Derivative Citizenship Guide: What It Is, Who Is Eligible, and How to Obtain It

Have you ever wondered if you might be eligible to become a U.S. citizen automatically because of a parent’s citizenship status? Derivative citizenship allows that. In the U.S. immigration system, derivative citizenship allows certain people to acquire American citizenship without the standard naturalization process. This is particularly relevant for children under 18 who have a U.S. citizen parent.

Imagine this: you were born outside the U.S. to a parent who later went through the naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen. Under derivative citizenship laws, you might automatically become a U.S. citizen, even if you haven’t lived in the U.S. your whole life. This is because citizenship through derivation is acquired “by operation of law,” meaning it happens automatically when you meet the qualifications.

It sounds straightforward, but there are specific requirements you need to meet. You might be curious about whether you qualify, what documents you’ll need to prove your eligibility, and the overall process involved. This guide provides the details so you can use it as a starting point for your journey.

So, let’s begin, shall we?

What Is a Derived U.S. Citizen?

A derived U.S. citizen automatically gains U.S. citizenship through a parent who is a naturalized U.S. citizen. This differs from someone born in the U.S. or who undergoes the standard naturalization process themselves. In other words, derived citizenship is a way to acquire U.S. citizenship based on a parent’s status rather than through birth or your own naturalization efforts.

Naturalized or Derived Citizen? What Is the Difference?

The key difference between a naturalized citizen and a derived citizen lies in how you acquire U.S. citizenship. Here’s a breakdown:

Feature Naturalized Citizen Derived Citizen
How citizenship is acquired
Through the application and naturalization process
Automatically based on American citizen parent
Residency, passing tests, demonstrating English language proficiency, oath of allegiance.
Specific criteria related to parent's citizenship
Immigrants going through naturalization
A child born abroad to an American citizen parent

IMPORTANT! Naturalized citizens take the initiative to acquire U.S. citizenship through a legal process. Derived citizens must meet specific criteria related to their U.S. citizen parent’s citizenship status and their age at the time of the parent’s naturalization (if applicable). Both types enjoy the same rights and benefits of U.S. citizenship, including the ability to vote, hold public office (with some exceptions), and travel freely with a U.S. passport.

Understanding Parental Citizenship in the Context of Derived Citizenship

Whether you’re a U.S. citizen often boils down to your parents’ citizenship status at the time of your birth. This is critical in determining the path you can take toward U.S. citizenship. Let’s explore the different scenarios:

Scenario 1: Double the American Citizenship

Suppose you have the good fortune of having both your parents as U.S. citizens! In this case, you automatically acquire U.S. citizenship yourself, regardless of where you were born. This is because the U.S. adheres to the jus soli (right of soil) doctrine for children born to U.S. citizen parents, even if the birth occurs outside the U.S.

Scenario 2: One U.S. Citizen Parent Opens the Door for You

Things get a bit more nuanced when only one parent holds U.S. citizenship. Here, you might still be eligible for U.S. citizenship through derivative citizenship. However, this hinges on whether your U.S. citizen parent meets specific requirements set by USCIS. These requirements typically involve your parent’s legal permanent resident status or their time physically residing in the U.S. before birth

Scenario 3: No U.S. Citizen Parents, But There's Still Hope

If neither of your parents is a U.S. citizen at birth, you wouldn’t qualify for derivative citizenship immediately. However, there’s still a chance to become a U.S. citizen. If your parents go through the naturalization process and become U.S. citizens, you might be eligible for derivative citizenship based on their acquired status.

IMPORTANT! Understanding your parents’ citizenship status at your birth is the first step in determining your potential path to U.S. citizenship. Using this knowledge, you can take the relevant path, understand USCIS requirements that apply to your situation, and identify the most suitable course of action.

Derivative Citizenship Eligibility Criteria: What Requirements Do You Have to Meet?

The path to U.S. citizenship can be complex, with different routes depending on your circumstances. However, certain children or adults can benefit from derivative citizenship. Let’s see what requirements and eligibility mean for you!

1. Age Makes a Difference: Understanding the Child Citizenship Act

The rules for derivative citizenship hinge on a child’s age and the date of birth. Here’s a breakdown to help you understand your situation better:

Children Born on or After 27 February, 2001

This is the most straightforward scenario. To qualify for derivative citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, you must meet three main requirements:

  • Hold a U.S. green card: You must be an American lawful permanent resident.
  • Have a U.S. citizen parent: At least one of your parents must be U.S. citizens by birth or through naturalization.
  • Live in the U.S. with a U.S. citizen parent: You must currently reside in the U.S. under the legal and physical custody of your U.S. citizen parent.

