Skip to main content

With relatively little fanfare, President Clinton signed into law on 30 October 2000, a modification of Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act which makes it a bit easier for minor children of US citizens (both foreign-born and adopted abroad) to become citizens of the US.

The new law, authored by Congressman Bill Delahunt, now Public Law 106-395 known as "The Child Citizenship Act of 2000" went into effect on 27 February 2001.

The law has the following effects:

  • A child adopted abroad becomes a US citizen immediately upon entry into the US as a lawful permanent resident with the intention to reside there.
  • A child born abroad to parents, one or both of whom are US citizens, but who is not recognized as a US citizen at birth for various reasons, can also benefit from the new law, i.e. that child becomes a US citizen immediately upon entry into the US as a lawful permanent resident with the intention to reside there.
  • A child born abroad not earlier than 27 february 1983 who immigrated and stayed in the USA with his American parent(s) automatically became a US citizen citizen on 27 February 2001 (i.e. was legally in the USA and under the age of 18 on that date).

What this new law means is that, as of 27 February 2001, an adopted (or natural-born) child becomes a US citizen the moment he or she sets foot on US soil after proper adoption and immigration procedures have been fulfilled.

Now for the Bad News

  • The new law does NOT apply to children who don't live in or immigrate to the US (except for children of military personnel stationed abroad iin certain cases).
  • The new law does NOT confer citizenship on a child (adopted or natural-born) who arrives as a tourist or other visitor to the US.
  • The new law does NOT work retroactively back to the child's birth; i.e. the child cannot be considered to be a "Natural born American"
  • The new law does NOT apply to children older than 18 years.
  • The new law does NOT apply to a stepchild unless he/she was legally adopted by the American parent.
  • Children born abroad before 27 February 1983 did NOT and cannot acquire US citizenship from the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.


This new law was highly encouraged by families adopting foreign children as its main effects are for adopted children entering the US with their new American parents.

It will help to resolve future cases of extreme hardship, some of which have occurred in the past due to the fact that the US parents of adopted children, for one reason or another, failed to have their children naturalized. For example, in one well-known case, John Gaul, an adoptee born in Thailand and adopted by a Florida family at the age of four, was deported by the US government as a criminal alien at the age of 25. The Gauls had obtained an American birth certificate for John shortly after adopting him, but didn't realize until he applied for a passport at age 17 that he had never been naturalized.

It also affects children born abroad to parents, only one of whom is a US citizen and who has not resided the requisite five years in the US (two of which must be after the age of 14) before the birth of the child. In such cases, the child born abroad is not recognized as a US citizen at birth, but when and if his parents return to the US and sponsor their child for immigration, he or she becomes a naturalized US citizen upon arrival in the USA (if under age 18).

How does this law work?

For both adoption and natural-born cases, the parent or parents returning to the US must file the necessary immigration papers for their minor child(ren). Although these requests come under the "immediate relative" i.e.non-quota status, the necessary paperwork still has to be done properly. This involves petitioning as a sponsor (using form I-130), applying for a visa and filing the affidavit of support (in some cases) as well as the usual photos, medical exams, police certificates, payment of fees, etc. This is the same as if you were filing for a green card for your child except that upon arrival in the US, your child will not need the green card because he or she will immediately be recognized as a US citizen under the new law. The child can and should immediately apply for a US passport and/or Certificate of Citizenship. Note that separate evidence establishing that the child is actually residing and continuing to reside in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the US citizen parent(s) may be requested.

Notes on filing form I-130

Under USCIS regulations in effect as of 15 August 2011, the "Petition for Alien Relative" using form I-130 can no longer be filed at a US consulate abroad. It will have to be filed with the USCIS Chicago "lockbox" facility or with a USCIS field office located in one of the 25 foreign countries that have such an office associated with the local US consulate.

ACA has expressed concerns that this procedure will add to processing time. Often, families become aware of the 18th birthday cutoff relatively late in the game. The USCIS has agreed that in exceptional circumstances, including “aging out,” the I-130 may still be filed via a local US consulate.

Do not delay in beginning the procedure, which often takes considerable time (a year in some cases).

What about US parents residing permanently abroad with no immediate intention of returning to the USA to reside there with their children (either natural or adopted)?

In these cases, under another procedure, it is possible, in some cases, to file from abroad for immediate naturalization under Section 322 (described elsewhere on this ACA web site) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (which was modified in form but not in substance by the new law). (Naturalization under Section 322 requires that the American parent OR American grandparent show that he/she has been present at least five years in the US, at least two of which were after the parent's 14th birthday but before the naturalization of the child.) This procedure enables private US citizens residing abroad to obtain US citizenship for their children, not otherwise eligible to be citizens, through a special naturalization procedure, which does not require that they sponsor their child for immigration. All the papers are filed from abroad (using Form N-600K), and then, when approved, the American parent and child/children travel to a designated District Office in the United States to finalize the process on the day of a previously arranged appointment. Naturalization as a US citizen is not possible outside the USA, except for military personnel (and their families) on active duty abroad.


Revised January 2016, ACA, Inc.