How Foreign-Born Children of American Citizens Can Prove or Obtain U.S. Nationality

Whether from an overseas consulate or the immigration authorities in the U.S., the child of a U.S. citizen should be able to obtain proof of acquired or derived U.S. citizenship.

By , Attorney University of Arizona College of Law
Updated 4/04/2024

If you are the child of a U.S. citizen who was born in another country, but you acquired or derived U.S. citizenship from a parent or parents, you'll want to obtain proof of that fact. Such proof will be needed in order to do things like apply for a U.S. passport or for a job with the federal government.

For you, it will be slightly harder than for U.S. citizens who were born in the United States. They can use a copy of their birth certificate to prove citizenship. Or, those who gained U.S. citizenship by applying and passing an exam after holding a green card will be able to present a naturalization certificate. (For general information on how the majority of American citizens handle this matter, see Obtaining Proof of U.S. Citizenship.)

But if you were born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents, it's not quite so simple. Still, there are ways you can apply for proof of U.S. citizenship. There is also a streamlined way to obtain U.S. citizenship if you were not eligible to acquire citizenship from your U.S. citizen parent(s) at the time of your birth or if your parent became a U.S. citizen after your birth but before your 18th birthday.

This article will explain the various ways U.S. citizens born abroad can prove their citizenship and how some minor children and adults can obtain U.S. citizenship if they were not eligible for "automatic" U.S. citizenship at birth.

How American Parents Can Obtain Proof of U.S. Citizenship for Children Born Abroad

If you and/or your child's other parent were U.S. citizens and had spent enough time within the U.S. to meet the applicable residency requirements by the time of your child's birth, you can apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) at your local U.S. embassy or consulate.

A CRBA can be issued only to children under the age of 18. A CRBA will serve a similar purpose for your child as a U.S. birth certificate, although it cannot be used for travel to the United States.

If your child is already in the U.S. and you did not obtain a CRBA overseas for them, you can either apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State or apply for a Certificate of Citizenship with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You will still need to show proof that you met the U.S. residency requirements necessary to transmit citizenship to your child at the time of your child's birth.

For more information, please read about Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.

How Adult Children Born Abroad to American Parents Can Prove U.S. Citizenship

What happens if you were born abroad, but you are now 18 years old or older and have a claim to U.S. citizenship since birth? The laws dictating which children can acquire U.S. citizenship automatically have changed frequently throughout the years, and your citizenship determination depends both on whether your parents were married and whether your mother, father, or both were U.S. citizens at the time of your birth. For more information, please see Acquiring or Deriving Citizenship Through Parents.

If you were eligible to acquire U.S. citizenship at birth, your parent or guardian might, ideally, have registered your birth with the Department of State or the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate and received a document that can be used to prove citizenship. These types of documents include:

  • FS-545, Certification of Birth (issued by the Department of State prior to November 1, 1990)
  • DS-1350, Certification of Report of Birth (issued by the Department of State prior to December 31, 2010), and
  • FS-240, Consular Report of Birth Abroad (currently issued by all U.S. embassies and consulates).

The Department of State no longer issues FS-545 or DS-1350 certifications, but those documents are still considered valid proof of U.S. citizenship and can be used to apply for a U.S. passport or to demonstrate work authorization. U.S. embassies and consulates now issue the more secure FS-240 certificate to U.S. citizens whose parents register their foreign birth.

If your parents received a Consular Report of Birth Abroad for you but it cannot be located, you can request a replacement from the Department of State.

Options If You are an Adult and Your Parents Did Not Register Your Birth

If you are 18 or over and believe you acquired citizenship at birth, you can either apply for a U.S. passport with the Department of State (which you can do overseas or in the U.S.) or apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

If you live abroad, USCIS recommends that you apply for a passport, as an interview in the U.S. might be required for a Certificate of Citizenship. The Certificate of Citizenship is also much more expensive than a passport. Still, some people prefer to get the Certificate of Citizenship, even if U.S. citizenship was acquired at birth. For advice on submitting this application, read Filling Out Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

How Children Under Age 18 Who Did Not Acquire Citizenship at Birth Can Become Citizens Through U.S. Citizen Parents

If your child did not acquire citizenship at birth because the U.S. citizen parent(s) did not meet the legal requirements regarding physical presence in the U.S. or because the parent(s) obtained U.S. citizenship after the child's birth, there other ways for the child to obtain U.S. citizenship.

One method is "derivative citizenship." This is called naturalization via Section 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. It allows a parent to fulfill the physical presence requirement either before OR AFTER the child's birth. The physical presence requirement must be completed by the parent before the child turns 18, the child must be in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, and the child must be physically present in the U.S. at the time of naturalization, after having been lawfully admitted to the country. In other words, the process can be started overseas but the child will likely need to travel to the U.S. to complete the process.