Children Born Between December 24, 1952 and February 26, 2001

The requirements here get a bit more complicated. The specific criteria depend on your birth date and whether your parents were married at the time. Generally, one parent needs to be a U.S. citizen with a certain amount of physical presence in the U.S. before your birth.

Children Born Before December 24, 1952

If you were born before this date, the regulations become more complex and vary based on factors like birth country and parents’ naturalization date. For these situations, it’s best to consult USCIS resources or an immigration lawyer to understand your requirements.

2. Legal Relationships: Biology and Derivative Citizenship

Derivative citizenship usually requires both a legal and biological connection to your U.S. citizen parent. This means you must be considered the legal offspring of the parent, either through birth or adoption.

IMPORTANT! Adopted children can also be eligible for derivative citizenship! If a U.S. citizen adopts a child and meets specific criteria (including age and residency requirements outlined by USCIS), the adopted child might automatically qualify to become a U.S. citizen.

While the law around derivative citizenship extends its benefits to adopted children, placing them on equal footing with biological children of U.S. citizens, you must know stepchildren aren’t included in this provision.

IMPORTANT! If you have a biological parent who is not a U.S. citizen and your other parent, a U.S. citizen, is your stepparent, you wouldn’t be eligible for derivative citizenship based solely on your stepparent’s status.

3. Adult Applicants and Derivative Citizenship Claims

Even if you’re over 18, there’s still a chance to claim U.S. citizenship based on a U.S. citizen parent at the time of your birth. However, the process differs from that for children under 18. Here are the three essential requirements you’ll need to meet:

1. Transmission

Your U.S. citizen parent must have had enough physical presence in the U.S. to transmit citizenship at the time of your birth. The specific requirements depend on your birth date and your parents’ marital status at the time.

2. Legitimation

Children born out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen father must meet specific legal requirements for legitimation as defined by USCIS. The concept of legitimation can be a bit confusing. Still, it is vital to determine whether you qualify for derivation citizenship. Here’s a breakdown of eligibility requirements:

Automatic Legitimation for Children of U.S. Citizen Mothers

If you were born to a U.S. citizen mother and a non-U.S. citizen father, you’re automatically considered legitimate in the eyes of the law for derivative citizenship purposes. This means you don’t need to worry about any additional steps regarding legitimation.

Legitimation Requirements for Children of U.S. Citizen Fathers

Things get trickier if you were born out of wedlock and your father was a U.S. citizen while your mother was not. In this scenario, you’ll need to meet specific legitimation requirements set by USCIS to qualify for derivative citizenship.

There are two main ways to establish legitimation:

  • Before you turn 18, your U.S. citizen father must have acknowledged his paternity in writing under oath. Consider any sworn statement or other legal document. Additionally, your father (unless deceased before your 18th birthday) would have needed to agree in writing and under oath to provide financial support for you until you reached adulthood (18 years old).
  • The other way to establish legitimation is through a court order. If a competent court decision established your paternity before you turned 18, that can also fulfill the legitimation requirement.

IMPORTANT! In some situations, if you’re applying for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad alongside your derivative citizenship application, your U.S. citizen father can complete a form called the “Affidavit of Parentage, Physical Presence, and Support” to satisfy both the paternity acknowledgment and financial support requirements. This form simplifies the process by combining these aspects into one document.

3. Filiation

Regardless of your birth circumstances, you must establish a biological and legal relationship with the U.S. citizen parent you’re claiming citizenship.

How to Apply for Derivative Citizenship as a Child under 18: A Step-by-step Guide

If you qualify for American citizenship through derivation, you must prepare for what comes next: obtaining citizenship through parents before 18. So, let’s take one step at a time and learn what you must know and do.

