Delving Into Derivative Citizenship

Derivative citizenship is the term used to describe citizenship that is obtained by someone who is under the age of 18 whose parents naturalize. Obtaining citizenship in this manner is automatic. The requirements can vary depending on which year naturalization occurred. 

Derivative citizenship is distinguishable from acquisition of citizenship. Acquisition of citizenship occurs when the child of a U.S. citizen born abroad gains citizenship, whereas derivative citizenship occurs when a parent of a foreign national minor naturalizes. 

The regulations regarding derivative citizenship have altered significantly over the years. For example, the requirements in 1934 were significantly different from those in 1978. Determination of whether someone is eligible for derivative citizenship is based on the date of the last act. Currently, the Child Citizenship Act (CCA), which is included in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), governs law on the derivation of citizenship. 

The CCA went into effect on February 27, 2001. This law is in effect for children born or adopted today or at any time since February 28, 1983. The current law allows foreign-born, biological and adopted children of U.S. citizens to obtain U.S. citizenship when they enter the U.S. as lawful permanent residents. In order for a child to derive U.S. citizenship automatically, certain criteria must be met:

  • At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization;
  • For a child born out of wedlock, the mother must be the parent who is or becomes a citizen or the child must be legitimated by the citizen father before the child turns 16;
  • The child must be under 18;
  • The child must be unmarried;
  • The child must be a permanent resident;
  • The child must reside in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent; and,
  • Children adopted before the age of 16 and in the custody of the adopting parent for at least two years qualify. 

One noteworthy point to mention is that prior to 1983, the derivation of citizenship for adopted children did not exist. 

If you or your child meet the requirements for derivative citizenship, you can apply for an Application for Certificate of Citizenship. This document serves as proof of U.S. citizenship. Various other documents, such as proof of parent’s U.S. citizenship and proof of the child’s identity, must be included. The exact documents necessary will vary based on the case. It is also possible to apply directly to the Department of State for a passport. However, it is generally easier to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship which can then be used to help apply for a passport.

Our attorneys at Berardi Immigration Law are happy to assist you with any questions you may have regarding derivative citizenship!

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