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Validating child’s citizenship easier than for spouse

by Garland M Baker on May 11, 2009

Many expats who have built families with a Costa Rican want to get their natural or adopted offspring a U.S passport. Some believe that since they are U.S. citizens, the right to pass on U.S. citizenship is automatic. It is not. However, it does not need to be a daunting task either.

Whether expats are applying for their biological or stepchildren, the procedure seems to be less painstaking than getting their spouse U.S. citizenship.

In a nutshell, there are certain permanence requirements for the parents to be able to pass citizenship on to their biological, adopted or legitimated children, and the process is much smoother and faster for children under 18 years of age than for older children.

Parent requirements

Any child born in wedlock or adopted as stepchild outside the United States to an American parent and a foreign parent can obtain U.S. citizenship, as long as the American parent resided in the U.S. for a certain amount of years prior to leaving the country.

Parents born on or after Nov. 14, 1986, need to have lived in the United States at least five years, of which two are required after the age of 14. If they were born between Dec. 24, 1952, and Nov.

13, 1986, they need to have lived 10 years in the U.S., of which five are required after the age of 14.

A child born out of wedlock to an American father and a foreign mother can obtain U.S. citizenship when meeting all the following requirements:

a.) a proven blood relationship between the applicant and the father; b.) the father had U.S. nationality at the time of the child’s birth; c.) the father agrees in writing to provide financial support for the child until he or she reaches 18 years of age; d.) the child is legitimized by the father in their birth country before 18 years of age.

A child born out of wedlock to an American mother and a foreign father may acquire U.S. citizenship if, a.) the mother was a U.S. citizen at the time of the child’s birth and b.) the mother lived in the U.S. for one continuous year.

Immediate citizenship

According to the Citizenship and Immigration Services website, the Child Citizenship Act has streamlined the process for children to obtain citizenship as soon as they enter the U.S.

Children protected by the Child Citizenship Act are called newly entering IR-3 children, and they receive certificates of citizenship within 45 days of arriving to the U.S., without needing a permanent resident card and then filling out form N-600 to obtain citizenship, as outlined in the article on citizenship for spouses. If they wish to obtain their U.S. citizen status while living abroad, they need to apply at the U.S. Embassy using N-600K (Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322), which costs $460. However, children must travel with their parents to the United States to complete the application process.

Parents who wish to obtain a passport for their children must apply for it at the Department of State once they have received their citizenship certificates from Citizen and Immigration Services.

Children who qualify for this automatic process are:

a.) younger than 18 years of age;

b.) orphans whose adoption has been finalized in their country of birth or the United States;

c.) biological or legitimized children;

d.) children born out of wedlock to a naturalized mother;

e.) adopted children after completing two-year custody.

The Child Citizenship Act also requires American parents to have met the required time in the country to be able to request automatic citizenship for their biological or adopted children.

The following paperwork is necessary to qualify for automatic children citizenship:

a.) photographs of the child;

b.) fee (when applying from abroad, N-600K,

c.) child’s birth certificate;

d.) American parent’s birth certificate;

e.) parents’ marriage certificate (if applicable);

f.) document for termination of previous marriages (if applicable);

g.) document showing full and final adoption or
legitimacy (if applicable);

h.) evidence of all legal name changes (if applicable).


Biological, adopted or legitimized children older than 18 are required to undergo the standard process of residence and naturalization applicable to any immigrant.

According to a previous article on U.S. Citizenship, the American parent needs to request permanent residency for their child, filing I-130 Petition for Alien Relative ($355) and any additional paperwork required by the U.S. Embassy proving the relationship between the parent and the child, as well as a medical exam required for the applicant.

The embassy’s website states that unmarried or married children over 18 obtain limited permanent residency, but no further information on this status is provided. The applicant must wait until Citizenship and Immigration Services approves the petition to be able to travel to the U.S. and apply for naturalization.

Once in the United States, the applicant must ask Citizen and Immigration Services if he or she qualify for an immediate visa number or if they need to wait, in which case, they should periodically check the Department of State’s Visa Bulletin to get their visa number.

Applicants must stay five years in order to request citizenship, leaving the country for periods no longer than six months.

The Citizen and Immigration Services website specifies that once the permanence requirement is met, the applicant must proceed to file form N-400, along with the following:

a.) a check or money order for the application fee
of $675;

b.) a photocopy of both sides of the permanent resident card;

c.) Two identical color photographs (wearing no eyeglasses or earrings), with name and “A-number” written in pencil on the back of the pictures. Those doing so should check the Guide to Naturalization for more details on photo requirements.

Besides the paperwork above, the applicant must pass English proficiency and U.S. civics tests, and show: a.) evidence of good moral character, b.) adherence to the Constitution principles and c.) a positive outlook of the United States. Once the latter requirements are fulfilled, an interview will be scheduled, after which they can take the oath to allegiance and obtain their citizenship.

In summary, expats who want to pass on their U.S. citizenship to their children have to qualify themselves based on their own permanence in the United States. All immigration procedures seem like a bureaucratic endless torture, but to have the steps distilled into an outline like this one makes the task easier to understand and more palatable.

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