Acquiring U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children
The foreword of this post was written by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel of Adoptions Together & FamilyWorks Together. Dawn represents the agency in adoption cases and oversees its business operations, including finance, human resources and information technology systems. Dawn is an active advocate for the rights of children, particularly those impacted by the public child welfare system, and frequently consults with policy makers on matters relevant to families and children.
by Dawn Musgrave, Associate Director and General Counsel
Over the last few months, I’ve received several calls from parents who adopted their children internationally more than a decade ago and need guidance on how to obtain proof of their child’s U.S. citizenship. In a few cases, the child wants to sign up for military service and their Russian birth certificate is raising eyebrows with military personnel. In other cases, parents are finding they need additional proof of citizenship so their child can obtain a driver’s license. Yet other parents are concerned about proving their child’s citizenship in light of increased government and media attention on immigration and deportation.
Regardless of the reason, the place I turn for answers is in a blog post written several years ago by Irene Jordan, LCSW-C, who ran our international and home study services departments for many years. Although Irene passed away in 2016, her knowledge and experience in these matters continues to guide families through this complicated issue. Given the increased attention on citizenship, this seems like a good time to re-post Irene’s blog about international adoption and citizenship.
U.S. Citizenship for Internationally Adopted Children
By: Irene Jordan, LCSW-C
Director of International Adoption and Home Study Services (1994 to 2015)
I recently got a call from a frantic adoptive parent: “I took my son to the MVA to apply for a learner’s permit. They said he has to have proof of U.S. citizenship. They told me that his Maryland birth certificate is not proof of citizenship, since he was born overseas. I’m not even sure if my son is a U.S. citizen! Help! What do I do?”
Such calls are not unusual. Whether or not your internationally-adopted child is a U.S. citizen depends on a number of factors. Even if your child is a U.S. citizen, you may not yet have proof of citizenship. It is crucial to ensure both that your child has U.S. citizenship, and also that he/she has proof of that citizenship.
- Is my child a U.S. citizen?
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows certain foreign-born children adopted by U. S. citizens to automatically acquire U. S. citizenship when they enter the United States. In order to automatically become a U.S. citizen, the child must meet the following requirements of the Child Citizenship Act: have at least one adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen; be under 18 years of age; live in the legal and physical custody of the adoptive parent; and the adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration.
The Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Adoptees who met these requirements on that date automatically became U.S. citizens. Adoptees who were 18 years of age or older on that date did not acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act. In addition children whose adoptions were not finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. immigration did not automatically acquire American citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act.
- My child meets the other criteria. How do I know if my child’s adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration?
The last requirement for the child to qualify for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act is that the adoption must have been finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and of U.S. Immigration. If the adoption overseas was final under the laws of the foreign country, and of U. S. Immigration, your child will have entered the U. S. with an IR-3 immigration visa. Children with an IR-3 visas automatically become U.S. citizens when they enter the U.S.
Adoptions from Russia, China, Guatemala, Latvia, Lithuania, Vietnam and Azerbaijan are all finalized in the foreign country. However the Child Citizenship Act also requires that the adoption was finalized under U. S. Immigration regulations. Those regulations require that the child be visited by the sole adoptive parent (in the case of a single parent) or by both adoptive parents before the adoption was finalized. Adoptive parents are required by the foreign adoption laws in Russia, Lithuania, and Azerbaijan to visit the child before completing the adoption. Therefore if you adopted from one of those countries, your child should have entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and is a U. S. Citizen.
Adoptions from China, Guatemala, Latvia and Vietnam do not require both parents to see the child before the adoption was finalized. If the sole adoptive parent or both parents did not see the child before the adoption was finalized, then the child will have entered the U. S. on an IR-4 visa, and is not a U.S. citizen until the adoption is finalized in the U.S. Children with IR-4 visas obtain a Resident Alien card (sometimes referred to as a “green card”.) Please note that many of the children from these countries were visited by the sole adoptive parent or by both parents before the adoption. Those children entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, and are therefore U.S. citizens.
