Children Adopted From Overseas Don't Automatically Become Citizens

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One frequently misunderstood issue when it comes to international adoption is that a child taken in by American citizens will automatically become a citizen as well. This isn't always true. Here's what you need to know about this issue to protect your child from future problems related to their citizenship status.

The Child Citizenship Act

The Child Citizenship Act is a law outlining exactly when a child adopted from another country becomes an American citizen. Automatic citizenship is only bestowed upon an internationally adopted child when:

  • The adoption has been finalized
  • The child legally and physically lives with the parent who is the American Citizen
  • The child came to the country as a legal immigrant

At the outset, all adopted children are admitted into the country as permanent resident aliens. Later, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department (USCIS) sends the parents either a green card or Certificate of Citizenship. If the child doesn't meet the requirements for automatic citizenship, he or she will get a green card and the parents must take additional steps to secure their child's citizenship before he or she turns 18.

Unfortunately, some parents either forget or don't have the resources needed to pursue this path. Children adopted by military families living overseas may also run into trouble if the family doesn't live on base or another area that qualifies as "residing in America". In either event, failure to naturalize children leaves them vulnerable to the loss of certain rights (e.g. employment, voting) and deportation.

Fixing the Problem

Adopted children under 18 can still qualify for citizenship using their parents legal status. You must submit an application for a certificate of citizenship (form N-600) and the $1,170 fee (as of December 23, 2016). It's important to note, the child must have live with the parent who submits the petition. The USCIS may also have residency requirements that must be fulfilled, depending on the situation. For instance, if the adoption didn't go through the first time around, the child has to have been in the legal and physical care of the petitioning parent for a minimum of 2 years before filing the application.

Children over 18 will need to go through the naturalization process. There are quite a few requirements you must meet before you'll be approved (e.g. you must have been a permanent resident for at least 5 years). To start, you'll need to submit the application (form N-400) as well as the $725 fee (as of December 23, 2016).

The immigration process can be complex. It's best to consult with an immigration attorney, such as one from the Law Office of Amy M. Wax, P.C., for assistance and advice, which can make the process go smoother.