If you are an adopted child of at least one U.S. citizen parent, you may be able to get U.S. citizenship through acquisition or derivation. In general, acquisition means that a parent was a U.S. citizen when the child was born, while derivation means that a parent became a U.S. citizen after the child was born but before they turned 18 and while they were living with the parent. This process can be especially complex for adopted children.
Acquisition of Citizenship for Adopted Children
Under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, adopted children who were under 18 (or not born) on February 27, 2001 may be eligible for U.S. citizenship through acquisition. In addition to being under 18 and having a U.S. citizen parent, they would need to be a legal permanent resident of the U.S., otherwise known as a green card holder. They would need to be in the legal and physical custody of the parent who is a U.S. citizen. After an adoption is completed in a foreign country, the adopted child will receive an IR-3 visa and become a U.S. citizen when they enter the U.S. If the adoption was not completed in the foreign country, the adopted child will receive an IR-4 visa and get “readopted” when they enter the U.S. They will get citizenship when they are readopted.
An adopted child who arrived in the U.S. with an IR-3 visa on January 20, 2004 or later can expect to get their Certificate of Citizenship within 45 days. In other situations, they can submit an Application for Certificate of Citizenship (Form N-600).
An adopted child who does not meet the requirements above cannot use this shortcut to become a citizen. However, they still can follow the usual naturalization process by which other foreign nationals become citizens.
Derivation of Citizenship for Adopted Children
You can become a U.S. citizen through derivation only if an adoptive parent became a U.S. citizen on or after October 5, 1978. The laws vary depending on whether your adoptive parent became a U.S. citizen between October 5, 1978 and February 26, 2001, or whether they became a U.S. citizen on February 27, 2001 or later.
If you fit within the first category, you would need to show that both of your adoptive parents became citizens before you turned 18, or that one parent was a citizen when you were born and remained a citizen throughout your life, while the other parent became a citizen before you turned 18. In addition, you would need to have been a green card holder at the time, and the U.S. citizen parent would need to have had legal and physical custody over you. You must not have been married. Unless you were born between December 29, 1981 and November 14, 1986, you must have been younger than 16 when you were adopted.
If you fit within the second category, you would need to show that one of your parents became a U.S. citizen before you turned 18, or was a birthright U.S. citizen. You also would need to show that you were adopted before you turned 18, you were not married at the time, you had a green card at the time, and the U.S. citizen parent had legal and physical custody over you.