A foreign national who comes to the U.S. as a refugee will have the opportunity to become a legal permanent resident after one year of presence in the U.S. They can become a U.S. citizen eventually, which will shield them from deportation and allow them to bring family members to the U.S. An adult refugee must go through the formal naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen, including submitting Form N-400 and passing tests related to civics and the English language. They cannot become a citizen until at least five years have passed after they arrived in the U.S. However, their children often can derive U.S. citizenship immediately once the parent refugee gets citizenship. This means that they do not need to go through the formal naturalization process. They may still want to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship from USCIS by submitting Form N-600 so that they have proof of citizenship.
If you are interested in becoming a U.S. citizen, and you have children, you should try to naturalize as soon as possible so that you can complete the process before your children turn 18. This is one of the requirements for deriving citizenship through a parent. Deriving citizenship involves no extra cost beyond the naturalization application for the adult, although getting a Certificate of Citizenship likely will involve paying a fee.
Eligibility for Deriving Citizenship as a Refugee Child
A child can derive citizenship if they have a green card, they are under 18 and unmarried, and they are living in the U.S. under the physical and legal custody of a U.S. citizen parent. (Only one parent needs to be a U.S. citizen.) The child can derive citizenship regardless of whether they come to the U.S. before or after the parent. Sometimes a child can become a U.S. citizen faster than the parent did if the child comes to the U.S. later.
Derivation of citizenship happens automatically. If your child or you met the requirements above at some point in the past, but you were unaware of the derivation rule, your child or you may be a U.S. citizen even though you were unaware of it. The rules for derivation have changed many times over the years, however, and you may want to read more here about them. The most recent rules date from February 2001, but they could change again in the future. You may want to ask an immigration attorney for advice before relying on a belief that your child or you have citizenship through derivation.
There are some situations in which a child of a refugee might be able to get their U.S. citizenship through derivation without applying for their green card before they turn 18. The date of lawful permanent residence in the U.S. is backdated for a foreign national who initially held refugee status to the date when they arrived in the U.S. as a refugee. If they were under 18 on the date of permanent residence shown on the green card, they can derive their citizenship from a parent.