What is a “Derived Citizen”?

Updated on April 4, 2024

At a Glance

  • Derived citizens acquire their citizenship through their parents’ naturalization.
  • If at least one parent is a U.S. citizen (by birth or naturalization), children under 18 can obtain citizenship through them, regardless of whether the child is born inside or outside the U.S.
  • The process of derived citizenship is distinct from naturalization, where an individual applies for citizenship themselves.
  • The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 expanded eligibility for derived citizenship, including provisions for adopted children. Proof of U.S. citizenship can be established through documents such as a birth certificate, passport, citizenship certificate, or naturalization certificate.

Citizenship is obtained in multiple ways. You either become so if you are born on the grounds of the United States or if one (or both) your parents were citizens at that point. For a child to become a citizen after birth, they will have to apply for naturalization – or if the case asks for it, go for derived citizenship.

What Is a Derived Citizen?

Derived citizens are those who obtain their citizenship upon their parents’ naturalization, as opposed to those who file for their own naturalization. Derived citizenship states that if you have at least one parent with U.S. citizenship (naturalized or born), then as a child under 18 years of age, you may also obtain your citizenship through them.

Derived citizenship may be given inside or outside the U.S. For instance, even if the child is born abroad, the child may receive their citizenship through the U.S embassy. The legal parent will need to bring proof of citizenship and proof of permanent residence within the U.S.

Difference between a Derived Citizen and a Naturalized Citizen

Many people use the words “citizenship” and “naturalization” interchangeably – but what they do not know is that they mean two different things. Naturalized citizens and derived citizens are as different as day and night, which is why one should use the terms in the right circumstance.

The process of naturalization occurs when a non-citizen becomes a citizen of the United States. This process takes time, and the applicant will have to meet certain requirements – proving therefore that they are worthy of being citizens of the United States. They’ll have to be on a visa for a couple of years, set roots – and overall, prove that they wish to remain in the United States for the rest of their life.

That being said, while derivative citizenship does have certain requirements, you do not have to put in too much effort to get this kind of citizenship. Instead, your close ones will be the ones pulling the strings – namely, your parents. As its name suggests, this kind of citizenship is “derived” from someone that has custody over you.

For example, if you are born on U.S. grounds and your parents have been naturalized, then you will also be given U.S. citizenship. Similarly, if you are a child under 18 years old that is a lawful citizen, then once your parents get naturalized, you will also become a citizen.

That citizenship will remain with you throughout your entire life and will remain with you for as long as your parents remain citizens. In the rare event that your parents have their citizenship revoked, you may be able to apply for your own U.S. citizenship.

To put it simply, naturalization occurs through your own paperwork and hard work, whereas derivation just happens when your parents or guardians become naturalized citizens.

Derivation of Citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act

Before the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 took roots, the only way for you to become a citizen of the U.S. was if you applied for citizenship as an adult. Therefore, even if you spent your entire childhood in the United States, you would only be able to become a citizen once you turned 18 years old.

Now, you may get derived citizenship through two sections of the Child Citizenship Act:

Derived Citizen under INA 320

Under INA 320, certain requirements would allow the child to become a citizen of the U.S. Here are the most important points:

  • One parent was a citizen of the United States by the time the child was born and also remained a citizen after that. The other parent is a foreign national that got naturalized before the child turned 18 years of age.
  • The child has been permitted to lawfully remain in the U.S. as a permanent resident.
  • The child started to permanently reside with their parents in the U.S. before they turned 18 years old.
  • The child was not yet married by the time their parents received their naturalization.

As of October 5, 1978, this provision also began applying to adopted children that were lawfully permitted to remain in the United States.

Derived Citizen under INA 321

Under the INA 321, certain clauses would permit the child to become a derived citizen of the United States. Whether they fall under this clause of the INA 320 or not, it will depend mostly on how they were born, along with the status of their parents:

  • Both of the parents were foreign nationals that received their naturalization before the child turned 18 years old.
  • One of the parents died, and the other became a naturalized citizen of the U.S. before the child turned 18 years of age.
  • The parents went through a divorce, and the parent holding legal custody of the child obtained their citizenship before they turned 18 years old.
  • The child was not born during wedlock and is therefore not legitimated by their father abroad. The mother then obtained her U.S. naturalization before her child came of age.
  • The child has been lawfully admitted as a permanent resident of the United States.
  • The child started to live in the United States in legal custody of their parents before they reached 18 years of age.
  • The child was not married by the time the parent received their naturalization.

Once these terms are met, the child should be able to receive derivative citizenship.

Adopted Children and Derivation of U.S. Citizenship

The U.S. Child Citizenship act of 2000 also made some great steps in offering citizenship rights to children that have been adopted. According to the act, any adoptive children whose parents became naturalized after October 5, 1978, can derive their U.S. citizenship.

This derivation cannot occur if their naturalization happened before that date, as they do not fall within the law of that period. However, if you meet the criteria for naturalization after 18 years of age, you can apply to become a U.S. citizen yourself.

Obtaining Proof of U.S. Citizenship

Under most circumstances, the documents that will establish your citizenship are as follows (depending on your situation):

  • A birth certificate that was issued by the U.S. State. If the child was born abroad, a birth certificate issued by the U.S. Department of State through the U.S Embassy.
  • A U.S. Passport
  • A citizenship certificate, issued to a foreign individual that acquired their citizenship through derivation (from a U.S. citizen parent).
  • A naturalization certificate, given to those that obtained their U.S. citizenship through the process of naturalization.

For your citizenship to be recognized, there are two options for which you may go. Your first route is to fill out Form N-600 – which is your Application for Certificate of Citizenship. Your second route is to go for a U.S. passport. Many people prefer this option, as it spares them the need of having to opt for extra travel documents.

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Final Thoughts

Naturalization and derivative are two different things in terms of citizenship. Naturalization is given after you turn 18 years old, whereas derivative citizenship is passed before you reach that age. For citizenship to be given, the parents will just have to meet the requirements.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

1. What Is a Derived Citizen?

A derived citizen is an individual who automatically acquires U.S. citizenship through a process known as derivation. This typically occurs when a foreign-born child under the age of 18 becomes a U.S. citizen because one or both of their parents meet specific citizenship or immigration criteria.

2. How Does Derivation of Citizenship Work?

Derivation of citizenship is based on specific legal provisions and criteria, including the child’s age, the immigration status of the parent(s), and the child’s residence in the United States. Common scenarios for derivation include when a child:

  • Is born to U.S. citizen parents, either by birth abroad or in the U.S.
  • Is adopted by U.S. citizen parents.
  • Gains permanent resident status through their parents and subsequently becomes a U.S. citizen.

3. What Are the Benefits of Derived Citizenship?

Derived citizenship provides the individual with all the rights and privileges of U.S. citizenship. These include the ability to live and work in the United States without immigration restrictions, the right to vote, and access to government benefits.

4. Can a Child Be Derived of U.S. Citizenship if Their Parent Naturalizes?

In some cases, a child may automatically derive U.S. citizenship if their parent becomes a U.S. citizen through naturalization. However, specific eligibility requirements and conditions must be met for this to occur.

5. How Can I Determine if I or My Child Qualify for Derived Citizenship?

Determining eligibility for derived citizenship can be complex and depends on various factors, including the child’s age, the parents’ citizenship or immigration status, and the circumstances of the child’s birth or adoption. It is advisable to consult with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or seek legal advice to assess eligibility accurately.

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Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

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