Once the parent has resided the required amount of time in the U.S., the child is eligible to naturalize, as long as all these requirements were met before the child's 18th birthday. By naturalizing this way, there's no need to meet the more stringent requirements that most non-citizens do before becoming eligible to naturalize. Either:

  • file Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, which can be filed online if you are living abroad, or
  • if the child is in the U.S. and meets all the requirements above, apply for a U.S. passport for the child.

If a U.S. citizen parent does not meet the physical presence requirements for derivative citizenship under INA Section 322 or to apply for a CRBA, the child might still be eligible to obtain citizenship under I.N.A. Section 320 if the child was admitted to the U.S. as the beneficiary of an immigrant visa before age 18, the parent was a U.S. citizen, and the child is in the U.S. in the physical and legal custody of the U.S citizen parent. All conditions must have been met prior to the time the child turned 18. To obtain proof of citizenship under this section of the law, you can either apply for a Certificate of Citizenship or a U.S. passport, as discussed above.

Filling Out Form N-600K

Form N-600K (downloadable for free from USCIS) is the application a U.S. citizen parent can use to claim citizenship for their child, if the child qualifies for § 322 naturalization. (If a child is residing in the United States as a permanent resident, the procedure is different, and the parent must instead file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship.

The following are tips to keep in mind when completing Form N-600K (referring to the 04/01/24 version):

  • Part 1 asks the applicant for the basis of the child's eligibility for a Certificate of Citizenship. For "A-Number," this would be the alien registration number on the child's green card (if the child has one).
  • Part 2 asks for basic biographical information about the child. Don't worry if the child doesn't already have a Social Security number or a USCIS Online Account Number; these answers can be left blank. Question 14 asks about how the child entered the United States and the child's current immigration status; you must leave this blank, for the U.S. government officer to complete at the interview; but if you have documents that will help answer these questions, be sure to bring them to the interview. Question 15 asks whether you have filed this before. Hopefully the answer is no, since you only get one chance (though an appeal is possible, or a motion to reopen or reconsider; you'd want a lawyer's help with this. If you filed for a U.S. passport and failed to gain approval, however, this is an acceptable second chance. Question 16 requests additional information for adopted children, including the dates of legal and physical custody. If the child is not a beneficiary of an approved I-600 Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, the parent must show two years of legal and physical custody of the child.
  • Part 3 asks for basic biographic information about the U.S. citizen parent (biological or adoptive), including how they obtained U.S. citizenship, their marital status, and more.
  • Part 4 does not need to be completed unless the physical presence requirement is being satisfied by the U.S. citizen grandparent.
  • In Part 5, the U.S. citizen parent must include information about their past physical presence in the United States, to satisfy the five-year requirement.
  • Part 6 does not need to be completed unless the U.S. citizen parent has died and a legal guardian is filing this application on behalf of the child.
  • Part 7 is where you'll advise U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) as to which of its U.S. field offices you'd like to attend the interview at, and when. Choose the timing carefully; you have to give USCIS at least 90 days after it receives the application to schedule the interview; but you also need to make sure it is scheduled for a date before the child's 18th birthday.
  • Part 8 must be signed by the child seeking U.S. citizenship. A parent or legal guardian can sign for a child who is under the age of 14.
  • Part 9 should be filled out if you used an interpreter to help understand the form; and the interpreter must sign here.
  • Part 10 will be filled out and signed by your lawyer, paralegal, or other preparer, if you use one.
  • Part 11 is for any leftover information you couldn't fit onto the main form.
  • Part 12 should be left blank, as it will be completed at the interview, to indicate that the applicants swears to tell the truth.
  • Part 13 should also be left blank, as it will be completed by the immigration officer upon making a decision on the application.

Submitting Form N-600K to USCIS

Once you're done with the form, you can submit it to USCIS either online or by mail. If sending by mail, here are some additional tips for preparing the package:

  • Arrange the supporting documents in the same order as requested in the N-600K instruction packet. Always include certified English translations of foreign-language documents and never submit original documents unless requested.
  • The filing fee must be paid by either a check, money order, or credit card (in which case you'll also need to include Form G-1450). Consult the USCIS website just before filing, as fees are subject to change.
  • Send the complete application package to the USCIS lockbox listed on the agency's website. Double check the address before filing, as filing locations sometimes change.

Progress of USCIS Action on Form N-600K

After you've filed the application, USCIS will issue an I-797 receipt notice. It will include your case number. This number must be referenced any time you make an inquiry about the case. You can use it to check the status of USCIS's progress on its website. (There's also an online way to check USCIS's normal processing time for a particular type of application.)

Once USCIS has reviewed the N-600K application, the child will be scheduled for an in-person interview. At that time, the child will have to show proof of lawful entry to the U.S., most likely a Form I-94 Arrival/Departure Record.

If all goes well, USCIS will then approve the child to receive a Certificate of Citizenship.

Getting Legal Help

An experienced attorney can assist with the task of confirming that a foreign-born child is a U.S. citizen by operation of law and figuring out the fastest way to obtain proof of that fact.

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