Citizenship for International Adoptees

Laila_Liberty_05Jun09Holt aims to work with both adoptive parents and adult adoptees to resolve any immigration and naturalization issues that might occur throughout the adoptee’s life. These issues are more complex and time sensitive than ever before. Holt receives daily requests for assistance with citizenship-related issues. While we may make suggestions and recommendations, Holt staff are not experts on immigration. Please seek the advice of an immigration attorney or other professional if your situation becomes complicated or urgent. The following are some of the more common topics of concern for adoptees.

Naturalization and Citizenship:

Naturalization and citizenship are not necessarily the same thing, although the terms are often used interchangeably, even by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS). [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”]

Naturalization is the process of asking permission to become a U.S. citizen. Prior to 2001, all adoptees had to be naturalized to obtain U.S. citizenship — similar to adults who immigrate to the U.S. today.

Following the implementation of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which went into effect on February 27, 2001, children who enter the U.S. for the purpose of adoption receive citizenship automatically when their adoption has been finalized in a court recognized by the U.S. Adoptees no longer have to ask permission (naturalization), and do not have to meet the two-year residency rule required under Sections 320 and 322 of the Immigration and Nationality Act. This act grandfathered in all adoptees born on or after February 27, 1983. If your child was born prior to that date, naturalization is still required.[/expand]

Determining Citizenship Status:

There are several factors involved in determining if your child is a U.S. citizen. The primary method is by date of birth. [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”]

If your child was born on or after February 27, 1983, they may already be a U.S. citizen. Following the implementation of the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, adoptees gain citizenship automatically when the adoption is finalized in a U.S court or international court recognized by the U.S.  If you are unsure of where the adoption was finalized, please contact us for assistance.

COC ExampleIf they were born prior to February 27, 1983, adoptees had to be naturalized regardless of where or when the adoption was finalized. Parents were advised to have their children naturalized, but this was occasionally missed — proving citizenship just wasn’t as vital as it is today. Your first step is to determine whether or not your child was naturalized. Have your adult child review their documents for any indication that they were naturalized, such as a certificate, a letter that congratulates their recent citizenship, or newspaper clippings. If you’re not sure he or she was naturalized, then they may need to complete the naturalization process through USCIS to become a citizen. They may not be able to replace a lost social security card, renew a driver’s license, or obtain a U.S. passport until this is complete.

If you know that your child was naturalized and is a U.S. citizen, they don’t need to apply for naturalization, but they do need proof of their citizenship status.[/expand]

Proof of Citizenship:

You or your adult child may have been asked for “proof of citizenship,” or told that their social security number lists them as a permanent resident, not a citizen. We receive calls and emails daily from adoptees and parents having issues because they can’t produce evidence of citizenship. Some of these issues need to be resolved as quickly as possible in order to obtain a passport for an upcoming vacation, to renew a driver’s license, or to register for college. [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”]

There are three documents that can be used to prove status as a U.S. citizen.

  • Certificate of Citizenship
  • Certificate of Naturalization
  • U.S. Passport

The Certificate of Citizenship (COC) is now required by the DMV to issue a new driver’s license, a new ID card, or to replace a lost license. Social security offices often refuse to replace a lost card for an adoptee who has had one for years. College admissions offices, military enlistment offices, and even insurance companies can require the COC. The U.S. Department of State also requires “proof of citizenship” for all passport applicants.

Although a U.S. passport can only be obtained by a citizen, most government offices and colleges won’t accept it as proof of citizenship. You may not have had problems at all with passports or drivers licenses, but be prepared in case issues arise later.[/expand]

Applying for a Certificate of Citizenship (COC):

If your child falls under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, which means they were born after February 27, 1983, but you don’t have proof of citizenship, you can apply for the COC by completing form N-600 Application for Certificate of Citizenship. [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”] N-600The form and instructions can be downloaded from the USCIS website at If you have any questions when completing the form, such as the date of entry or date of adoption, please contact Holt and we will be happy to discuss your questions with you. If Holt did not facilitate your adoption, we may be able to give general suggestions, but will not have any specific information pertaining to your adoption.

Adoptive parents may apply on behalf of their minor child. Otherwise, only the adult adoptee may apply. If the adoptee is over age 18, please direct them to the Adult Adoptee section of the Post Adoption Services website.

New applications for a COC are only accepted at one USCIS location (see form instructions), and can take 6-12 months from application submission to receipt. If your child is age 14 and over, they will be asked to appear in person at your local or regional USCIS office. This is usually a routine “swearing in,” and you will be notified by mail. We suggest you take originals of all neccessary documents, just in case they have questions at your appointment.

We suggest you submit photocopies of the following documents with the N-600 Application to the address located in the instructions. Do not submit originals as they will not be returned to you.

  • Birth certificate from country of birth
  • U.S. birth certificate
  • Adoption decree from country of birth (if applicable)
  • U.S. adoption decree
  • Alien registration or permanent resident card (if available)
  • Mother’s birth certificate
  • Father’s birth certificate
  • Marriage license
  • Proof of residency (such as a monthly mortgage statement)

If you are unsure what these documents are, or have other questions, please contact Holt. Not all of these documents apply to every adoptee, and can vary by birth country and time of adoption.[/expand]

Replacing a Lost or Destroyed Certificate:

If your child’s certificate has been lost or destroyed, you can apply for a replacement by completing form N-565 Application to Replace Certificate of Citizenship/Naturalization. [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”] The form and instructions can be downloaded from the USCIS website at Please note: Two USCIS locations accept replacement applications (see form instructions), and it can take 12-18 months from application submission to receipt. Holt suggests you replace a lost certificate as soon as you are able to avoid delays or complications down the road.[/expand]

Applying for a U.S. Passport:

If you need to apply for a U.S. passport on behalf of your child, you will need certified copies or originals of a variety of documents, which may include a certified copy of your adoption decree, your child’s U.S. birth certificate, and their proof of citizenship (COC or naturalization). [expand title=”Read More” swaptitle=”Read Less”] If you don’t have these documents, or need to know if they apply to you, please contact Holt. Passport application and requirements can be found on the Department of State website at Please be aware that you may or may not be able to obtain a passport on short notice unless you have proof of citizenship and adoption. If you think you may be traveling out of the country, we recommend you check into your child’s status and obtain a passport far in advance.[/expand]

What should I do?:

In order for us to answer your citizenship questions, we need more information from you. Please complete the online verification form, even if you don’t know if Holt facilitated your child’s adoption. A Post Adoption Services staff member will email you in approximately 2-5 business days to discuss your particular situation.

To read more about citizenship facts for parents, please click here. This helpful information can be saved to your computer or printed for future reference.