Some children become U.S. citizens automatically, or "derivatively," through their parents' naturalization. (Special rules may apply to immigrants who have done active duty service in the U.S. Armed Forces.) The laws about "derivative citizenship" vary, depending upon the date that the parent(s) naturalized.
On or after February 27, 2001, a child will become a U.S. citizen derivatively as soon as all of the following things happen:
* the child is under 18 years old;
* the child is or becomes a permanent resident;
* a parent of the child is sworn in as a naturalized U.S. citizen after February 27, 2001; and
* the child lives with and is in the legal custody of the parent who became the U.S. citizen.
It does not matter in what order these things happen. The child will become a U.S. citizen derivatively through his parent's naturalization as long as all of these requirements are met before the child's 18th birthday. The child could have been living outside the U.S. at the time his parent became a U.S. citizen, as long as he later enters the U.S. as a permanent resident to live with that parent while still under 18 years old.
Before February 27, 2001, to become a U.S. citizen derivatively the laws were the same as above, except that if the child lived with both of his parents, both parents had to become naturalized U.S. citizens before the person's 18th birthday. If one parent naturalized while the child was under 18, but the other naturalized after the child's 18th birthday, then the child did not become a U.S. citizen automatically and must file for naturalization on his own.
If you were born outside the United States and either of your parents was a U.S. citizen when you were born, then you may have "acquired" U.S. citizenship at birth, without you or your parents even knowing it. This may also be true even if neither of your parents was born in the United States, but one or more of your grandparents were. This is an extremely complicated area of the immigration laws. To find out whether you might have acquired U.S. citizenship, you should talk to an experienced immigration advocate or lawyer. (See Resources.)
Using a US Passport to Prove Acquired or Derivative Citizenship
If you "acquired" citizenship or became a citizen "derivatively," the easiest way to prove that you are a U.S. citizen is to apply for a U.S. passport. A passport is much less expensive than a certificate of citizenship from Immigration. It takes only a couple of months to arrive (whereas a certificate of citizenship can take a year or more), and you can use it to travel outside the U.S.
Most U.S. post offices have U.S. passport applications. The first time you apply for a U.S. passport, you must apply in person at a U.S. Passport office (the nearest one is in Boston) or at certain U.S. Post Office branches. You will need to attach to your passport application:
* a copy of your parent's naturalization certificate
* a copy of your birth certificate showing that that parent is your parent,
* a copy of your green card, and
* proof that you live with your parent (copies of school records or medical records, for example).
Although your parent's naturalization certificate says that it is illegal to photocopy it, it is all right to copy it in order to apply for a U.S. passport. Take the original naturalization certificate with you, so that it can be compared to the photocopy, when you file the passport application.