In the United States, adoptions are generally divided into two categories: domestic adoptions and foreign adoptions. Both types of adoption involve the transfer of parental rights from the child’s birth parents to the child’s new adoptive parents. Once these rights are transferred, the birth parents no longer have a legal right to make decisions for or on behalf of the child. That right will solely stand with the adoptive parents.
A foreign adoption, also known as an “intercountry adoption,” is one where you adopt a child from another country. Foreign adoptions can be complex because the child being adopted must also go through the immigration process. This adds an extra step and is not the case with domestic adoptions, where a child is adopted from somewhere within the United States.
Foreign adoptions can be complicated because the adoption process involves coordination with several agencies. These agencies will each have their own separate and distinct requirements.
As such, to adopt a child born overseas you will generally have to follow guidelines set by:
- The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
- The designated agency in the foreign country where the child resides; and
- The designated agency in your state of residence.
The procedure to adopt a foreign born child will usually take about one to four years. The total time will vary based on the child’s country of origin and the specific circumstances surrounding the adoption.
Typically, to complete a foreign adoption you must perform the following steps:
- File advance paperwork with the USCIS attesting to your parental ability and stable home environment;
- Decide what country or countries you want to explore for adoption;
- Locate an orphan child that you wish to adopt;
- Adopt the child following the laws of the child’s home country;
- File the appropriate petition to classify the child as your relative to bring the child legally to the United States for residence; and
- Complete any background checks, paperwork, home studies or other requirements imposed by any of the agencies involved in the process.
Keep in mind that the adoption of a child from a foreign court is typically legal in the United States. However, it is important to know that individual states are not required to recognize the adoption. As such, you may want to re-adopt the child in a state court and get a state birth certificate.
There are three different ways to immigrate your adopted foreign child into the United States. The level of difficulty for the adoption process varies and depends on how the adoption is categorized:
- Hague: This is available when the child is from a country where they have a treaty with the United States on intercountry adoptions. The treaty is known as the “Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption”. The treaty currently applies to 98 countries, and this number seems to continue growing. If the Hague adoption method is available, you should choose this route for the immigration process.
- Non-Hague (aka orphan adoption): This is available when the child is from a country that is not a part of the Hague Convention treaty. The guidelines and filing procedures are different compared to Hague adoptions. Your child will need to meet certain requirements and you will need to file an orphan petition.
- Immigrating Other Adopted Children: This occurs when the adoptive parent(s) choose to submit a family-based petition for an alien relative.
Be aware that there are several criteria and requirements that need to be fulfilled for all of these, even beyond all the paperwork. For example, both Hague and orphan adoptions require the completion of a home study. Consulting with an immigration attorney can help you streamline this process without missing any important steps.
One of the most frequently asked questions is how your child can become a United States citizen after the adoption. Generally, the United States will issue a permanent resident visa after the appropriate petition is approved.
The child will not have to be placed on a waiting list and can automatically become a citizen if at least one parent of the adopted child is a United States citizen, the adopted child is under 18 and the adoption is final.
Foreign adoptions involve complex procedures and interactions with United States and foreign agencies. A qualified immigration attorney can help you with everything you need to adopt a foreign child and make the process smoother. An attorney can also ensure that you take all necessary steps to carry out the adoption legally.