Acquisition or Derivation of Citizenship for Adopted Children

Adopted children can acquire or derive U.S. citizenship from parents in similar ways to biological children -- but additional rules apply.

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The rules for getting U.S. citizenship from your parents are tricky and vary depending on when you were born or when your parents naturalized. The laws affecting adopted children have also changed frequently throughout the years. In this article, you will learn more about which adopted children may acquire or derive automatic U.S. citizenship from their parents.

For general information applicable to all children, see Nolo’s section “Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.”

How Children May Acquire U.S. Citizenship From Adoptive Parents

The U.S. Child Citizenship Act of 2000 made some great strides in providing U.S. citizenship rights for children who meet the immigration laws' definition of an adopted child. Adopted children who were under 18 years old (or not born yet) on February 27, 2001 can acquire citizenship from their U.S. parents as long as they meet certain requirements. In order to acquire citizenship, the child must:

  • have at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • be under 18 years old
  • reside permanently in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, and
  • be a lawful permanent resident of the United States.

If the adoption was finalized abroad, the child will be issued an IR-3 visa and will get U.S. citizenship on the day he or she enters the United States. If it was not finalized abroad, the child will be issued an IR-4 visa, which requires “readoption” once the child arrives in the United States. On the date of readoption, the child will become a U.S. citizen.

As of January 20, 2004, internationally adopted children entering the U.S. on an IR-3 visa will receive a Certificate of Citizenship within 45 days of entering the United States. Otherwise, you must apply for a certificate of citizenship from U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services (USCIS). For instructions, read “Filling Out Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.”

Keep in mind that the Child Citizenship Act is not retroactive, so if you were born abroad and adopted by an American parent and were 18 years old or older on February 27, 2001, your parents must have applied to naturalize you before you turned 18 or you must apply for U.S. citizenship on your own if they did not do this. To learn more about applying for naturalization, see “Application Process for U.S. Citizenship Through Naturalization.”

Some Adopted Children May “Derive” U.S. Citizenship

What happens if one or both of your parents were not yet U.S. citizens when you were adopted? Some adopted children may have automatically derived U.S. citizenship on the date that their parents naturalized, which means that they will not have to apply for U.S. citizenship on their own.

The laws on who may derive citizenship have changed frequently -– especially with regard to whether adopted children can take advantage of this benefit. Keep reading to learn whether you may have derived U.S. citizenship based on the laws in effect at the time your parent (or parents) naturalized.

Adopted Children Cannot Derive U.S. Citizenship If Parents Naturalized Before October 5, 1978

Unfortunately, if your parents naturalized before October 5, 1978, you did not derive U.S. citizenship because adopted children were not eligible under the laws that apply to that time period. However, if you meet the eligibility requirements for naturalization, you may apply for U.S. citizenship. Please see Nolo’s section, “How to Become a U.S. Citizen” to learn more.

Derivation of Citizenship for Adopted Children If Parents Naturalized Between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001

You may have derived U.S. citizenship if one parent naturalized before you turned 18 years old and your other parent was already a U.S. citizen on the date you were born (and never lost that citizenship) or both of your parents naturalized prior to your 18th birthday. In addition, you must have met a number of eligibility requirements at the time your parent(s) naturalized:

  • you were unmarried
  • you had your permanent residence (green card) at the time
  • you were living in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of your adoptive parent(s), and
  • if you were born before December 29, 1981 or after November 14, 1986, you were adopted prior to your 16th birthday. Otherwise you must have been adopted before you turned 18 years old.

For more information on derivation of U.S. citizenship for this time period, see “Deriving Citizenship Through Parents (Naturalized Between 10/05/1978 and 02/26/2001).”

Derivation of Citizenship for Adopted Children If Parents Naturalized Between February 27, 2001 and the Present

You derived U.S. citizenship if one of your parents was born in the U.S. or one of your parents naturalized prior to your 18th birthday and you:

  • were unmarried
  • had your green card on the date your parent naturalized
  • were then living in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of your adoptive parent, and
  • were adopted before you turned 18 years old.

To learn more about this, see “Deriving Citizenship Through Parents If You Turn 18 on or After February 27, 2001.”

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