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Derivative Citizenship, Explained

Learn more about who qualifies for derivative citizenship and how to obtain citizenship proof

What Is Derivative Citizenship?

Derivative citizenship in the context of U.S. immigration refers to the process by which certain individuals automatically acquire U.S. citizenship as a result of a parent’s citizenship or immigration status. This typically applies to children (under the age of 18) of naturalized U.S. citizens. Derivative citizenship is acquired by operation of law, meaning it happens automatically rather than requiring a separate application process.

In this guide, we’ll cover which children are eligible for derivative citizenship, how to obtain the proper proof of citizenship, and more.

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Who Qualifies for Derivative Citizenship?

Under U.S. immigration law, children under the age of 18 are not able to apply for naturalization or be included on their parent’s naturalization application. Instead, children who meet certain requirements automatically gain U.S. citizenship when a parent naturalizes, through the “derivative citizenship” law. 

Children under the age of 18 automatically gain U.S. citizenship by law when the following three conditions are met:

  • The child holds U.S. lawful permanent resident status, commonly referred to as being a “green card” holder.
  • At least one of the child’s parents possesses U.S. citizenship either by birth or through naturalization.
  • The individual is currently living in the U.S. under the lawful guardianship of a U.S. citizen parent.

Adopted Children and Stepchildren

The derivative citizenship regulation applies to adopted children of U.S. citizens, as well as biological children. However, stepchildren are not able to derive citizenship from a stepmother or stepfather under this provision.​

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How to Obtain Your Citizenship Documents

Obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship

To prove derivative citizenship, individuals can obtain an official Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS. A Certificate of Citizenship serves as proof of citizenship and is typically granted to individuals who have acquired or derived their U.S. citizenship through birth, naturalization, or other means. You can learn more about how to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship, including how to file Form N-600, in Boundless’ guide.

Obtaining a U.S. Passport 

In order to obtain a U.S. passport, you must be able to prove U.S. citizenship. If a child obtains derivative citizenship and has a Certificate of Citizenship, this document alone can be used to satisfy the citizenship requirements for a U.S. passport.

If you do not have a Certificate of Citizenship, you must prove derivative citizenship by submitting additional documentation:

Proof of Child’s Relationship to U.S. Citizen Parent: For biological children of U.S. citizens, a certified copy of the child’s birth certificate can be used. For adopted children, parents must provide a certified copy of the final adoption decree.

Proof of Child’s Permanent Resident Status: The child’s green card, or other documents which prove the child has been lawfully residing in the U.S. under the legal custody of their parent, may be required.  

Proof of Child’s Age (Under 18): A birth certificate is typically sufficient to prove a child is under 18 and therefore eligible for derivative citizenship.

Boundless also has a detailed guide on how to apply for a U.S. passport after naturalization here.

Children of U.S. Citizens Born Abroad

A child born outside the United States to at least one U.S. citizen parent may also acquire U.S. citizenship if certain conditions are met. This process of acquiring U.S. citizenship for children outside the U.S. has its own requirements which are different from those for children living in the U.S. You can learn more about how to certify your child’s U.S. citizenship when they’re born abroad in Boundless’ detailed guide.

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