Adoptions from Korea are not finalized overseas. Families adopting a child from Korea need to finalize the adoption in the U.S. so that the child will meet the requirements for U.S. citizenship.
If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa, the adoption should be finalized in the United States under your state’s regulations. Your child acquires citizenship in the U.S. when the adoption is full and final in the U.S. The adoption decree and the birth certificate from your state, however, do not serve as proof of citizenship.
- What documentation do I need to serve as proof of my child’s citizenship?
There are 2 forms of proof of citizenship: a U.S. Passport and a Certificate of Citizenship.
Beginning in January 2004, USCIS has issued Certificates of Citizenship automatically to children who qualify as citizens under the Child Citizenship Act.
If your child entered the U.S. before January 2004 on an IR-3 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship.
If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa or an IH-4 visa, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S. You can also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship after you have finalized the adoption in the U.S.
- How do I apply for a certificate of citizenship?
If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a certificate of citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application. Information and the form can be obtained through the USCIS website. This site also provides the fee information and the address to which to send the form.
With your application, you will send a copy of the adoption decree from the court in your state. You will need to submit 2 photos of your child. The filing fee should be paid by certified check or money order. Send copies of the required documents, unless specifically asked to send originals after your application has been reviewed. It is recommended that the application be submitted through a delivery service that can be tracked, such as Federal Express or UPS.
If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa before January 2004, you can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by submitting Form N-600 Application as above. You will not need an adoption decree from the court in your state.
- How do I obtain a U.S. passport for my child?
If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-3 visa, then you can apply for a U.S. passport at any time. If your child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa and the adoption has been finalized in the United States, you can apply for a U.S. passport. You and your child will need to go in person to a passport office or satellite location. A list of locations nationwide that accept passport applications can be obtained through the Department of State website.
You will need to send a certified copy of the final adoption decree (with translation if the decree is not in English). You will also need to send the child’s foreign passport, showing the immigration stamp in the passport, or the child’s permanent resident card (“green card”). The foreign passport will be returned with the child’s new U.S. passport. You will also need to send proof of identity of the American citizen parent(s). Submit these documents with the passport application, passport photos of the child, and fees. The forms and full instructions can be obtained through the Department of State website here.
- What if my child was adopted under the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoptions? Is she a U.S. citizen?
A child whose adoption was finalized in the foreign country under the Hague Convention (including recent adoptions from China) will receive an IH-3 visa, and will automatically be a U.S. citizen. The requirement that the sole or both parents visit the child before the adoption is finalized has been eliminated under the Hague Convention. A certificate of citizenship will be issued and mailed to you automatically by USCIS.
- My daughter was over age 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect on February 27, 2001. Is she a citizen?
If your daughter was over 18 at the time that the Child Citizenship Act took effect, it is possible that she is not a U.S. citizen. Although legislation has been proposed to retroactively give citizenship to foreign adoptees who turned 18 before the Child Citizenship Act took effect, this legislation has not yet been passed. Therefore it is very important to determine if she is a citizen and for her to apply for naturalization if she is not a U.S. citizen. She may have a Permanent Resident Card, giving her the immigration status of a lawful permanent resident. The Permanent Resident Card may have expired, but the Lawful Permanent Resident status does not expire unless she travels outside the U.S. for more than 6 months.
Check to see if you have a Certificate of Citizenship or a Certificate of Naturalization for her. If not, your daughter should apply for naturalization in order to gain citizenship. It is strongly recommended that she do this in order to avoid any risk of deportation or any potential denial of the application for naturalization. The Application for Naturalization, form N-400, is available on the USCIS website. If you need an attorney to assist you with immigration issues, check the website of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
For additional information about the citizenship status of adult adopted persons, check the Guide to U.S. Citizenship for Adult International Adoptees at the Ethica.