Relevant Laws
Here's a brief summary of the various laws that have applied over
the years (contact an immigration attorney for details and exceptions):
- Parents naturalized before May 24, 1934: You derive
citizenship if either parent naturalized prior to your 21st birthday
and you held a green card at the time. You must have been a biological
child, not adopted or a stepchild.
- Parents naturalized between May 24, 1934 and January 12, 1941:
You derive citizenship if both your parents naturalized prior to your
21st birthday and you had a green card at the time. If only one parent
naturalized before you turned 21, you derived U.S. citizenship if you
already had a green card for five years at that time.
- Parents naturalized between January 13, 1941 and December 23, 1952: You
derive citizenship if you held a green card and both parents
naturalized before your 18th birthday; or one parent naturalized but the
other parent was dead, or your parents were legally separated and the
parent with legal custody of you naturalized.
- Parents naturalized between December 24, 1952 and October 4, 1978: You
derive citizenship if you were unmarried, received a green card before
your 16th birthday, and both parents naturalized. Or, if only one parent
naturalized, you can derive citizenship if the other parent was dead,
or your parents were legally separated and the parent with legal custody
of you naturalized. You must have been a biological child, not adopted
or a stepchild.
- Parents naturalized between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001: You
derive citizenship if one of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you
were born, never ceased to be a citizen, and the other parent was
naturalized before your 18th birthday; or the naturalization of both
parents occurred before your 18th birthday; and you were unmarried and
held a green card at the time.
- Parents born in U.S. or naturalized between February 27, 2001 and the present: You
derive citizenship if one of your parents was born in the U.S. or if
one of your parents naturalized prior to your 18th birthday and while
you were living in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of that
parent, provided you already had a green card (lawful permanent
residence). Both biological and adopted children qualify under this law.
This allows some children to become U.S. citizens the minute they
receive a green card through a U.S. citizen parent.
Applying for Proof of U.S. Citizenship
Although derivation of citizenship is automatic, you'll probably want
to have some proof of the person's new status as a U.S. citizen. To
apply for such proof, the child or the naturalized parent will need to
fill in USCIS Application for Certificate of Citizenship or Form N-600,
along with various documents. Instructions can be found on the N-600
page of the USCIS website, or you may wish to hire an attorney to help.
The child can also apply to the U.S. State Department for a U.S.