Your international adoption has been finalized. Whew! Think you are done? Think again. Your foreign-born child is now legally your son or daughter, but additional paperwork is needed. The proper documentation to evidence your child’s status as a U.S. citizen must be obtained.
Citizenship status for your adopted child is important. Why? As a U.S. citizen, or a legally recognized subject of this nation, he cannot be deported. Citizenship enables him, among other things, to obtain a U.S. passport, vote, run for certain offices, and receive government benefits. Proof of citizenship may be required for employment eligibility verification and must be produced to obtain a Social Security number. U.S. citizenship is attained in one of two ways: a citizen may be native-born or he may be naturalized. Since adopted foreign-born children are not native-born, their only path to citizenship is through naturalization. Unfortunately, naturalization is a time-consuming and costly process.
Americans who have adopted abroad have already been through a time-consuming and costly process to expand their family. Thus, the U.S. government sought to ease the process U.S. parents had to utilize to gain citizenship for their foreign-born child. The Department of State strongly supported legislation aimed to streamline the process for a foreign-born child to become a naturalized citizen upon adoption by a U.S. citizen parent.
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on October 30, 2000, and took effect on February 27, 2001. This law amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit foreign-born adopted children to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically if certain requirements are met. Automatic citizenship means that adoptees became U.S. citizens as a matter of law and not as the result of application.
The main focus of the new federal law was adopted children entering the U.S. with their new American parents. The U.S. State Department estimated approximately 75,000 children already living in this country automatically became citizens when the law took effect.
With the enactment of the Child Citizenship Act, citizenship is now automatic for eligible adoptees. But exactly when does a foreign-born adopted child become a citizen? Citizenship status is achieved at one of two points. First, if the adoption was finalized overseas, for example in China, the child becomes a citizen when he enters the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident. A lawful permanent resident is someone holding a green card. A child whose passport has received an I-551 stamp is a legal permanent resident. Such a stamp indicates that the person has received green card status and can enter the U.S. with the right to live permanently in this country. Second, a child whose adoption was not finalized in his country of birth may become a citizen when his adoption is finalized in the U.S.
Each country’s adoption laws are different; therefore, it is important for U.S. citizens undergoing an inter-country adoption to know whether their child’s country of origin offers a full and final adoption in that country or if finalization in the U.S. upon arrival home is necessary. An IR-3 (Immediate Relative—Orphan Adopted Abroad By U.S. Citizen) visa will be issued to the child if the adoption abroad was final under the laws of that country and in the eyes of U.S. immigration authorities. Most adopted children will come in under this type of visa, and they will automatically obtain citizenship upon entry. Some adopted children are issued an IR-4 visa (Immediate Relative—Orphan To Be Adopted In U.S. By U.S. Citizen), signifying that the adoption was either not completed abroad or not considered final by the foreign country and U.S. immigration. With this type of visa, the child will not acquire U.S. citizenship until his adoption is finalized here in the U.S. assuming all other requirements are met.
The Child Citizenship Act’s title provides a clue as to what one of the requirements is for being eligible to become a citizen under this law. The person for whom citizenship is desired must be under the age of 18—a child. Accordingly, anyone who was 18 or older on the Child Citizenship Act’s effective date could not qualify for citizenship under that law.
While the Child Citizenship Act’s enactment did reduce the paperwork required of U.S. adoptive parents of foreign-born children, it did not eliminate it entirely. Citizenship is now acquired automatically when all prerequisites are met; adoptive parents no longer have to apply for it for their children. A child who acquires U.S. citizenship, in accordance with the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, is deemed to be a naturalized U.S. citizen. He is said to have derivative citizenship; his citizenship is derived from his U.S. citizen parent. Nevertheless, adoptive parents should obtain a Certificate of Citizenship to evidence their child’s status as a U.S. citizen. Cue more paperwork.
Since January 2004, adopted children who enter the United States on an IR-3 (or IH-3 if the Hague Convention applies) visa and who otherwise qualify will receive a Certificate of Citizenship from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the mail free of charge. However, adoptees entering on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa will not automatically receive a Certificate of Citizenship when their adoption is finalized in this country. The parents of those adoptees must request that a Certificate of Citizenship be issued.
Before seeking a Certificate of Citizenship, in cases involving an adoptee who entered under an IR-4 or IH-4 visa, an adoptive parent should confirm all legal requirements have been met for citizenship. Is the child under age 18? Does the child have at least one U.S. citizen (either by birth or naturalization) parent? Is the adoption full and final? Has the child been admitted to the country as an immigrant with legal permanent residency? Is the child living in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent? If the answer to all these questions is yes, it is time to do paperwork.
