In recent years, many couples have sought out adoption of orphans from foreign countries. In order to protect foreign orphans from dangers such as child trafficking, immigration laws have become more stringent. International adoptions are governed by three sets of laws: (1) U.S. federal law, (2) the laws of the child’s home country, and (3) the laws of your U.S. state of residence.
Children who are brought into the country need to obtain the documents needed for them to be here legally, in terms of immigration status. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is a sub-agency of the Department of Homeland Security, determines the eligibility and suitability of adoptive parents, and the eligibility of the children to immigrate to the United States. If you and your child meet the USCIS requirements, you will be able to apply for U.S. citizenship for the child.
Basic requirements include:
- You must be a U.S. citizen
- If married, you must jointly adopt the child (even if you are separated but not divorced)
- You must pass a criminal background check, including a fingerprint check
- You must meet your home state’s requirements for prospective adoptive parents
- You must meet the foreign country’s requirements for prospective adoptive parents
The time it takes to adopt a child from another country and bring that child to the United States varies widely. The length of time depends on a number of factors, depending especially on how fast the process moves in the foreign country.
Many countries have a faster track for parents adopting children with special needs. The five most popular countries to adopt from (based on how many children are adopted per year) are China, India, Burundi, Haiti, and South Korea.
How Do I Get Started?
To adopt internationally, the prospective parents need to start by finding an adoption agency, one that specializes in international adoptions. There are hundreds available. Some limit their adoptions to one or two particular countries, and others have connections with several nations.
The first step, then, is to decide if there is a country that especially draws your attention and then identify an adoption agency that handles adoptions from there. Be aware that many countries are closed to international adoptions, for a variety of reasons. Some countries are closed for political reasons; some, because they prefer to have children adopted within their own borders; some (especially poorer countries) have not yet been able to guarantee that adoptions are not free of graft or corruption.
The next step is to decide whether you want to adopt a boy or a girl, or whether you are open to either one (some countries allow you to indicate a preference, others do not). You will need to decide what age range you are willing to accept. Are you open to a sibling group? Will you consider adopting a child with special needs? (note: in some countries “special needs” includes children who are healthy but are simply older).
Bear in mind that these days, most international adoptions are of children with identified special needs, or who are likely to develop them when they arrive (such as fetal alcohol syndrome and reactive attachment disorder). These needs can range widely, so you’ll need to do some research to determine what special needs you feel equipped to deal with.
What Is a Home Study?
The next step is to get a “home study.” This is an evaluation of the parents’ suitability to adopt a child. The home study is required for both domestic and international adoptions, and is carried out by a licensed home study provider from your state (usually, a social worker).
The home study consists of the following steps:
- At least one visit to the home to confirm that the home is safe (including the health and fire safety conditions of the home) and has sufficient space for an additional family member
- Verification of marital status and employment
- In some states, reference letters
- Health examinations to ensure that the parents have a normal life expectancy
- Interviews with all members of the family residing in the household. Interviews will likely include discussions regarding things such as:
- Your motivation to adopt
- Your ability to provide for a child
- Confirming the absence of substance and/or physical abuse in the family
- Your character, values, and ethical standards, and the stability of the marriage (if applicable)
Home studies must comply with the applicable policies in your home state, the foreign country, and U.S. federal regulations. Your adoption agency and home study provider will be able to ensure that your home study is compliant with all three.
Are There Immigration-Specific Limitations on Who Can Adopt?
In order to obtain immigration permission for a child to be adopted and enter the U.S., immigration authorities (USCIS) require that applicants for foreign adoption provide proof of their ability to raise and care for the adopted orphan.
Thus, in addition to your home study, USCIS) will conduct an investigation into the parents’:
- Financial ability to provide a home for the child
- The mental, physical, and emotional condition of each parent
- Criminal background,
- Employment, work training, and educational credentials
In addition, the USCIS may conduct similar background investigations for every adult who will be living in the same home as the adopted child. After the adoption, the child’s new home may be periodically visited and inspected for fitness.
Do I Have to Travel to the Child’s Home Country?
Some countries, like Uganda and Colombia, require that one or both of the parents travel to the country and foster the children for a period of time. Some countries, like South Korea and Haiti, require that the parents complete two trips to the country.
Most, but not all, require that the parents travel to the country to pick up the child. Some allow members of the adoption agency’s staff to bring the child to the United States – in that case, you will meet the adoption worker and the child at your local airport.
What Is the Hague Adoption Convention?
The United States is part of an important treaty on intercountry adoption called the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Hague Adoption Convention). The treaty governs adoptions between the United States and other Convention countries. To date, 90 countries have joined the Convention. The U.S. government does not require that you adopt from a Hague Convention country, but you should know that the Convention process provides additional protections to children, prospective adoptive parents, and birth parents.
The primary principles of the Convention are to ensure that each adoption is in the best interest of the child and to prevent the abduction, sale, and trafficking of children. Your adoption will be a Hague adoption or a non-Hague adoption depending on where your child lives. An immigration lawyer will be able to guide you through the differences in how to proceed with the adoption depending on Hague or non-Hague regulations.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help With Immigration Laws and Orphan Adoption?
Understanding immigration laws and orphan adoption can be very challenging. In nearly all cases, the assistance of a lawyer is essential when it comes to adopting an orphan from a foreign country.
You should contact an experienced adoption lawyer for assistance with the process, in order to ensure that your application meets all the requirements under immigration laws.