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Foreign-Born Adoptees and the Child Citizenship Act

Most foreign-born adopted children gain U.S. citizenship as soon as they enter the United States. This is because of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. You'll find the USCIS Policy Manual at that linked resource detailing what U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has said about the Act. Since the law's passage, children do not need to apply for citizenship formally. They become citizens automatically. Adoptive parents of foreign-born children may get a citizenship certificate for their child. But they will need to go through the application process to do so.

Knowing about the kinds of documents needed can help you plan for success. Also, knowing about the sorts of delays you'll face can help. Administrative hurdles happen a lot during this process.

This article focuses on the CCA and how it relates to foreign-born adoptees. See FindLaw's Citizenship section for more articles and resources. Be aware that there are separate processes for foreign-born children of U.S. citizens.

Consider reviewing the U.S. Department of State's FAQs sheet on this issue for even more information. It details relevant portions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It provides answers to frequently asked questions about:

  • Intercountry adoption
  • Getting legal custody of adopted children from overseas
  • U.S. government laws about foreign-born children and how they become citizens

Continue reading for more information about citizenship, foreign adoptions, and other foreign-born adoptees' issues.

Is My Adopted Child Eligible Under the Child Citizenship Act?

For a foreign-born adopted child of U.S. parents to get automatic citizenship by the CCA, the applicant child:

  • Has at least one adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen, either by birth or through naturalization;
  • Is younger than 18;
  • Is in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent and is now living in the U.S.;
  • Has lawful permanent resident status;
  • Was adopted by all other applicable immigration laws

Some foreign-born adopted children may need to wait until they have satisfied certain criteria before automatically getting citizenship. Others (those living abroad) may need to formally apply to "naturalize" since the USCIS can't assume that an adoptee (or their parents) living abroad plans to live in the U.S. permanently. You must provide a copy of the child's birth certificate if available.

Citizenship for Foreign-Born Adoptees: The Process

Orphans adopted by a U.S. citizen parent are citizens once their adoption is final and they have lawfully entered the United States as permanent residents. Children who did not immigrate as orphans but were adopted by a U.S. citizen parent and gained lawful permanent resident status also automatically gain citizenship (as long as they meet all the criteria before their 18th birthday). Foreign children who are adopted by U.S. citizens who live overseas are also entitled to citizenship but under slightly different criteria. Such children may file for naturalization during a legal, temporary visit to the U.S. as long as they are under 18 and their parents or grandparents meet certain other eligibility criteria. Adopted children residing in the United States may file for a certificate of citizenship using USCIS Form N-600. Adopted children living outside the United States may file for naturalization using USCIS Form N-600K. Once naturalized, they must file a separate application for the child to get a U.S. passport. The application must contain proof of citizenship in the child's country of origin, if available. It must also provide many documents from the adoption proceedings, including proof of the final adoption. Prospective adoptive parents are not eligible to apply. They must wait until the adoption is final. 

Be mindful that the adoption process itself can take a long time. Factor this into how you organize your schedule and how you plan to meet any deadlines. The child's U.S. citizenship will only be granted once the application is approved. Only the approval of the application will result in citizenship status for a child adopted from overseas. Another option is an IR-3 visa, a type of immigrant visa. This visa is for children who are adopted outside of the United States by parents who are also outside the United States when the adoption occurs. This and other visa types will allow for lawful admission of the child into the United States, where they will receive a green card and citizenship.

Hague Convention on Adoptions

If you're navigating this process, knowing about the Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is a good idea. It concluded in May 1993 in the Netherlands. The United States signed the Convention in 1994. So, it is subject to the rules of the Convention for inter-country adoptions. The Convention dictates many parts of all adoptions that U.S. citizens enter into. At least, this is the case if those citizens live in the United States. It also applies to U.S. citizens living in countries also party to the Convention. You can learn more about which countries are parties to the Convention here. Children that are adopted under the Convention are subject to greater protection. You can learn more about inter-country adoptions and the Hague Convention at FindLaw's page on these issues.

Adopting Internationally? Hire an Immigration Lawyer

It may seem like getting citizenship for a child should be fairly quick and straightforward, but it's not. Processes relating to citizenship are notoriously complicated and time-consuming. Contact a local immigration law attorney to learn how they can help you make the appropriate arrangements. Navigating these issues on your own is very complicated. Understanding immigration status is difficult. Even if you're only dealing with USCIS or even a USCIS officer, an attorney can help.

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