Citizenship Through Parents

There are two general ways to obtain citizenship through U.S. citizen parents: at birth, and after birth but before the age of 18. Congress has enacted laws that determine how citizenship is conveyed by a U.S. citizen parent (or parents) to children born outside of the United States.

Who May Qualify for Acquisition of Citizenship

The law in effect at the time of birth determines whether someone born outside the United States to a U.S. citizen parent (or parents) is a U.S. citizen at birth. In general, these laws require that at least one parent was a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen parent had lived in the United States for a period of time. 

In addition, children born abroad may become U.S. citizens after birth. For information and eligibility requirements for specific time periods, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens

Definition of Child

In general, a child for citizenship and naturalization provisions is an unmarried person who is:

  • The genetic, legitimated, or adopted son or daughter of a U.S. citizen; or 
  • The son or daughter of a non-genetic gestational U.S. citizen mother who is recognized by the relevant jurisdiction as the child’s legal parent.

For more information, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens

Children of U.S. Citizens Residing in the United States

Children who were born outside the U.S. but now live in the U.S. may acquire citizenship under Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). A child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a U.S. citizen when all of the following conditions have been met on or after Feb. 27, 2001: 
  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization;
  • The child is under 18 years of age;
  • The child is a lawful permanent resident (LPR); and
  • The child is residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent.
For more information, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens. To apply for a Certificate of Citizenship under INA 320, please see our Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship page and read the instructions carefully to ensure that you qualify. For more information on the form, see our N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship Frequently Asked Questions page.

Children of U.S. Citizens Residing Outside the United States

Children residing outside of the United States may obtain citizenship under Section 322 of the INA. A child who regularly resides outside of the United States is eligible for naturalization if all of the following conditions have been met:

  • The child has at least one parent, including an adoptive parent, who is a U.S. citizen by birth or through naturalization; 
  • The child’s U.S. citizen parent or U.S. citizen grandparent meets certain physical presence requirements in the United States or an outlying possession;  
  • The child is under 18 years of age;
  • The child is residing outside of the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent, or of a person who does not object to the application if the U.S. citizen parent is deceased; and
  • The child is lawfully admitted, physically present, and maintaining a lawful status in the United States at the time the application is approved and the time of naturalization. 

Note: Children of U.S. citizen military members residing outside the United States may complete the entire process from abroad. For more information, see our Military Citizenship for Family Members page.

For more information, see the USCIS Policy Manual, Volume 12, Part H, Children of U.S. Citizens. To apply for citizenship under INA 322, please see our Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322 and read the instructions carefully to ensure that you qualify. 

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