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Deriving U.S. citizenship automatically from a parent

As most people know, children born in the United States automatically become citizens at birth. Children who are born outside of the U.S. to U.S.-citizen parents and meet certain requirements can also become citizens of the United States at birth.

Additionally, it is possible for children to automatically become U.S. citizens after birth through a U.S. citizen parent, which is referred to as "derived" citizenship. For children who turned 18 years old on or after Feb. 27, 2001, the following conditions must be met to obtain citizenship through parents automatically after birth:

  • At least one of the child's parents is a citizen of the United States, either by birth or naturalization.
  • The child is unmarried and under the age of 18.
  • The child is residing in the United States and is in the legal and physical custody of the citizen parent.
  • The child is a permanent resident of the United States.

U.S. citizenship is derived from a naturalized parent of a permanent resident child who turned 18 before Feb. 18, 2011 if:

  • The child's other parent was or became a U.S. citizen before the child turned 18.
  • The child was born to unmarried parents and the parent naturalized was the mother.
  • The child's other parent was deceased.
  • The child's parents were divorced or separated and the parent being naturalized is the parent who got legal custody of the child in the divorce proceeding.

Here are a few examples of the rules in action:

If a child is a permanent resident and the child's parent or parents naturalize before the child reaches 18, the child gets automatic citizenship. The same would be true if the parents naturalized before the child was a permanent resident, so long as the child was still under 18. In that case, the child would become a U.S. citizen the same moment she becomes a permanent resident.

Children who are born to unmarried parents can only derive citizenship from a father only if the country the child is born is does not distinguish between legitimate and illegitimate births. Another way is if the child is legitimized before the age of 18. Any child can derive citizenship from the mother.

As you can see, the rules surrounding family immigration are complex and often confusing. For assistance navigating the U.S. immigration system, it is wise to contact an experienced immigration lawyer in your area.

Source: NY Daily News, "Obama immigration reform could benefit undocumented immigrants facing deportation," Allan Wernick, Jan. 16, 2013

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