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Child Citizenship Act

On or after February 27, 2001 this Act granted a child U.S. citizenship if in the legal custody of one citizen parent, and the child was under 18 and the child had been living in the U.S. and was a lawful permanent resident. An adopted child is entitled as well if the child had been adopted abroad before receiving permanent residence. Children of U.S. military or government employees even if living abroad would be considered to be residing here for purposes of this Act also.

Legal custody

A child, residing with both U.S. parents who are married and living together or if the child is residing with a widowed parent, or if the child’s parents were not married but the child has been legitimated and is living with the parent having legal custody, will be entitled to U.S. citizenship. For an adopted child, legal custody depends upon the adoption decree. If the child’s parents have divorced or separated, the Immigration Service will follow a Court’s award of primary care, control and maintenance of the child as presumptive evidence of custody. If a State recognizes joint custody without a Court decree, the Immigration Service will accept the parent’s agreement to share joint custody. Children who have been legitimated, whose parents were not married are derivatively entitled to U.S. citizenship on the mother’s naturalization.

Prior Law

A child under 18 born abroad could derivatively acquire U.S. citizenship if the child was living in the U.S. and had been lawfully admitted on the custodial parent’s naturalization. A child under 18 would be entitled to citizenship on the naturalization of both parents, or on the naturalization of a widowed parent or the naturalization of the parent having a Court decree of legal custody or the naturalization of an unmarried mother when the paternity of the father had not been established.

Transmission of U.S. citizenship

The Rules for children born abroad have changed over time. Between November 14, 1986 and February 27, 2001, children born abroad derived citizenship if:

  • A U.S. citizen parent was physically present in the U.S. 5 years prior to the child’s birth, two of which were after the age of 14 or an honorable discharge from U.S. military or U.S. government employment would enable a child born abroad to be entitled to U.S. citizenship
  • On or after December 24, 1952 and before November 14, 1986, citizen parent must have been physically in the U.S. 10 years prior to the child’s birth, 5 of which were after the age of 14 or honorable discharge from the U.S. military or government service
  • On or after January 13, 1941 but before December 24, 1952, a U.S. citizen parent residing in the U.S. 10 years prior to a child’s birth, 5 of which were after the age of 16 or serving in the U.S. military between January 1, 1947 to December 24, 1952
  • From May 24, 1934 but before January 13, 1941 either U.S. mother or father could transmit if either lived in the U.S. before the child’s birth

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