Proof of Citizenship
When Zar (pictured above) attended a naturalization ceremony in Syracuse this past fall and took the Oath of Allegiance before a judge, she officially became a naturalized US citizen. Because of immigration law, the moment Zar finished the swearing-in ceremony, her daughter also became a US citizen. Under current US immigration regulations, her daughter satisfied all the conditions to derive citizenship: she was a permanent resident; at least one of her parents naturalized; she was unmarried and under the age of 18; and, she resided in the US in the legal and physical custody of her US citizen parent. So instead of going through the lengthy qualification and application process that Zar went through to naturalize, her daughter got to ride on her mother’s coattails through the citizenship process.
Zar was able to leave the Syracuse ceremony with a citizenship certificate in her possession but she had no tangible proof that her daughter was now a citizen. Like many other clients who we assist to become US citizens, Zar returned to get assistance in filing form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, for her daughter which is about a 9-month process. I often meet with clients following their naturalization ceremonies when they have children who have derived citizenship. Typically, they want to discuss how to get proof of their child’s citizenship – should they file form N-600 (like Zar did), apply for a US passport, or both? While ideally the answer would be “both” it’s not always the most affordable choice.
Obtaining a US passport is the quickest and most affordable way to obtain proof of US citizenship; current fees range from $80 – $277, depending on the age of the child. On the other hand, the application fee for a citizenship certificate is $1,170. One saving grace for many of the clients we assist is a fee waiver can accompany the application and is usually granted if the family can prove they meet certain income guidelines. For parents who do not qualify for a fee waiver and find that the $1,170 is not something they can budget for, it makes sense to only apply for a US passport. The down side to passports though is they have expiration dates – citizenship certificates don’t.
The USCIS website makes it clear that parents do not have to file a Form N-600 for a Citizenship Certificate and doing so is optional. However, parents need to factor in other information USCIS provides, specifically the following:
.…you may be required to submit your Certificate of Citizenship when attempting to apply for certain other benefits, including, but not limited to: Social Security benefits; State issued ID including a Driver’s License or Learning Permit; Financial Aid; Employment; and Passport Renewal.
I currently have clients who never obtained a citizenship certificate after they derived or acquired citizenship and have been told to obtain one when they tried to get Social Security benefits. Since it can be a 9-month process, it delays getting a benefit that is often immediately needed. Additionally, since many of the clients I assist came to the US as refugees, they often lack the paper trail that is required to prove their identity since they most likely fled their countries without documents such as marriage and birth certificates. Homeland Security has already vetted documents submitted by refugees in order to admit them to the US through the Refugee Admissions Program and USCIS did an additional vetting when they adjusted their status from refugee to legal permanent residents. Therefore, taking the additional step in getting citizenship certificates for their children is something refugee parents who naturalize can do that will benefit their children in the long term.
Overall, my advice for US citizen parents who qualify for a fee waiver is to file an N-600 before their income level changes. Although Catholic Charities charges fees in order to prepare and file the N-600, these fees are nominal. I would also advise parents to obtain a US passport for their citizen children as soon as possible if they don’t plan on filing an N-600. Having proof of citizenship is important and getting that proof shouldn’t be delayed. And finally, for those clients I come across who need to gather the documents necessary to prove their parents naturalized prior to them turning 18, it can be a cumbersome process and they often question why their parent didn’t take care of this for them. Fortunately for Zar’s daughter, her mother decided to get her her own citizenship certificate; a document that is coveted by many and has no expiration date.