Citizenship for Children and Stepchildren

If you are in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, also called naturalizing, and you have children and/or stepchildren, you are probably wondering what your naturalization will mean for your kids if they are not already U.S. citizens.  It is possible for your children or stepchildren to become U.S. citizens automatically when you do, but your family has to meet specific criteria in order for this to happen.  The criteria for a biological child to automatically become a citizen when you do also apply to your stepchild, but there are a few extra requirements for stepchildren.

Biological Children: In order for your biological child to automatically gain citizenship when you do, the following conditions must apply:

  1. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  2. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  3. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  4. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of your child. Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

If your biological child meets all four of these criteria, the child will become a U.S. citizen when you do and can receive a certificate of citizenship and a U.S. passport.  However, if the child is missing just one of the above requirements, he or she needs to apply for citizenship on his or her own after being a permanent resident for 5 years, or 3 years if he or she has been married to a U.S. citizen and been a permanent resident for 3 years.

Stepchildren: As stated above, in order to get automatic citizenship when you naturalize, your stepchild will need to meet all of the same criteria as your biological child, plus a few more.  The only way for your stepchild to gain citizenship automatically when you do is if your family meets all of the following requirements:

  1. The child must have been in the legal and physical custody of the permanent resident stepparent for at least 2 years. This means you need to have legally adopted your stepchild over 2 years ago and lived in the same home as him or her for at least 2 years.
  2. The child must have been under the age of 16 when legally adopted by you.
  3. The child’s legal parent-child relationship with his or her previous parent needs to be terminated. For example, if you are married to the child’s mother, you would need to make sure the child is no longer in the legal custody of the father.
  4. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  5. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  6. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  7. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of the child. You would, of course, already be the legal guardian if you adopted your stepchild.  Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

The main difference between getting your biological child and getting your stepchild citizenship automatically when you do is that you need to have legally adopted your stepchild at least 2 years ago, and you need to have lived with him or her for at least 2 years as well.  Only if you meet all seven of the criteria can your stepchild automatically become a U.S. citizen when you naturalize.

What if your stepchild doesn’t meet all of the above requirements?  You can still petition for your stepchild to become a permanent resident, even if you haven’t legally adopted or lived with him or her.  You can do this if they are inside or outside of the country.  An immigration attorney can help you through this process to get your stepchild permanent resident status, so he or she can one day apply for citizenship.

See our recent blog post, “The Benefits of Citizenship,” if you want to learn about the advantages your children and/or stepchildren will have if they too become citizens.

Patience required

Do you have conditional permanent residence? You will probably need some patience. If you married a U.S. citizen and obtained permanent residence less than two years after your marriage, then your permanent residence is conditional, which means that your first permanent residence card has a validity of two years. Three months before your card expires, you will need to submit a petition to remove the conditions of permanent residence.

Depending on your location, your petition will be processed by one of the four USCIS centers that handle them. The time it takes for each of the centers to process your application varies from 14.5 to 23 months. In some cases, the process can take up to 43 months. Yes, you read that right: in some circumstances, USCIS could take 3 years and 7 months to process the petition.

Normally, a few weeks after USCIS receives your petition, they will send you a receipt for the payment of fees in which they assign you a receipt number. The receipt will indicate that if you filed timely, you will have an 18-month extension to your permanent resident status.

Unfortunately, some applicants have had to wait weeks or months to receive that important notification in which USCIS grants them an extension of 18 months to their permanent resident status. We understand that this creates uncertainty, especially for those who need to travel abroad.

USCIS is constantly modernizing and automating processes. Every day, the agency processes thousands of requests, and with USCIS errors, applicants must prepare to wait a long time, usually at least 14 months, for the petition to be processed. If approved, you will have your second permanent residence card, now with a validity of 10 years.

For many people who file the petition to remove conditions, they become eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship while their petition to remove conditions is still pending. In fact, filing for naturalization can speed up your process. When the application for naturalization is made, there is an opportunity to provide more evidence that reinforces the request to remove the conditions. Part of the process in both includes an interview. USCIS often conducts both interviews on the same date.

Some advantages of naturalizing are that you will become a U.S. citizen, you will be able to vote, and you will obtain a United States passport. You also will never have to renew a permanent residence card again.

Proving U.S. Citizenship

Some people are actually U.S. Citizens, but don’t realize it.

If you were born outside the United States, you might be a U.S. Citizen if one or both of your parents is or was a U.S. Citizen.  The question of whether or not you are a U.S. Citizen is determined by the U.S. laws that were in effect on the day of your birth.

Under the “Resources” section of our website, we have some brief documents that outline various aspects of Immigration Law.

Naturalization: Becoming a U.S. Citizen

If you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for at least 4 years and 9 months, you might be eligible to apply to “naturalize,” or become a U.S. Citizen.  If you have been a Lawful Permanent Resident for at least 2 years and 9 months, AND you have been, and continue to be, married to a U.S. Citizen during that time, then you might be eligible to apply for naturalization.

Under the “Resources” section of our website, we have some brief documents that outline various aspects of Immigration Law.

We have provided some basic information about the process of naturalization.  Please take a look.

Congress investigates USCIS delays in new processing program

Congress is looking into a delayed program to computerize the immigration application process.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is heading the “Transformation” program, which began in 2007 with a budget of $536 million and a plan to automate the paper-based application process by 2013.

So far, $630 million has been spent, current cost estimates have ballooned to $2.2 billion, and the project is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

In a February 16 letter to the Director of USCIS, Senator Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, wrote, “I’m concerned that very few improvements have been made since the Government Accountability Office reported to Congress in 2007 about the Transformation initiative. . . . The GAO and the inspector general have noted that ‘efforts to modernize . . . have been unfocused, conducted in an ad hoc and decentralized manner, and in certain instances, duplicative.’ “

You can read the complete article here.