Immigration, Adoption, and Citizenship for Stepchildren of U.S. Citizens and LPRs
Stepchildren of U.S. citizens or of lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may be eligible to immigrate to the United States whether their stepparents adopt them or not. This page provides a general overview of immigration and citizenship options for stepchildren, domestic and foreign adoptions of stepchildren, and resources for more information.
If you or your stepchild are Native American, the Indian Child Welfare Act may affect your adoption plans. Please see the Department of the Interior’s website for more information. If you or your spouse are members of the U.S. military subject to a status of forces agreement (SOFA), please seek assistance from your judge advocate general or legal assistance office regarding the possible impact of the SOFA on your adoption plans.
A U.S. citizen or LPR stepparent may petition for their stepchild to immigrate them or adjust their status if the stepparent married the child’s birth parent before the child’s 18th birthday. You are not required to adopt your stepchild to petition for them. You may petition for your stepchild by filing a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS on behalf of your stepchild.
If your stepchild resides abroad, after USCIS approves your Form I-130, it will transfer your case to the National Visa Center to begin consular processing. During this process, your stepchild may file a Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa Electronic Application, to request an immigrant visa to allow your stepchild to be admitted to the United States as an LPR.
Alternatively, if your stepchild is already in the United States, after USCIS approves your Form I-130, your stepchild may apply to adjust their immigration status to become an LPR by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.
USCIS publications A-1 (PDF, 688.27 KB) and B1 (PDF, 577.38 KB) may provide helpful information. You may also wish to visit Find Legal Services and consult with an attorney to understand how the information provided below would apply to your personal circumstances.
Adoption alone does not convey any immigration status to the child. Therefore, if you wish to petition for your adopted stepchild so they can immigrate to the United States, or if they wish to adjust their status from within the United States to become an LPR, you will need to file Form I-130, and your adopted child will need to file either Form DS-260 or Form I-485 as appropriate.
If You Want to Adopt Your Stepchild in the U.S.
Adoption in the United States (domestic adoption), including stepparent adoption of a stepchild, is governed by state law. If you want to adopt your stepchild domestically, you may find helpful information on the Department of Health and Human Services’ Child Welfare Information Gateway website, including a Fact Sheet on Stepparent Adoption. You may also wish to consult a U.S. adoption attorney or relevant state authorities about how to complete the adoption in the United States based on the laws in your state of residence.
If You Want to Adopt Your Stepchild in Another Country
If you wish to adopt your stepchild before immigration, we strongly recommend you consult an attorney and the foreign adoption authorities in the country where the adoption would take place to understand that country’s domestic adoption process. For a list of English-speaking attorneys, find the country’s U.S. embassy website. Click on the “U.S. Citizen Services” tab, and find the Legal Assistance link under Local Resources. You can find the contact information for the governmental adoption authority on the relevant country-specific information page, under the “Country Information” tab.
If You Are a U.S. Citizen Who Is Unsure if the Hague Adoption Convention Applies to Your Stepchild’s Adoption Abroad
Stepchild adoption is generally not considered an intercountry adoption subject to the Hague Adoption Convention process.
If you are trying to adopt your stepchild in a country that is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, consult with the Central Authority in that country to determine whether they require you to complete the adoption under their Hague procedures (as opposed to their domestic procedures). If they do not, you may wish to consult an attorney about how to proceed with a domestic adoption in that country. You may find the contact information for the governmental adoption authority on the relevant country-specific information page, under the “Country Information” tab.
Adopted children may be eligible to acquire U.S. citizenship through their adoptive U.S. citizen parent, including through an adoptive parent who is a citizen by birth or an adoptive parent who later naturalizes.
A stepchild who has not been adopted cannot acquire citizenship through their U.S. citizen stepparent. However, an adult stepchild may apply for naturalization when they become eligible. A child may also acquire citizenship through a biological parent who later naturalizes while the child is under 18.
Citizenship for Adopted Children Residing in the U.S.
If you are a U.S. citizen and your adopted child meets the criteria in INA section 320, including qualifying as an adopted child under INA 101(b)(1)(E) and being lawfully admitted as a permanent resident, you may file Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, to obtain a certificate of citizenship for your child. Please see the USCIS website for questions regarding citizenship acquisition.
Citizenship for Adopted Children Residing Abroad
If you are a U.S. citizen and your adopted child meets the criteria in INA section 322, including qualifying as an adopted child under INA 101(b)(1)(E) and being under the age of 18, you may file Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, to obtain a certificate of citizenship for your child. Note that there are special citizenship-related provisions for certain children of U.S. service members or government employees and for children of their spouses. Please see the Citizenship for Military Family Members and U.S. Citizenship for an Adopted Child webpages for more information.
There are different ways to obtain citizenship, and there are different requirements depending on the applicant’s situation. Adult LPR stepchildren who do not acquire U.S. citizenship through a parent may become U.S. citizens through naturalization. To apply for naturalization, an applicant must file Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. For more information, see the USCIS Citizenship and Naturalization webpage.