As a result of federal legislation passed in 2000, most foreign children adopted by U.S. citizens automatically become citizens themselves. Citizenship of foreign-born adopted children occurs by "operation of law," which means that parents don't have to take any extra steps to accomplish it. However, the exact date at which citizenship occurs can vary.
Your Child Must Meet Some Requirements
To qualify for citizenship by operation of law, your adopted child must be younger than 18. Either you, or your spouse if you're married, must be U.S. citizens. The parent who is a citizen must have legal and physical custody of the child.
Your Child Must First Have a Visa
Automatic citizenship begins with a visa, and the visa you'll need depends on the adoption process you're using. If the adoption is final in your child's home country, you must apply for and receive an IR-3 visa on behalf of your child for entry into the United States. If your adoption will become final in America, you'll need an IR-4 visa. With an IR-3 visa, your child becomes a citizen as soon as you use the visa to bring him or her into the United States. With an IR-4 visa, citizenship is automatic when the adoption is official.
An Exception Exists
Automatic citizenship requires that your child reside in the United States. If you and your child reside in a foreign country, or if your child is residing with your spouse in another country, you must request citizenship. This will require the approval of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Your child will have to come to the United States for a period of time so the citizenship process can be completed.
Obtain Needed Documents
Although citizenship is automatic in most cases, some parents might want to take additional steps to formalize it. If your adoption was finalized in your child's home country and you used an IR-3 visa, you'll receive a Certificate of Citizenship within 45 days of bringing your child to the United States. Otherwise, you can apply to USCIS for a Certificate or to the Department of State for a passport. These documents will ensure that you can get a birth certificate and Social Security card for your child.
An Immigration Lawyer Can Help
The law surrounding U.S. citizenship and foreign adoption is complicated. Plus, the facts of each case are unique. This article provides a brief, general introduction to the topic. For more detailed, specific information, please contact an immigration lawyer.