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How to acquire citizenship for foreign adoptees

In many cases, children under 18 who have been adopted by US citizens are granted automatic citizenship. However, in these cases of foreign adoption, where the adoption was completed, the age of the adoptee, and the country in which the adoptee lives may lead to additional paperwork requirements before US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will grant citizenship.

Visas for entry to the US

There are 5 types of visas. The type of visa a foreign adoptee is issued to enter the United States affects the citizenship process.

IH-3 and IH-4 visas are issued to children adopted from a country that is a party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. IH-3 visas are for finalized adoptions and IH-4 visas are for pending adoptions.

Two other types of visas, IR-3 and IR-4, are issued for non-Hague or orphan adoptions. IR-3 visas are for those whose adoptions were completed abroad. IR-4 visas cover children whose adoptions are not complete, who were adopted overseas by only one of their adoptive parents, or who have not met their adoptive parents before the adoption.

Finally, IR-2 visas are for children who were adopted and have resided with their adoptive parent(s) overseas for at least 2 years before coming to the United States.

Automatic citizenship

Foreign adoptees admitted to the US under all five types of visas (IR-2, IH-3, IR-3, IH-4, IR-4) are initially admitted as legal permanent residents. Those admitted under IH-3 and IR-3 visas will be mailed a Certificate of Citizenship automatically once USCIS verifies their eligibility.

Eligibility is governed by the Child Citizenship Act (CCA), under which an adoptee under the age of 18 gains US citizenship automatically if he or she lives in the custody of an adoptive parent who is a US citizen, and has been admitted to the US as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence. The adoption must be final.

Citizenship by application

USCIS mails green cards (identification of legal permanent resident status) to adoptees entering the country under IR-4 and IH-4 visas. Once the adoption is finalized, the family can file Form N-600 with USCIS to obtain citizenship. A foreign adoptee entering the US under an IR-2 visa, who is eligible for citizenship, may also file Form N-600.

Special situations

A foreign adoptee between the ages of 14 and 18 may be required to take and sign an oath of allegiance before obtaining US citizenship.

It may not be necessary for a foreign adoptee to live in the United States to obtain citizenship. An adopted child under 18 years of age, living abroad with his or her US citizen adoptive parent, may gain US citizenship by filing Form N-600K with a field office of USCIS, or by applying for a US passport from the US Department of State. A visit to the US may be required to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship through Form N-600K.

Adoptees over the age of 18

Foreign-born adoptees who were 18 or older before February 27, 2001, or who entered the US after reaching age 18, and who did not already have automatic citizenship through a parent, must apply for US citizenship through the naturalization process. File a Form N-400 naturalization application, which requires five years of legal permanent resident status in the US, having lived in the US for at least half that time, good moral character, competence in English, and understanding of American history and government.

Citizenship for adoptees of US non-citizen permanent residents

As of February 27, 2001, if a parent of a foreign adoptee obtains US citizenship and the adopted child is under 18, unmarried, in possession of a green card, and living in the legal and physical custody of that parent, the adopted child derives US citizenship from that parent. To obtain a Certificate of Citizenship, file USCIS Form N-600 if the child lives in the US or Form N-600K if the child lives abroad.

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