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Do Children Have to Go through the Naturalization Process?

Do Children Have to Go through the Naturalization Process
Do Children Have to Go through the Naturalization Process? Citizenship is a constitutional right in the United States, guaranteed by the 14th Amendment. Established in 1868, the 14th Amendment affirms that anyone born in the United States or naturalized by choice is a lawful United States citizen, regardless of one’s nationality or immigration status. The amendment further established equal rights and protections for all American citizens, regardless of birthright, nationality, or race. In certain circumstances, the right of citizenship extends to family members, including foreign-born children residing in or outside of the United States. Children whose parents have finalized naturalization, the completion of requirements to become a citizen, may also be eligible for citizenship. Laws regarding naturalization for children, automatic or otherwise, have changed over time and are typically determined based on which law was in effect during the year of the child’s birth.

Do My Children Qualify for United States Citizenship?

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 establishes that the biological and adopted children of American citizens born outside the United States are eligible for citizenship, provided they meet specific requirements before the age of 18. There are two classifications for minor children: citizenship through acquisition or derivation. Both are determined by the location of the child’s birth and the naturalization status of at least one parent at that time, but do have different requirements for eligibility.

Acquisition of Citizenship at Birth

If one or both biological parents are citizens of the United States and have a child born abroad, the child may automatically acquire citizenship without application. At present, acquisition of citizenship does not apply to foreign-born adopted children. For a child to qualify for automatic acquisition, the law dictates that prior to the child’s birth, the parent with American citizenship must have resided or been physically present in the United States for a specified number of years. Time periods vary, depending on which law is in effect the year the child is born.

Derivation of Citizenship

If one or both parents are lawful permanent residents of the United States and eligible for naturalization, children born abroad may be eligible to automatically derive citizenship once the parent becomes an American citizen. Adopted children, including legally adopted stepchildren, are also eligible for citizenship by derivation. Similar to acquisition, the requirements for citizenship through derivation are dependent on the law at the time of the child’s birth. There are, however, different requirements based on the child’s location, whether they are residing within or outside the United States at the time of application: Children residing in the United States. As of 2001, if your child was born in a foreign country but now lives in the United States, they may be eligible for citizenship if they meet all the following criteria:
  • At least one parent is an American citizen by birth or through naturalization. This clause extends to adoptive parents as well.
  • Child is a minor less than 18 years old.
  • The child currently holds lawful permanent resident status, also known as a green card.
  • The child lives with parents who have legal and physical custody of the child.
  Children residing outside the United States. If your child was born and currently lives in a foreign country, they may be eligible if they meet all the following criteria:
  • One or both parents is a United States citizen through birth or naturalization, including adoptive parents.
  • The American parent or grandparent has resided in the United States for at least five years.
  • Child is less than 18 years of age.
  • Child resides with the American parent who has legal and physical custody or, in the event of the parent’s death, a guardian who will not object to the citizenship application.
  • The child has migrated to, and is lawfully residing, in the United States when the application and naturalization are approved.
Children entering the United States for the purpose of adoption will automatically acquire citizenship when the adoption is legally finalized. The law applies to only those children whose adoption is finalized before 18 years of age and the above requirements are met. Adult children who are 18 years of age or older when a parent naturalizes can also become a citizen of the United States; however, the application and requirement process is different for adults. Depending on their marital status, older children living abroad must migrate to the United States on a family-based visa, under the responsibility of a sponsor citizen, and complete the naturalization requirements before petitioning for American citizenship.

Are There Any Exceptions that Could Affect My Child’s Citizenship?

There are caveats to the aforementioned child citizenship requirements, specifically the following:
  • Out of wedlock. The current law states that a child born abroad to an American father who is not married to the child’s mother does not automatically qualify for citizenship. The father is required to legally acknowledge the child as his own and demonstrate that he was physically present in the United States for at least 10 years before the child’s birth, five of which must be after the age of 14. The United States may still require marriage between the biological parents for the child to be considered for citizenship.
  • Stepchildren. Although a stepchild may be considered the child of a stepparent to obtain a visa, stepchildren are not eligible for naturalization or citizenship, as there is no biological relationship to one of the parents. However, citizenship may be granted if the non-biological parent legally adopts the stepchild and provides legal documentation as proof, and all other naturalization requirements are met.
Laws regarding citizenship for out-of-wedlock children and stepchildren change over time, and consulting a seasoned immigration lawyer is strongly recommended in situations of this type. Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC Help Families Obtain United States Citizenship for their Children The opportunity to become a lawful citizen is the right of all who enter the United States, and a birthright for many with at least one American parent. If you or your child has a claim for citizenship in the United States through naturalization, the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC are here to help you achieve that aspiration. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and nationwide.

Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers Advocate for Dreamers and Migrants Seeking Asylum in the United States

Thousands of foreign nationals seek refuge and hopes for a better life in the United States each year. The process can be long and arduous, but the experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyers at MC Law Group, LLC can help you every step of the way. Call us at 215-496-0690 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients throughout the tri-state area, including Pennsylvania, New Jersey and nationwide.
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