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U.S. Citizenship for Children FAQ

  1. If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U.S. citizen?
  2. If I am a U.S. citizen, but my child does not meet the requirements, can I still apply for citizenship for my child?
  3. I am a U.S. Citizen, how do I immigrate an adopted or prospective adopted child or help my adopted child become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident?
  4. Who is an orphan?
  5. Who can file an orphan petition?
  6. How do I apply for orphan petition processing?
  7. How old can an orphan be and still be eligible under this program?
  8. What happens after the Form I-600 orphan petition is approved?
  9. Who can file an immediate relative petition on behalf of an adopted child?
  10. How can my adopted child become a U.S. citizen?

1. If I am a U.S. citizen, is my child a U.S. citizen?

A child who is born in the United States, or born abroad to a U.S. citizen(s) who lived in (or came to) the United States for the required period of time prior to the child's birth, is generally considered a U.S. citizen at birth

A child who is:

  • Born to a U.S. citizen who did not live in (or come to) the United States for the required period of time prior to the child's birth, or
  • Born to one U.S. citizen parent and one alien parent or two alien parents who naturalize after the child's birth, or
  • Adopted (stepchildren cannot derive or acquire citizenship through their stepparents) and is permanently residing in the United States can become a U.S. citizen by action of law on the date on which all of the following requirements have been met:
    • The child was lawfully admitted for permanent residence*; and
    • Either parent was a United States citizen by birth or naturalization**; and
    • The child was still under 18 years of age; and
    • The child was not married; and
    • The child was the parent's legitimate child or was legitimated by the parent before the child's 16th birthday (children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday do not derive United States citizenship through their father); and
    • If adopted, the child met the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and has had a full and final adoption; and
    • The child was residing in the United States in the legal custody of the U.S. citizen parent (this includes joint custody); and
    • The child was residing in the United States in the physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.

If you and your child meet all of these requirements, you may obtain a U.S. passport for the child as evidence of citizenship. If the child needs further evidence of citizenship, you may submit an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship" (Form N-600) to USCIS to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship. (NOTE: A child who meets these requirements before his or her 18th birthday may obtain a passport or Certificate of Citizenship at any time, even after he or she turns 18.)

* NOTE . Children who immigrated under the "IR-3" or "IR-4" categories must have had an immigrant petition filed on their behalf before their 16th birthday; see answers to Question 22. All adoptions for any other type of immigration benefit, including naturalization, must be completed by the child's 16th birthday, with one exception: A child adopted while under the age of 18 years by the same parents who adopted a natural sibling who met the usual requirements.

** NOTE . The "one U.S. citizen parent" rule applies only to children who first fulfilled the requirements for automatic citizenship (other than at birth abroad) on or after February 27, 2001. In order to qualify for automatic citizenship (other than at birth abroad) on or before February 26, 2001, both of the child's parents must have been United States citizens either at birth or through naturalization.both parents if the child had two parents; the surviving parent if a parent had died; the parent with legal custody if the parents were divorced or legally separated; or the mother only, if the child had been born out of wedlock and the child's paternity had not been established by legitimation.

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2. If I am a U.S. citizen, but my child does not meet the requirements listed above, can I still apply for citizenship for my child?

A child who is regularly residing in the United States can become a citizen of the United States only by meeting the requirements listed in the answer to Question 25. If a child regularly resides in the United States and is not a lawful permanent resident, he or she cannot acquire citizenship automatically until he or she is granted lawful permanent residence. If a child who has been lawfully admitted for permanent residence fails to qualify for citizenship under the provisions of law, he or she may apply for naturalization after reaching 18 years of age by filing Form N-400, provided that he or she has the required 5 years of lawful permanent residence.

U.S. citizens with children by birth or adoption (stepchildren do not qualify) who do not regularly reside in the United States, may apply for citizenship for such a child if all of the following conditions are met:

  • The child is under 18 years of age; and
  • The child is not married; and
  • The child regularly resides outside the United States; and
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission and is maintaining such lawful status; and
  • The child is in legal and physical custody of a parent who is a U.S. citizen; and
  • The child is the U.S. citizen's legitimate child, or was legitimated before the child's 16th birthday (children born out of wedlock who were not legitimated before their 16th birthday may be eligible for this procedure through his or her mother); and
  • If adopted, the child meets the requirements of section 101(b)(1)(E) or (F) of the INA and had a full and final adoption; and
  • Either of the following is true:
    • The citizen parent has lived at least 5 years in the United States, and at least 2 of which were after the citizen parent's 14th birthday; or
    • If the child's citizen parent has not lived in the United States for at least 5 years, 2 of which were after that parent's 14th birthday, the citizen parent currently has a parent (the child's grandparent) who:
      • Is also a U.S. citizen; and
      • Lived in the United States for 5 years, at least 2 of which were after the citizen grandparent's 14th birthday; and
      • Is living or deceased at the time of the adjudication of the application and the taking of the Oath.

If the foregoing conditions are met, the citizen parent can apply for citizenship and a Certificate of Citizenship on behalf of the child using an "Application for Citizenship and Issuance of a Certificate under Section 322" (Form N-600K). Both the citizen parent and the child must appear at an interview with a USCIS officer in the United States. The child must meet all of the required conditions at the time he or she takes the Oath.

