8 min read

October 01, 2021

Naturalized or Derived Citizen: What’s the Difference?

Who is a US citizen? Someone who is born in the United States, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as that.

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Who is a US citizen? Someone who is born in the United States, right? Unfortunately, it’s not always as simple as that. 

While every individual born in the United States, or one of its territories, is a citizen by default, residents who weren’t born in the US are not considered citizens irrespective of their years of residency — that is, unless they apply for or prove their citizenship through the processes of naturalization, acquisition, or derivation. 

Who is a Naturalized Citizen?

As the name suggests, a naturalized citizen is one who is neither born in the US nor of US origin, but granted citizenship through the process of naturalization. 

Since most applicants might be first-generation immigrants, the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) requires you to be a lawful permanent resident (LPR) before you apply, a status you can only achieve by clearing a particular set of eligibility criteria. Note that this is different from the conditional permanent status that one may achieve.

To gain citizenship through naturalization, you must meet another set of eligibility requirements that may vary as per your situation. They generally expect the following of you: 

  • 18 years of age or above at the time of application
  • Lived for at least 3 months in the state or district where they apply must be made available
  • Lived in the United States for 5 years in a row without being away for more than a year at a time
  • A good moral character without any felony charge in your name
  • Willing to take the Oath of Allegiance.
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Who is a Derived Citizen?

A derived citizen is only a slight variant of an acquired citizen. While acquired citizenship is granted to foreign-born individuals whose parents are born in the US, derivative citizenship is given to those whose parents themselves were naturalized citizens or those who were adopted by people born in the country.

The laws governing the derivation of citizenship through parents have changed numerous times over the years. As a result, the situation and eligibility requirements differ for people born at different time periods. The basics, however, remain the same:

  • At least one of your parents, by birth or adoption, must be a US citizen;
  • You must hold a Green Card and have a permanent resident status.

What is the Application Process for Becoming a Naturalized Citizen?

The naturalization process, if completed successfully, marks the full transition of a US permanent resident to a United States citizen. Unfortunately, applying for naturalization is not as easy as opening a savings account. Here’s a list of everything you have to do:

  1. Determine whether you are a citizen by birth. You need to undertake this application process only if neither you — nor your biological parents — are born in the United States.
  1. Go through the eligibility requirements above to see whether you meet the criteria or not. Discovering that you’re a few years short of the age bar after you’ve filled the application form can come as a blow.
  1. Collect the required documents and complete your Form N-400, Application for Naturalization. The form is available to file online by creating a free account on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) page. After paying the filing fee online, you may check your case processing times.
  1. USCIS may send you an appointment notice for a biometrics test. Arrive at the designated location at the right time and have your biometrics taken. You might be asked to submit additional documents before the interview.
  1. Once the biometrics test is complete and the documents verified, USCIS will schedule you for an interview. Prepare for the test with the provided resources and arrive at the venue with the appointment notice.
  1. You will receive a notice of decision within 120 days of the interview, stating whether your Form N-400 has been granted, continued, or denied. If your Form N-400 is granted, you will be asked to participate in a naturalization ceremony. Attend the ceremony and take the Oath of Allegiance.   

What is the Application Process for Becoming a Derived Citizen?

Unlike naturalized citizenship, which has to be applied for and granted, deriving or acquiring citizenship through your parents is an automatic process. 

However, you can file a Form N-600, Application for Certificate of Citizenship, online to obtain a Certificate of Citizenship that serves as evidence for your US citizenship. 

Follow these steps to prepare and submit your Form N-600 through the USCIS page:

1. Create a free online account on the USCIS page. Here you can pay your filing fee, submit passport photos, check the status of your case, and receive updates — among other things.

2. Complete and submit Form N-600 after attaching the necessary documents as evidence.

3. Provide original copies of the documents you submit, if requested.

4. If asked, appear for a biometrics test conducted by USCIS.

5. The decision on Form N-600 is determined by whether you were able to establish your eligibility through valid proof and documentation. If you were, the decision will be informed to you via mail.

Keep in mind that the Certificate of Citizenship does not grant you citizenship, but only serves as evidence for your status as a derived citizen. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Does the law treat a naturalized or derived citizen differently? No. A naturalized or derived citizen is treated the same as a US-born citizen! While the process of becoming a citizen differs for the two due to differences in their situations, the constitution gives you the same rights whether you are a US-born citizen, or a naturalized or derived citizen. 

What benefits does a naturalized or derived citizen have over a permanent resident? Citizens enjoy numerous advantages over permanent residents, the right to vote, the right against deportation, and the right to state benefits being a few. This is why it’s important for you to consider US citizenship, even if you are only a new resident.

Can adults claim citizenship through derivation? Yes. A child does not lose derivative citizenship upon turning 18 and can apply for proof for citizenship at any point in their life.

Becoming a US Citizen

Being granted US citizenship is a moment of celebration for most permanent residents. However, while citizenship comes with rights and benefits that are otherwise out of bounds, it also comes with a set of responsibilities to the state and fellow citizens. 

We hope this post helped clear your doubts over citizenship if you are a potential naturalized or derived citizen. Good luck!


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Gopika K A
Gopika K A
Gopika is an English honors graduate from Kerala. A writer by passion and a perfectionist by spirit, she'd choose the fictional world over the real one any day.

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