N-600 Certificate of Citizenship for U.S. Citizens Born Abroad05 Mar 2018
Certain classes of U.S. citizens who were not born in the United States are eligible to file an application for certificate of citizenship (form N-600). While this certificate does not directly grant an immigration benefit, it does provide a certificate that evidences the date the person became a U.S. citizen. There is no requirement that an eligible U.S. citizen needs to obtain this certificate, but it can be useful in a number of situations.
U.S. Citizenship for Those Born Abroad
With rare exceptions, any person who is born in the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen (USC) at birth. Anyone not born in the U.S., in order to become a USC, typically must file an application for naturalization (form N-400) after meeting a number of eligibility criteria, including living in the country as a lawful permanent resident (“LPR” or “green card” holder) for at least five years (or three years, if married to a USC).
Not everyone who is born outside the U.S. is required to file an N-400 application to become a U.S. citizen, however. There are circumstances in which a person born abroad automatically acquires or derives U.S. citizenship – either at birth or later, based on the naturalization of a parent – without having to file any type of application. In some instances, these people may not even realize that they are U.S. citizens, or may discover this fact years after the citizenship was bestowed upon them.
Automatic Acquisition of U.S. Citizenship at Birth for Children Born Abroad
A child who is born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent may automatically acquire U.S. citizenship at birth if certain criteria are met. The rules for this have changed over the years, but the law as it currently stands generally grants citizenship to the child if:
1) both parents are U.S. citizens, and at least one parent physically resided in the U.S. for any period of time.
2) one parent is a U.S. citizen and the other is a foreign national, and the USC parent physically resided in the U.S. for at least 5 years (2 years after the age of 14), prior to the child’s birth.
Note that there are special rules that apply when one parent is a U.S. citizen, and the other parent is not a USC, but is a U.S. national. These rules go beyond the scope of this article.
Derivative Citizenship Through Naturalization of Parent
A child, unmarried and under the age of 18, who is living in the United States as an LPR, automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon the naturalization of either parent, assuming the child is in the legal and physical custody of the naturalized parent. This occurs without a separate application for the child, and also applies to a stepchild (as long as the marriage between the biological parent and stepparent existed before the child’s 16th birthday).
If the child is not in the U.S. at the time the parent naturalizes, the minor will derive citizenship automatically upon entering the U.S. as an LPR, as long as this occurs prior to the child reaching the age of 18, and the child is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
N-600 Certificate of Citizenship is Not Required, But Can Be Helpful
A person who was born in the United States typically can present a birth certificate as proof of U.S. citizenship. A certificate of naturalization is issued to anyone who obtains U.S. citizenship based on having filed an N-400 application. But, for a U.S. citizen born abroad who acquires U.S. citizenship at birth, or derives U.S. citizenship through the naturalization of a parent, no form or document is automatically generated to prove citizenship. Filing an N-600 in these cases can provide an added sense of security. A certificate of citizenship can be especially helpful when applying for certain benefits, such as a U.S. passport, a driver’s license, or social security benefits.
Having a certificate of citizenship can be useful to those who otherwise may have difficulty proving U.S. citizenship. Even if the individual already has a U.S. passport, which generally is viewed as conclusive proof of U.S. citizenship, there are occasions when also obtaining a certificate of citizenship is recommended. In today’s environment, where suspicions regarding immigration status appear to be ever-present, eligible U.S. citizens may wish to consider filing the N-600 application.
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