On August 28th, USCIS issued a policy update which states that US military or government employees stationed overseas are no longer considered “residing in the US” for citizenship purposes. Almost immediately, articles were published with headlines stating military dependents born overseas will no longer be natural born US citizens. Because of the confusion, additional clarifications were made. Military families and expatriates do adopt internationally so this policy update has caused a lot of anxiety within the international adoption community.
I took the time to read through the actual document as well as news articles from a variety of sources. HOWEVER, I am not an immigration expert. Nor have I ever been in the military or resided overseas. This is simply my understanding of the changes.
First, some people were concerned that because internationally adopted children were born to non-US citizens, that makes them ineligible to become citizens. However, at the point of legal adoption, you become the child’s parents. They are not considered natural born US citizens, but their citizenship is derived from your citizenship. Adoption is specifically addressed in the document.
So, as long at least one adoptive parent is a US citizen, your child is eligible to become a US citizen. But all of these conditions must be met. That means if you are not residing in the United States when the child is adopted, the residency requirement is not met. This is detailed in the footnotes for the above section.
For US citizen parents residing in the United States, their child’s citizenship is processed upon landing at a US port of entry. Previously, expatriates who adopted still needed to make a trip back to the Unites States to “activate” their child’s US citizenship. Most would make a short trip back to the US after the adoption was finalized in country, have the paperwork processed, apply for a passport for their child, then return to their country of residence. My understanding of the above is that this process would now only establish the child as a Lawful Permanent Resident rather than a citizen if the parents reside outside of the US. The child would only become eligible for citizenship after returning to the US to live with their parents in an established residency unlike natural born children who would be eligible through birth.
If this is correct, military families would have to file for citizenship for their adopted children once they return to live in the United States and this would have to happen before the child turns 18. This will probably be more of a problem for the children of diplomats who are more likely to reside outside of the US on a more long term basis than military families. The family at the “Diplofam blog” has adopted three children from China but because they are career diplomats they did not have a permanent residence in the United States during any of that time. (I do know this family but am not publishing their name for security purposes.) The USCIS official who responded to press inquiries stressed that these changes would effect “very few families a year” but this will still be a very serious issue for those in that situation.
Please leave a comment if you think I am interpreting this wrongly. I will update the blog post if more information becomes available.