Adoptees

U.S. Citizenship

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (CCA), codified at Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Sections 320 and 322, addresses U.S. citizenship concerns for adoptees. INA Section 320 makes it possible for foreign-born children who did not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth through a U.S. citizen parent to acquire U.S. citizenship automatically upon fulfillment of certain conditions while under the age of 18.  INA Section 322 provides for expedited naturalization of foreign-born children who meet certain requirements, also while under the age of 18.  The CCA applies to persons who were/are under the age of 18 on or after the effective date, February 27, 2001.  

The CCA applies to a child adopted by a U.S. citizen parent if the child satisfies the requirements applicable to adopted children under INA Section 101(b)(1); i.e., generally, a child adopted while under the age of 16, if the child has been in the legal custody of, and has resided with, the adopting parent for at least two years; or a child who is an orphan or Convention adoptee on whose behalf an immigrant petition has been filed while under the age of 16 (or while under the age of 18 and the natural sibling of a child who was adopted by the same parents while that child was under the age of 16).  The adoption must be final for the child to acquire U.S citizenship.

INA Section 320: Children Born Outside of the United States and Residing in the United States; Conditions under which Citizenship Automatically Acquired 
A child born outside of the United States automatically becomes a citizen of the United States when all of the following conditions have been fulfilled:

  • A full and final adoption;
  • At least one of the child’s parents is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization; 
  • The child is under 18 years of age; 
  • The child is residing in or has resided in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent pursuant to a lawful admission for permanent residence. 

Please review additional information on how to establish a citizenship claim under INA 320. 

If your child has met the above conditions, then he or she more than likely has automatically acquired U.S. citizenship. You do not have to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship; however, you may do so by filing the Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

INA Section 322: Children Born and Residing Outside of the United States; Conditions for Acquiring Certificate of Citizenship
Another section of the CCA, INA Section 322, provides that a U.S. citizen parent (or, if deceased within five years, a citizen grandparent or legal guardian) may apply for naturalization on behalf of a child born abroad who has not acquired U.S. citizenship automatically under INA Section 320.  USCIS will issue a Certificate of Citizenship to the child upon proof that the following conditions have been fulfilled: 

  • At least one parent of the child is a U.S. citizen by birth or naturalization; 
  • The U.S. citizen parent has been physically present in the United States for a total of at least five years, at least two of which are after the age of 14.  If the child's U.S. citizen parent cannot meet the physical presence requirement, this requirement may be met through proof that the child's U.S. citizen grandparent has been physically present for such time. 
  • The child is under the age of eighteen; 
  • The child is residing outside the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent; 
  • The child is temporarily present in the United States pursuant to a lawful admission, and is maintaining such lawful status. 

Children who acquire citizenship under this new provision must appear before a USCIS officer and take an oath of allegiance, unless the oath is waived because of the age of the child.  In the case of a child of a member of the Armed Forces serving overseas, the child need not be in the United States and the oath may be administered abroad.  The parents may file the application for a Certificate of Citizenship while abroad using USCIS Form N-600K, Application for Citizenship and Issuance of Certificate Under Section 322, and remitting the necessary filing fee.  

Persons who were 18 years of age or older as of February 27, 2001 (the effective date of the CCA) cannot acquire U.S. citizenship under the CCA.  They may, however, have acquired U.S. citizenship automatically pursuant to former INA Sections 320 and 321, if the applicable requirements were met.  

Many adoptees have found that although they were legally adopted and have been legal permanent residents for most of their lives, they are not U.S. citizens.  Some discovered this as young adults when applying for their first jobs, registering to vote, applying for a U.S. passport, or unfortunately, when getting into trouble with the law and facing removal to a country they may no longer call home.

The reasons vary.  Yet, the fact remains that many adoptees are not U.S. citizens and may not even know it.

If you are a foreign-born adoptee who did not acquire U.S. citizenship automatically under the CCA (or the earlier versions of INA Sections 320 or 321) and would like to apply for U.S. citizenship, you may apply for naturalization by filing the Form N-400, Application for Naturalization, with USCIS.  

To find out more information about how to obtain U.S. citizenship, please see USCIS' online citizenship information.  Also visit our CCA FAQs.

Adoption Records

In intercountry adoption cases, federal accreditation standards require accredited or approved adoption service providers to retain or archive records in a safe, secure, and retrievable manner for the period of time required by applicable state law. 

Such archiving ensures that:

  • Personal data gathered for an adoption is used for the purposes for which the information was gathered and sensitive individual information is safeguarded; 
  • Non-identifying information about the adoptee's health history or background is accessible to the adoptee and the adoptive parents; 
  • A plan exists to transfer adoption records to an appropriate custodian who will ensure the accessibility of the records in the event that the adoption service provider ceases to provide adoption services. 

If an accredited or approved adoption service provider was acting as a primary provider in your intercountry adoption case, you may contact that adoption service provider to request copies of your adoption records. Their contact information is available through our Adoption Service Provider Search.

You may also consider retrieving copies of your adoption and immigration related documents, including your birth certificate, adoption decree, and Permanent Resident Card with your Alien Registration Number, from USCIS.  This can be done for free by filing Form G-884, Return of Original Documents, with USCIS or through a request under the Freedom of Information Act.  Please refer to the USCIS Freedom of Information Act Request Guide.

Travel Information

At some point in their lives, many adoptees travel abroad.  If you decide to travel abroad, we offer some resources that will help you prepare for your trip.  Note that these travel tips are targeted towards individuals with U.S. citizenship.  USCIS provides travel tips for U.S. lawful permanent residents. 

U.S. Passport
U.S. citizens are required by law to enter and depart the United States on a valid U.S. passport. Only the Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.

The Department of State’s Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print – all in one place. 

Obtaining a Visa
In addition to a U.S. passport, you may also need to obtain a visa to travel abroad.  Where required, visas are affixed to a traveler’s passport and may be necessary to enter a foreign nation.  To find information about obtaining a visa, see the Department of State’s Country Specific Information.

Travel Preparation
The Department of State administers the Consular Information Program to inform the public of conditions abroad that may affect their safety and security.  Country Specific Information, Travel Alerts, and Travel Warnings are vital parts of this program.  Learn about your destination. 

Staying In Touch
When traveling, we encourage you to enroll with the Department of State’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). Enrollment makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there is a family emergency in the United States or a crisis in the country you are visiting, enrollment assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.

Enrollment is free and can be done online via the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).

Additional Resources

  • Child Welfare Information Gateway - For Adopted People
  • Child Welfare Information Gateway - Search and Reunion 
  • Intercountry Adoption Statistics 
  • Post-Adoption and Post-Placement Reporting and Services