What Is Derived Citizenship?

immigration law concept

Derived citizenship is the automatic acquisition based on one’s parent’s or grandparent’s nationality without formal naturalization. In the context of the United States, derived citizenship has significant implications. The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that all persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to its jurisdiction are U.S. citizens and of the State where they reside. Therefore, children born in the U.S. automatically gain U.S. citizenship, regardless of the citizenship status of their parents. The process also extends to children born outside of the U.S. to at least one U.S. citizen parent, with certain conditions – a mechanism providing a profound sense of belonging and security to countless families.

The concept of derived citizenship is intrinsically linked to the broader immigration and naturalization process in the United States. While the naturalization process involves immigrants applying for and acquiring citizenship through legal means, derived citizenship offers an alternative path.

Essentially, it bypasses the need for formal naturalization for individuals who can prove their parentage or lineage to a U.S. citizen. This facet of the law is particularly significant for children of immigrants, as it can provide a more straightforward route to citizenship.

Furthermore, it serves an essential function in maintaining familial unity and providing stability amidst the complex and often challenging landscape of immigration law. However, the conditions and regulations surrounding derived citizenship can be intricate, necessitating careful navigation of the immigration system.

What Is Derived Citizenship?

US Citizenship

Derived citizenship is a legal principle under which a person receives citizenship of a country through their biological or adoptive parents rather than by birth within the country’s territory. The legal basis of derived citizenship in the U.S. is primarily provided by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). This act states that a person born outside the United States may acquire U.S. citizenship if at least one parent is a citizen of the U.S. and certain conditions are met.

Through Adoptive Parents

Derived citizenship can also be passed to children through adoptive parents, as long as they meet specific requirements – such as being married to an individual who is already a U.S. citizen. It is important to note that derived citizenship does not entitle a person to all the same rights and privileges as those born in the United States – for instance, individuals with derived citizenship are not eligible to serve in certain government offices or positions of trust.

One American Parent

According to the INA, a person can acquire citizenship at birth if one parent is a citizen of the United States at the time of the person’s birth and has lived in the U.S. for a specific period. The law further provides for acquiring derived citizenship after birth but before age 18. The conditions and requirements for derived citizenship vary and are subject to complex legal provisions and interpretations. As such, individuals seeking to establish derived citizenship should consult with a legal professional to fully understand their rights and the processes involved.

Eligibility Criteria for Derived Citizenship

The eligibility criteria for derived citizenship in the U.S. are specified under the INA. These criteria include:

  1. Parental Status: At least one parent must be a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization.
  2. Residency of U.S. Citizen Parent: The U.S. citizen parent must have resided in the U.S. for a minimum period before the child’s birth. The exact duration depends on specific legal conditions.
  3. Age: The child must be under 18 to derive citizenship from their parents.
  4. Lawful Permanent Residency: The person must be a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
  5. Custody: The U.S. citizen parent must have legal and physical custody of the child.

It’s vital to note that the specific requirements can vary depending on the individual’s circumstances, including the date of birth, marital status of the parents, and other factors. Therefore, consulting an immigration attorney is crucial to accurately understand the eligibility and process.

Exceptions and Special Circumstances Affecting Derived Citizenship

Several special circumstances and exceptions can impact an individual’s eligibility for derived citizenship.

  1. Children Born Out of Wedlock: U.S. citizenship is derived from the U.S. citizen’s mother if she has lived in the U.S. for a certain period before the child’s birth. This is contingent on the laws effective at the time of the child’s birth. For a U.S. citizen father, additional requirements may apply, including a legal acknowledgment of paternity, legitimation, or a court order establishing paternity.
  2. Adopted Children: Under the Child Citizenship Act, adopted children may automatically acquire citizenship if they fulfill certain conditions, like residing in the U.S. with their U.S. citizen adoptive parents. However, this doesn’t apply to stepchildren.
  3. Older Laws: The laws governing derived citizenship have changed over the years. Therefore, if a person was born before the current law took effect, their eligibility is determined according to the legislation in force at the time of birth.
  4. Transmission Requirements: The parent’s length of residence in the U.S. for transmitting citizenship to a child born abroad varies depending on the law at the time of birth.

Given the complexities of the law surrounding derived citizenship, it’s strongly recommended to seek advice from a legal professional to navigate these exceptions and special circumstances successfully.

Derivative Citizenship Through Birth Abroad

Children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents can acquire derived citizenship based on the rules outlined in the INA. However, acquiring citizenship is not automatic and depends on certain specific conditions.

Birth to Two U.S. Citizen Parents

A child born abroad to two U.S. citizen parents would acquire U.S. citizenship at birth if at least one of the parents lived in the United States before the child’s birth. In this scenario, the actual length of the parent’s residence in the U.S. is immaterial.