Step 1: Assemble the Required Documents

Obtaining the proper documents is crucial for your derivative citizenship application. Here’s a table outlining the key documents you’ll likely need, along with explanations

Document Explanation
Birth certificate (certified copy)
This is the primary proof of your relationship to the U.S. citizen parent. Ensure it's a certified copy.
Parent(s)' proof of U.S. citizenship
A U.S. birth certificate or a naturalization certificate for your U.S. citizen parent(s).
Proof of your permanent resident status
This could be your green card or other documentation showing you've legally resided in the U.S. under your parent's custody.
Final adoption decree (if applicable)
If you were adopted, you'd need a certified copy of the final adoption decree to establish your legal relationship with the U.S. citizen parent.
Proof of physical presence or residence (for both you and your parent(s))
Documents like school records, tax returns, or utility bills can help establish that you and your parent(s) resided in the U.S.
Proof of identity (for you and your parent(s))
This could be a driver's license, state ID, or passport for both you and your parent(s).
Two passport-style photos of you
Make sure these photos meet U.S. passport photo specifications.
Certified translations (if applicable)
If any documents are in a foreign language, you'll need certified translations into English.

Step 2: Complete and File Form N-600 (if applicable)

Children who derive U.S. citizenship after birth must file Form N-600 with USCIS to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship. This form gathers information about you and your parent(s) to determine your eligibility for derivative citizenship.

Step 3: Attend USCIS Interview (if applicable)

After submitting Form N-600, a USCIS officer might schedule an interview to verify your eligibility, review your documents, and request further evidence.

Step 4: Receive the Certificate of Citizenship (if applicable)

If your application is approved, you’ll receive a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS by mail. This document is your official American citizenship proof, so don’t lose it!

How to Apply for Derivative Citizenship as an Adult over 18

The application process for adults who claim U.S. citizenship based on a U.S. citizen parent at birth (through Consular Report of Birth Abroad) differs from those outlined above for children under 18. Here’s what you need to know and do regarding documentation and application:

Step 1: Assemble Documents Proving Your Identity and Parental Relationship

This initial step focuses on establishing your identity and the legal relationship between you and your U.S. citizen parent. Here’s what you’ll need:

Document Explanation
Two passport-style photos
Ensure they meet the U.S. passport photo specifications (typically 2x2 inches, white background).
Present your valid passport if you have one. Otherwise, bring two other forms of government-issued photo identification (e.g., driver's license, state ID). Remember to bring the originals and a photocopy of each.
Original birth certificate and photocopy
You'll need the original birth certificate issued by your birth country's government. Provide a photocopy as well.
Evidence of your American parent's citizenship
It could be your parent's current or expired U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, or other documents proving their U.S. citizenship. Bring originals, if possible, along with photocopies of each document.
Your parents' marriage certificate (if applicable)
If your parents were married when you were born, include the original marriage certificate and a photocopy.
Evidence of legitimation (if applicable)
If your parents weren't married at the time of your birth, you'll need to demonstrate you were "legitimated" according to USCIS requirements.

Step 2: Compile Documents Demonstrating Your U.S. Citizen Parent's Physical Presence

At this stage, you must gather evidence that your U.S. citizen parent resided in America for a specific period before birth. Documents like school transcripts, tax returns, utility bills, or military service records (DD-214) can help establish this physical presence.

Step 3: Gather Optional Supporting Documentation (if applicable)

While not mandatory, these documents can strengthen your application:

  • Photographs of you at different ages: They can illustrate your physical development. If you can, include pictures with your U.S. citizen parent.
  • Evidence of the couple’s relationship before your conception: Documents like pre-conception photos, letters, or other correspondence can strengthen your claim to a blood relationship with the American parent. Genetic testing, conducted according to U.S. Department of State procedures, can also be helpful if no other proof is available. However, don’t initiate DNA testing unless specifically requested by the authorities.

Step 4: Prepare for the Derivative Citizenship Application Process and Fee

Once you’ve assembled the documents, you should hire a U.S. immigration service provider or law firm to obtain personalized guidance, given the complexities involved in adult derivative citizenship applications. 

Once you’ve assembled all the documents for your derivative citizenship application, the next step depends on where you are located:

If You Are Currently in The United States

You’ll likely file Form N-600 with USCIS. They will review your application and documents, schedule an interview if needed, and ultimately decide whether to approve your derivative citizenship.

If You Are Outside the United States

You might apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad at a U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where you live. This process is typically used for children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents before they turn 18. However, some embassies or consulates may allow adults applying for derivative citizenship to submit a CRBA application, especially if you were born abroad.

