Derivative Citizenship: Children of Naturalized U.S. Citizens

Many MurthyDotCom readers will consider options for naturalizing to U.S. citizenship at some point in their immigration journeys. This often gives rise to questions regarding family members, including one’s children. This is a broad overview of how children born outside of the United States may derive U.S. citizenship automatically when their parent/s naturalize to U.S. citizenship.

Background: Naturalization Applicants Must be 18 or Older

In order for an individual to apply to become a naturalized U.S. citizen (USC), s/he must be age 18 or older. Thus, in the typical situation of a family living in the United States as lawful permanent residents, the minor children will not be eligible to file for naturalization with their parents. In many cases, these minor children do not need to request U.S. citizenship. Rather, it is automatically conferred when either parent naturalizes, if certain requirements are satisfied.

Permanent Resident Children

The laws regarding the derivative acquisition of U.S. citizenship by minor children were broadened by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA). This law became effective February 27, 2001, and remains effective as of this writing. Under current law, children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if three requirements are met.

  • The child must have U.S. lawful permanent resident status (“green card” holder).
  • At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization.
  • The child must be residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of a USC parent.

In this situation, once all three requirements are met, U.S. citizenship is automatically conferred upon the child/ren by operation of law without the need to file a specific application requesting U.S. citizenship. These provisions apply to one’s adopted child/ren as well as biological child/ren.

Example One

The Kumar family, consisting of parents and two young children, reside in the United States as permanent residents. In May 2017, the mother was sworn in for U.S. citizenship. The two young children were immediately U.S. citizens upon their mother’s naturalization.

Example Two

Mr. and Mrs. Smith were born in the United States and, thus, are U.S. citizens. They adopted a baby girl from abroad. The child was admitted into the United States in May 2017, as a lawful permanent resident. This child automatically became a U.S. citizen upon admission, as she then met the requirements outlined above.

Recommendations: Obtain Documentation

U.S. citizenship is automatically conferred in the situations described above, and, thus, it is not legally necessary to obtain documentation of the child’s U.S. citizenship. However, it is best to obtain official documentation of U.S. citizenship to avoid any possible future questions or complications. Typically, parents obtain a U.S. passport for their child, as this is needed for travel abroad. Additionally, it is possible to request a certificate of citizenship from the USCIS, using Form N-600.

Pre-Child Citizenship Act Cases: 18 Before 27.Feb.2001

As stated, the laws changed on February 27, 2001, thanks to the CCA. However, these laws do not apply retroactively. Any lawful permanent resident, who turned 18 prior to February 27, 2001, generally required both parents to naturalize prior to her/his 18th birthday, in order to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically.

There were three exceptions that permitted automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship based on the naturalization of only one parent. These were: (1) one parent is deceased and the surviving parent is naturalizing; or (2) the naturalizing parent has custody of the child in a legal separation or divorce; or (3) the child was born out of wedlock and the naturalizing parent is the mother.


There are complexities to the rules governing acquisition of citizenship by operation of law. The situations described here are only one way that an individual may become a U.S. citizen without filing an application. Those with other questions or concerns about the eligibility of their children under the CCA or in other situations should discuss these with qualified immigration attorneys.

Originally published 27.May.2011, this MurthyDotCom NewsBrief has been updated for our readers.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.