Birth to One U.S. Citizen Parent and One Foreign National

If one parent is a citizen of the United States and the other parent is a foreign national, the U.S. citizen must have physically lived in the U.S. for at least five years before the child’s birth, with at least two of those years being after the age of 14.

Birth to One U.S. Citizen Parent and One U.S. National

For a child born to a U.S. citizen and a U.S. national, the parent who’s a citizen of the United States must have lived in the U.S. or its outlying possessions for at least one year before the birth.

These rules apply to legitimate children and most children born out of wedlock. However, the rules can vary and are determined by the specific circumstances at the time of the child’s birth. It’s recommended that families in these situations consult with an immigration lawyer to ensure a thorough understanding of the laws and conditions applicable to their specific case.

Process for Obtaining Derived Citizenship Through the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA)

US Passport

The Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) is an important document issued by a U.S. embassy or consulate for a child born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent or parents who meet the requirements for transmitting citizenship under the INA.

The CRBA application process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Prepare the Required Documents: The U.S. citizen parent or parents must gather the necessary documents, including proof of the parent’s U.S. citizenship, evidence of the physical presence in the U.S. of the U.S. citizen parent before the child’s birth, and the child’s foreign birth certificate.
  2. Complete the Application Form (DS-2029): The next step involves completing the Application for Consular Report of Birth Abroad (Form DS-2029). The form must be filled out but only signed once you are in front of a Consular Officer at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate.
  3. Schedule an Appointment: Once the application form and supporting documents are ready, the parent must schedule an appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country where the child was born.
  4. Attend the Appointment: The parents and child must appear in person at the appointment. The Consular Officer will review the application and, if approved, issue the CRBA.
  5. Apply for a U.S. Passport for the Child: After obtaining the CRBA, it is often advisable to apply for a U.S. passport, as it is a more universally recognized proof of citizenship.

Remember, the CRBA must be applied for before the child’s 18th birthday, and it’s strongly recommended that parents apply for the CRBA as soon as possible after the child’s birth. For applicants older than 18 who have never been issued a CRBA, please refer to Possible Derivative Claim to U.S. Citizenship. Anyone claiming U.S. citizenship must have a valid U.S. passport to enter and exit the United States, even if they have citizenship of another country.

Derivative Citizenship Through Naturalization of Parents

Derived citizenship can also be obtained through the naturalization of parents. This particularly applies to children who were not born in the United States but have at least one parent who becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen before the child reaches the age of 18.

Process of Acquiring Derived Citizenship through the Naturalization of Parents

The process typically involves the following steps:

  1. Naturalization of Parent: At least one parent must become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
  2. Ascertain Eligibility: The child should be under 18 years of age, hold a Green Card (be a Permanent Resident), and be in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent at the time of the parent’s naturalization.
  3. Automatic Acquisition: If the child meets these conditions, the acquisition of citizenship is typically automatic upon the parent’s naturalization. There is no separate application process for the child to go through.
  4. Certificate of Citizenship: Even though the acquisition of citizenship is automatic, it is often necessary to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for the child as proof of their new status. This involves filing Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
  5. USCIS Interview & Issuance of Certificate: The USCIS may call the child for an interview before approving the application. A Certificate of Citizenship will be issued upon approval, providing official proof of the child’s U.S. citizenship.

Remember, through this process, children who automatically become U.S. citizens have all citizenship rights, including the right to live and work in the U.S., vote in federal elections, and apply for a U.S. passport. However, like with any legal process, it is still necessary to consult with an immigration attorney to fully understand the rights and responsibilities associated with derived citizenship.

Benefits of Derived Citizenship

right to vote concept

Derived citizenship offers many benefits and privileges akin to those natural-born U.S. citizens enjoy.

  1. Right to Live Permanently in the U.S.: Derived citizens have the right to live indefinitely within the United States, free from the fear of deportation. They are not subject to the terms and conditions associated with visas or Green Cards.
  2. Employment Opportunities: Derived citizens can work in any job they are qualified for without restrictions. They have access to federal jobs and positions that are otherwise unavailable to non-citizens.
  3. Right to Vote: Derived citizens gain the right to vote in all federal, state, and local elections, contributing significantly to the democratic process.
  4. Eligibility for Federal Benefits and Grants: Derived citizens are eligible for all federal benefits and grants, including Social Security, Medicare, and federal education grants.
  5. Passport Privileges: They are entitled to a U.S. passport, which enables easier travel to many countries, and they receive U.S. government assistance abroad.
  6. Ability to Sponsor Relatives: Derived citizens can sponsor close relatives for a Green Card, enabling family reunification.
  7. Protection Under U.S. Law: They are protected by all laws of the United States, the states of residence, and local jurisdictions.

Despite these advantages, derived citizens have the same responsibilities as natural-born citizens, like obeying laws, paying taxes, and registering with the Selective Service System for males between 18 and 25.

