There are several ways someone can become a U.S. citizen, including birth in the U.S. and naturalizing based on permanent residence in the U.S. (which involves submitting an application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)). However, you may also be a U.S. citizen if you meet a number of eligibility criteria for the time period in which your parents naturalized. This article provides information for people who may have “derived” citizenship from U.S. citizen parents who naturalized between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001. To learn more about the laws affecting other eras and read about a variety of U.S. citizenship and naturalization topics, see Nolo’s section, “How to Become a U.S. Citizen.”
Deriving U.S. Citizenship From Parents Naturalized Between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001
While you might think of a U.S. citizen as a person who was born on U.S. soil, there are other ways you may become a U.S. citizen. You can “derive” U.S. citizenship if you meet certain conditions when your parents naturalize.
U.S. law on derivation of citizenship has changed frequently throughout the years. You are a U.S. citizen if BOTH of your parents naturalized between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001 and at that time:
- you were unmarried and under 18 years old
- you were a permanent resident (“green card” holder) of the United States, and
- you were residing in the U.S. in the physical and legal custody of the naturalizing parents.
If ONLY ONE of your parents naturalized before your 18th birthday, you derived citizenship if one of the following situations applies to you:
- the non-naturalizing parent was a U.S. citizen on the day you were born and has never lost his or her citizenship
- the non-naturalizing parent was deceased on the day your other parent naturalized
- your parents were legally separated (for example, divorce or annulment) and the parent who naturalized has legal and physical custody of you, or
- your mother is the naturalizing parent, you were born out of wedlock, and your father never “legitimated” you. If you were legitimated, your father must have been a U.S. citizen when you were born, have naturalized before your 18th birthday, or be deceased when your mother naturalized.
If you were adopted by a parent who later naturalized, different rules apply to you.
The Changing Rules on “Legitimation” of Children
U.S. citizenship law has changed frequently throughout the years, and this includes its treatment of “illegitimate” children. You are considered “illegitimate” if you were born out of wedlock with no legally recognized father. An Illegitimate child may not acquire or derive U.S. citizenship based on a father’s naturalization. However, an illegitimate child with a mother who naturalized between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001 can derive U.S. citizenship from her alone – regardless of the status or nationality of the father.
Legitimation laws may differ depending on the country where you were born. Most countries require that, in order for a person to be “legitimated,” the father must have taken steps to recognize you as his child such as signing your birth certificate or a Statement of Paternity, “passing” a DNA test, paying child support, marrying your mother within a short time after you were born, or “holding himself out” as your father to friends and family.
In order for a legitimated child born outside of marriage to derive U.S. citizenship from parents:
- both parents must naturalize before the child’s 18th birthday
- your father must have been a U.S. citizen when you were born and continue to be a U.S. citizen, or
- your father must have been deceased when your mother naturalized.
I Derived U.S. Citizenship – But How Can I Prove It?
If you have determined that you derived U.S. citizenship from your parents, you will not need to apply for immigration benefits such as a renewal of your green card or naturalization. You are eligible for all of the benefits that U.S. citizens enjoy. However, in order to obtain proof of your nationality, you may want to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS. You can do this by submitting Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.