Step 5: Get Your U.S. Passport After the Derivative Citizenship Application is Approved

If your application is approved, you’ll receive a Certificate of Citizenship, official proof of your U.S. citizenship.

Once you have it, you can then apply for a U.S. passport using Form DS-11. The document gathers your information and is your official request for a U.S. passport. Obtaining a passport allows you to travel internationally as a U.S. citizen.

You must complete the DS-11 form electronically on the U.S. Department of State website. Filling it out by hand is not accepted.

You shouldn’t sign the DS-11 application until a consular officer instructs you during your appointment to prevent errors and ensure the form is filled out correctly. Don’t forget to have the passport application fee in cash to pay during this appointment. The fee is usually $130, but check with the U.S. consulate/embassy in your country (if you are outside the U.S.) to ensure you have the correct tax for your passport.

Can a Derivative Citizenship Application Be Denied?

Unfortunately, a derivative citizenship application can be denied by USCIS or the embassy/consulate processing your CRBA. While USCIS doesn’t publicly disclose denial rates specifically for derivative citizenship applications, it’s important to know why this might happen and what steps you can take if it happens to you.

Here are some common reasons for denial and what you need to do to prevent them:

  • Ensure your application is meticulously filled out and includes all the necessary documentation. USCIS or the embassy might deny your application if they find missing or incorrect information.
  • Double-check the requirements for derivative citizenship. You might not meet specific criteria, such as the physical presence requirement of your U.S. citizen parent, leading to denial. 
  • USCIS or the embassy might find inconsistencies or problems with your documents (e.g., forged documents, discrepancies in birthdates), which usually leads to denials. 
  • In rare cases, your application could be denied if there are security-related questions about you or your U.S. citizen parent.

What to Do If Your Application Is Denied

Sometimes, USCIS might issue a Request for Evidence instead of outright denial. This means they need additional information or clarification on your application. Respond promptly and thoroughly to the RFE to increase your chances of approval.

In citizenship through derivation denial cases, you can appeal the decision within a specific timeframe (usually 30 days). An attorney can assist you through the appeals process and filing the necessary paperwork.

What Are the Benefits of Derivative Citizenship?

Derivative citizenship offers various rights and benefits, placing you on equal footing with natural-born or naturalized U.S. citizens. Let’s see the advantages you’ll gain:

Participation in U.S. Democracy

  • You’ll have the right to vote in federal, state, and local elections, allowing you to have a say in who represents you and shapes the country’s future.
  • The path to public service opens up. You’ll be eligible to run for elected office (excluding the presidency and vice presidency), allowing you to contribute directly to your community. 

Civic Engagement and Employment

  • You’ll become eligible for jury duty, playing a vital role in the U.S. justice system.
  • You’ll be eligible to apply for federal government jobs and receive benefits associated with such positions.

Travel and Global Mobility

  • Your U.S. passport grants you the freedom to travel internationally with ease. Many countries offer visa-free entry to U.S. passport holders, expanding your travel horizons.

Family Reunification

Security and Stability

  • Derivative citizenship safeguards you from deportation threats. You’ll have the peace of mind of knowing your U.S. citizenship status is secure.
  • The chances of losing your citizenship through denaturalization become very slim.

Long-Term Benefits for Children Born to Derivative Citizens

Derivative citizenship extends its advantages to future generations. Children born to U.S. citizen parents who acquired citizenship through derivation will automatically be considered natural-born American citizens. There are the benefits and rights they will enjoy:

  • They’ll have the opportunity to pursue education in the U.S. public school system and potentially qualify for financial aid programs for higher education.
  • Their U.S. passport and citizenship status can open doors to more employment opportunities and career advancement.
  • They’ll be free to live and work anywhere within the United States without restrictions.
  • The U.S. passport they inherit will grant them visa-free travel to many countries.
  • They’ll inherit the same security and stability that comes with U.S. citizenship.

Do You Need Help Getting Your American Citizenship through Derivation?

Getting derivative citizenship can be a complex journey, especially for adults applying after the age 18. The process gets even more intricate if you reside outside the United States. Understanding the specific requirements, gathering necessary documents, and following the appropriate procedures are usually overwhelming. However, ImmigrationDirect has extensive experience guiding people like you through derivative citizenship applications. We can help complete your application and file it correctly, maximizing your chances of success. Contact us today for a consultation, and let our expertise help you claim your rightful place as a U.S. citizen!

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