Derived Citizenship and Dual Citizenship

Derived citizenship can lead to dual citizenship, where an individual holds citizenship in more than one country. This typically occurs when a child is born in a foreign country to U.S. citizen parents or when a child is born in the U.S. to foreign nationals.

Dual citizenship provides the rights and benefits of both countries. For instance, a person might enjoy access to two healthcare systems, vote in either country and work in both countries without needing a work visa. They also have the privilege to reside and study in both countries.

However, dual citizenship does come with its complexities. A dual citizen must fulfill the citizenship responsibilities in both countries. This could include mandatory military service or taxes in the country of foreign citizenship, even if the individual resides in the U.S.

Moreover, while the United States recognizes dual citizenship, not all countries do. Therefore, individuals must understand the laws of both countries before seeking dual citizenship. In some cases, acquiring citizenship in another country could lead to the loss of U.S. citizenship if it is done voluntarily with the intent to relinquish U.S. citizenship. Consulting with immigration and legal experts can help navigate dual citizenship’s complexities.

Common Challenges and Issues with Derived Citizenship

The process of claiming derived citizenship can present numerous challenges and complications.

  1. Documentation Difficulties: Gathering all the necessary documentation can be quite a task. This can include obtaining birth certificates, proof of citizenship for the U.S. citizen parent, proof of residency, and additional documents depending on the specific case. Sometimes, these documents may not be readily available or need to be translated.
  2. Time Sensitivity: Certain eligibility requirements are time-sensitive. For instance, acquiring citizenship through the CRBA must be done before the child turns 18. Missed deadlines can result in lost opportunities for claiming derived citizenship.
  3. Understanding Complex Laws: Immigration laws are complex and challenging to interpret. Changes in the law over time can add to the confusion and drastically impact a child’s claim to citizenship.
  4. Navigating Bureaucracy: Dealing with the bureaucratic processes of different government agencies can be overwhelming. The process can be time-consuming and requires attention to detail to avoid errors that can slow down the process.
  5. Cost Implications: The process can be expensive, considering the application fees, cost of gathering documents, potential translation fees, and possible legal consultation fees.
  6. Legal Mistakes: Mistakes in the application process can have serious consequences, including potential denial of citizenship or delays.

Given these challenges, it is often beneficial to seek the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney to guide you through the process of claiming derived citizenship.

How to Apply for Derived Citizenship

Applying for derived citizenship involves several carefully followed steps:

  1. Identify Eligibility: Review the eligibility requirements for derived citizenship. Ensure that you meet the criteria based on your specific circumstances, such as being born to U.S. citizen parents abroad or having a parent who has become a naturalized U.S. citizen.
  2. Gather Necessary Documentation: Assemble all the necessary documents. This typically includes proof of the U.S. citizen parent’s citizenship, the child’s birth certificate, and evidence of the parent’s physical presence in the U.S. before the child’s birth.
  3. Complete the Necessary Forms: Form DS-2029 (if applying through the CRBA) or Form N-600 (if applying for a Certificate of Citizenship), depending on your situation. Remember, forms must be thoroughly and accurately filled out.
  4. Schedule an Appointment (if applicable): If applying through the CRBA, an appointment with the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country of your birth is necessary. At this appointment, both parents and the child must appear in person.
  5. Submit Your Application: Submit the completed forms, along with the necessary documentation and appropriate fees, to the U.S. Department of State (if applying through the CRBA) or to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (if applying through naturalization).
  6. Attend the Interview (if applicable): If applying for a Certificate of Citizenship through naturalization, an interview may be scheduled.
  7. Receive Citizenship Confirmation: Once your application has been reviewed and approved, you will receive a CRBA or a Certificate of Citizenship, officially confirming your U.S. citizenship status.

Always consult with an immigration lawyer to avoid potential pitfalls, ensure an understanding of all requirements, and increase your chances of a successful application.


Derived citizenship provides a pathway for individuals, particularly children born abroad to U.S. citizen parents or those with a parent who becomes a naturalized U.S. citizen, to establish their status as U.S. citizens. This process, whether it’s achieved through the Consular Report of Birth Abroad (CRBA) or naturalization of parents, comes with several privileges akin to those enjoyed by natural-born U.S. citizens, including the right to live and work in the U.S., vote in elections, access federal benefits, and apply for a U.S. passport.

However, the road to obtaining derived citizenship can present numerous challenges. These include gathering the necessary documentation, understanding complex laws, navigating bureaucratic processes, time-sensitive eligibility requirements, and bearing the cost implications. Despite these hurdles, pursuing derived citizenship is vital for those seeking to solidify their ties to the United States, secure their rights, and access the opportunities that come with being a U.S. citizen. As such, seeking competent legal guidance is essential to navigate this complex process successfully.

Share on:
About the Author:


Featured Post

Contact Us

    Scroll to Top