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3. I am a U.S. Citizen, how do I immigrate an adopted or prospective adopted child or help my adopted child become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident?

There are two different ways to immigrate an adopted child from overseas, or an orphan who is ready to be adopted in the United States, as a legal permanent resident or to become a U.S. citizen.

The first way is through the orphan adoption program. This requires filing an I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, and I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative.

The second way is through immediate relative processing by filing an I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

The two methods of adoption are separate and cannot be combined.

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4. Who is an orphan?

To be considered an orphan under U.S. immigration law, a child must meet very specific conditions:

  • Be a foreign-born child without any parents because both parents have died or disappeared, abandoned or deserted the child, or because of separation from or loss of both parents; or
  • Be a foreign-born child with a sole or surviving parent who is unable to provide for the child's basic needs, consistent with local standards of the foreign sending country, and who has irrevocably released the child (in writing) for emigration and adoption.

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5. Who can file an orphan petition?

You must be a U.S. citizen and, if unmarried, be at least 25 years old prior to filing Form I-600. You may file Form I-600A at age 24. If you are married, you and your spouse must go through the immigration and adoption process together. You must meet the processing requirements, which are designed to protect the orphan. For example, each adult member (18 years of age) of your household will need to be fingerprinted, and USCIS will conduct background and criminal checks on all household members. A "home study" or home visit will also be required by a licensed adoption agency or a home study agency.

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6. How do I apply for orphan petition processing?

USCIS offers the following two options to apply:

  • Option 1: You have not yet identified a child for adoption, but want to start the process. Getting your home study completed, documents, background and criminal checks, and our review of your eligibility often takes the most time. Option 1 allows you to complete these steps early by using our two-step process below.
    1. Step one is to file FormI-600A. The I-600A focuses on your suitability as adoptive parent(s). Please note that USCIS cannot approve the application for advanced processing using I-600A until after the home study has been approved and forwarded to USCIS by the home study preparer. After an I-600A application for advanced processing is approved and you identify a child for adoption, you are ready to begin the next step.
    2. The second step is to file Form I-600. Form I-600 focuses on the child's situation and eligibility as an orphan. Once USCIS approves the I-600, they will notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate so they can issue the child a visa to come to the United States. If you plan on traveling abroad to identify an orphan to adopt, USCIS strongly recommends that you file your I-600A application for advanced processing and wait for it to be approved before you travel.
  • Option 2: You want to wait to start the process until after you have identified a child to adopt. While this is a one-step process, it means the procedures that often take the most time, such as the home study, background and criminal checks, and our review, must be done while the child waits overseas. Once USCIS approves the I-600, they will notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate so they can issue a visa for the child to come to the United States. If you plan on traveling abroad to find the orphan you wish to adopt, USCIS strongly recommends that you file an I-600A application for advanced processing and wait for it to be approved before you travel.

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7. How old can an orphan be and still be eligible under this program?

Adoptions that are not processed through the orphan program must be completed before the child is 16 years old in order for the child to obtain any benefits as a child under immigration law. If you adopt through the orphan program, the I-600 must be properly filed before the child turns 16 years old.

The only exception to this provision is if the child being adopted is the biological brother or sister of a child that you have already adopted. In this case, the sibling adoption must be completed before that child turns 18 years old.

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8. What happens after the Form I-600 orphan petition is approved?

After the I-600 is approved, USCIS will notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate so they can issue the proper visa for the child to enter the United States. After the I-600 is approved, you can travel overseas and complete the adoption there, or you can bring the orphan to the United States and complete the final adoption here. Regardless of whether or not you complete the adoption overseas, the U.S. Embassy or consulate will issue the child an immigrant visa, and the child will enter the United States as a permanent resident.

  • If you complete the final adoption before the child enters the United States, and you and your spouse have personally seen the orphan prior to or during the adoption proceedings abroad, then the child will automatically become a U.S. citizen when admitted with the immigrant visa. The child will be automatically processed to receive a Certificate of Citizenship instead of a Permanent Resident Card.
  • If you wait to complete the final adoption in the United States, the child will become a permanent resident when admitted with the immigrant visa. The child will automatically become a U.S. citizen as long as you finalize the adoption and apply for Certificate of Citizenship before the child turns 16 years old. After you finalize the adoption, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for your newly adopted child using Form N-600, Application for Certification of Citizenship.

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9. Who can file an immediate relative petition on behalf of an adopted child?

If you adopt a child, but did not go through the orphan adoption process, then the child is considered to be your child for immigration purposes when you meet the following requirements:

  • The adoption must be finalized before the child turns 16 years old (or 18 if you also adopted a biological sibling of the child before the sibling was 16 years old); and
  • The child must have lived with you for at least 2 years, either before or after adoption; and
  • The child must have been in your legal custody for at least 2 years, either before or after adoption.

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10. How can my adopted child become a U.S. citizen?

Once your adopted child qualifies as your child for immigration purposes, you can file an I-130 relative petition. Your adopted child will automatically become a U.S. citizen if the child becomes a permanent resident and the adoption is completed and a Form N-600 is filed before the child reaches 16 years of age. If your adopted child turns 18 years old before he or she becomes a permanent resident, then your child may apply for naturalization using Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, after being a permanent resident for 5 years.

When all of these requirements have been met, you can file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, for the child.

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