The vehicle to request a Certificate of Citizenship is a Form N-600. This form may be filed by a U.S. citizen parent on behalf of his adopted child who is automatically eligible for citizenship based on the parent’s citizenship. The USCIS requires Form N-600, a 15-page form entitled Application For Certificate Of Citizenship, be used. It is not necessary to retain an attorney to assist with this filing, but the assistance of counsel may be helpful in complicated cases.
A Form N-600 can be filed utilizing one of two options. The form may be submitted online using an electronic application form. In order to apply in this manner, an online account must be created. Alternatively, Form N-600 may be submitted by mail using a paper application form. This application is sent to the USCIS District Office with jurisdiction over the applicant’s residence.
Regardless of how Form N-600 is submitted, supporting documentation must be provided to establish the child’s eligibility for citizenship. This required documentation includes the child’s birth certificate and evidence of the U.S. parent’s citizenship (birth certificate or Certificate of Naturalization, Form N-560). Proof of the child’s physical presence or residence in the United States may be documented through school or employment records; the affidavit of a third party with knowledge of the child’s residence, such as a babysitter or attending pediatrician, may also be relied upon.
Original documents should not be submitted along with the Form N-600 as they will not be returned. If a document is not in English, such as the child’s original birth certificate, a full English translation must be provided; the translator must certify that the translation is complete and accurate and that he is competent to translate from the foreign language into English. Additionally, two passport-style photos of the child must be submitted along with the application.
A filing fee, which is final and nonrefundable, is due when Form N-600 is submitted. This fee is currently $1,170. The amount of the filing fee was previously $550, but that amount doubled effective December 23, 2016. If a paper application is mailed in, a check (personal or cashier’s) or money order payable to the Department of Homeland Security may be used to cover the filing fee. A fee due with an online application may be paid using a debit or credit card or through a bank withdrawal.
The turnaround time for processing an application to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship is usually several months. Applicants can check case processing times on the USCIS website at https://egov.uscis.gov/processing-times/. The specific office to which the form is being submitted may be selected which will generate an estimated processing time. Currently, the processing time for Form N-600 is between 4.5 and 23 months for the Atlanta, GA; Jacksonville, FL; and New Orleans, LA, offices.
An interview is usually not necessary in connection with the application filed on behalf of an adopted child. Nevertheless, if evidence needs to be verified, an interview may be required. The citizen parent must attend this interview if the child is under 18. If the application is approved, the Oath of Allegiance is taken at the interview. The oath may be waived if the child is too young to understand it or if no interview is required.
A successfully processed Form N-600 will result in the issuance of a one-page Certificate of Citizenship 8.5” x 11” in size which does not have to be renewed. This certificate will bear not only the date of issuance, but it will also list the date of citizenship; the citizenship date will be the date on which the child met all of the conditions set forth under Section 320 of the Immigration and Naturalization Act. Also listed on the Certificate of Citizenship are the citizen’s name, marital status, residence, and physical description. A photo of the citizen along with his signature and a Department of Homeland Security seal will appear on the Certificate of Citizenship. A parent signs the certificate on behalf of the child if the child is too young or unable to do so. Each Certificate of Citizenship has a number. The American citizenship number, commonly known as a C-File number, is printed in red at the very top of the Certificate of Citizenship.
A replacement Certificate of Citizenship may be obtained through filing a Form N-565 if the original certificate has been lost or damaged. A fee of $555 is charged for issuing a replacement certificate.
Thousands of Certificates of Citizenship are issued each year. The State Department reported 4,714 adoptions from abroad in fiscal year 2017 and 5,372 in fiscal year 2016. Each of those adoptions would be an instance in which a Certificate of Citizenship might be issued.
A Certificate of Citizenship is not the only document which can establish citizenship status for an adopted child. A U.S. passport is also proof of citizenship. Although obtaining a U.S. passport is less expensive than obtaining a Certificate of Citizenship, obtaining the Certificate of Citizenship is highly recommended by adoption professionals because that document is permanent. A passport expires while a Certificate of Citizenship does not.
Finalizing the adoption of a foreign-born child is a huge, but not the final, step adoptive parents need to take. With the enactment of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, an adoptee legally becomes a U.S. citizen as a matter of law upon the adoption’s finalization, assuming all other requirements are met. But without proof of U.S. citizenship, the adoptee will be handicapped in successfully maneuvering life in this country. His citizenship status is crucial for obtaining government benefits, avoiding deportation, and exercising the rights of citizenship such as voting. Although not required to be obtained, proof of citizenship in the form of a Certificate of Citizenship is the best evidence of citizenship. If not automatically provided free of charge (IR-3 or IH-3 adoptee entrants into the U.S.), a Certificate of Citizenship may be requested by filing a Form N-600.
Adoption is a paper-intensive process. Parents who have undergone an inter-country adoption need more paperwork after entry of a final judgment of adoption. A key piece of paper is a one-page Certificate of Citizenship for Uncle Sam’s new niece or nephew evidencing the child’s U.S. citizenship.