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When does an immigrant child obtain citizenship automatically?

Most people know that children who are born in the United States are automatically U.S. citizens. But what about children who immigrate to the United States? That's where things get a little more complex. Under U.S. immigration law, certain children obtain citizenship automatically when immigrating to the United States.

Whether a child immigrating to the United States obtains citizenship automatically depends first on when he or she reaches the age of 18. A certain set of rules apply to those who were not yet 18 as of Feb. 27, 2001 or were born after that date, and another set of rules applies to those who were 18 or older on that date.

The rules are more generous to those who were under 18 or not yet born by Feb. 27, 2001. Under the new set of rules for the younger generation of immigrants, only one parent needs to naturalize and permanent resident children of natural-born U.S. citizens qualify. These individuals obtain U.S. citizenship if all of the following conditions apply:

  • At least one parent is by birth or naturalization a U.S. citizen.
  • The child is unmarried and under the age of 18.
  • The child resides in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent.
  • The child is a permanent resident.

For a child who was already 18 on Feb. 27, 2001, he or she may only derive citizenship upon the naturalization of a parent if the following conditions apply:

  • The other parent was or became a U.S. citizen before the child turned 18.
  • The child was born illegitimate and the parent naturalized was the mother.
  • The child’s other parent was deceased.
  • The parents were divorced or separated and the parent being naturalized had legal custody of the child after the divorce or separation.

Because this is a very important and complex area of immigration law, it's important to discuss the specific details of your own case with an experienced immigration law attorney.

Source: NY Daily News, "Divorce will have no effect on son's citizenship," Allan Wernick, July 22, 2013

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