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Understanding Derivative Citizenship: Children of Naturalized U.S. Citizens

As individuals embark on the journey of naturalizing to U.S. citizenship, questions often arise regarding the citizenship status of their children. Here, we provide an overview of how children born outside of the United States may automatically derive U.S. citizenship when their parent or parents naturalize to U.S. citizenship.

Background: Naturalization and Age Requirements

To apply for naturalized U.S. citizenship, an individual must be 18 years or older. Consequently, minor children of lawful permanent residents residing in the United States typically do not qualify to file for naturalization alongside their parents. However, certain provisions exist for the automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship by these minor children upon their parent's naturalization, provided specific conditions are met.

Derivative Citizenship for Permanent Resident Children

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA) expanded laws regarding the automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship by minor children. Under the current law, children under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship if the following criteria are fulfilled:

  • The child holds U.S. lawful permanent resident status (green card).
  • At least one parent is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization.
  • The child resides in the United States under the legal and physical custody of a U.S. citizen parent.

Once these conditions are met, U.S. citizenship is conferred upon the child by operation of law, eliminating the need for a separate citizenship application. This provision applies to both biological and adopted children.

Example Scenarios

Consider the following scenarios to understand derivative citizenship:

Example One:

The Kumar family, consisting of parents and two young children, are lawful permanent residents in the United States. When the mother naturalizes to U.S. citizenship in May 2017, the two children automatically become U.S. citizens.

Example Two:

Mr. and Mrs. Smith, both U.S. citizens, adopt a baby girl from abroad who enters the United States as a lawful permanent resident in May 2017. The child automatically becomes a U.S. citizen upon admission, meeting the outlined requirements.

Recommendations: Documentation and Pre-CCA Cases

Although citizenship is automatically conferred, obtaining official documentation, such as a U.S. passport or certificate of citizenship, is advisable to avoid future complications. Additionally, for cases before the implementation of the CCA on February 27, 2001, different rules applied, requiring both parents to naturalize before the child's 18th birthday unless specific exceptions were met.


While derivative citizenship offers a streamlined path to U.S. citizenship for children of naturalized citizens, navigating the complexities of citizenship acquisition is crucial. For individuals with questions or concerns regarding their children's eligibility, seeking guidance from qualified immigration attorneys is recommended to ensure compliance with applicable laws and regulations.

At KPB Immigration Law Firm, we specialize in family-based immigration matters and are dedicated to assisting clients in understanding and navigating the intricacies of derivative citizenship. Contact us today for expert guidance on your citizenship journey and the citizenship status of your children