Adopting a Child From a Foreign Country
Are you an American citizen considering the adoption of a child from a foreign country?
If your answer is “Yes,” then this has been written especially for you! As a father who has adopted a child from a foreign country, Mr. Gehi can personally tell you, “It is one of the best things that has happened in my life! The process of adopting an orphan from a foreign country is not an easy one. However, once you have made your way through the maze of complexities in the process, and the day the baby winds up in your arms, you will be gratefully cheering, “Hip-hip-hurray!” I assure you that it will be one of the most unforgettable and joyous moments of your life. I don’t mind telling you that tears of joy came streaming from my eyes as soon as our baby was delivered to us.”
This chapter will find the basics steps in the orphan adoption process explained in the simplest possible way. If you are considering adopting an orphan from a foreign country, this chapter will serve as a general guide through the process.
Please note: The U.S. recently ratified the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Inter-country Adoption. In other words, the countries which have signed the Hague Convention will be governed differently for adoption purposes than countries that are not signatories to the Hague Convention.
If you are thinking of adopting a child from the U.S., the procedure is known as “domestic adoption.” Once you have decided that you are interested in adopting a child from a foreign country, the process is known as “international adoption.” Adopting a child from a foreign country requires you to comply with state laws and the immigration laws of the U.S. Here, our focus will be on adopting an orphan from a foreign country.
BASIC SUMMARY OF THE ADOPTION PROCESS
- Locate an immigration attorney or an adoption agency in the U.S. that is highly experienced in international adoptions. An adoption agency is not allowed to provide legal advice or legal services or represent you before the immigration authorities. Therefore, it is best for you to consult an attorney before you retain an adoption agency, to ensure whether you qualify for the process;
- After you have decided to proceed, meet with an experienced immigration attorney who can adequately answer your questions. If you are satisfied with the attorney, retain the attorney and request that he or she assist you by conducting the due diligence for your adoption agency;
- Once a licensed adoption agency is located, try to have a personal meeting with the adoption agency representative. Check to see if they have children readily available for adoption. Try not to work with an agency which does not have children readily available;
- Fill out the application form with the adoption agency and begin with the home study course;
- Apply to the USCIS for inter-country adoption before adopting a child or accepting a placement for a determination that you are suitable for inter-country adoption;
- After the USCIS approves the application, work with the adoption service provider to obtain a proposed adoption placement;
- Obtain the certificate of clearance from the foreign government to adopt (i.e., the centralized agency in charge of clearing children for adoption to the U.S.);
- File a petition with the USCIS, before adopting the child, to have the child be found eligible to immigrate to the U.S. based on the proposed adoption;
- Adopt the child by getting an adoption decree or a guardianship order to bring the child to the U.S.;
- Obtain an immigrant visa for the child;
- Bring the child to the U.S. and begin enjoying having them as part of your family.
BASIC IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENTS FOR INTERNATIONAL ADOPTION FOR PARENTS INTENDING TO ADOPT A CHILD FROM A FOREIGN COUNTRY
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has the following requirements for prospective individuals interested in adoption:
- A legitimate “petitioner” means the adoptive parent must be a U.S. citizen and, if unmarried, must be at least 25 years old when he or she files the petition to adopt;
- USCIS has no age requirement for married couples, and only one spouse must be a U.S. citizen.
Eligibility for adoption and immigration to the U.S.: U.S. immigration law requires that children entering the U.S. for purposes of adoption be classified as “orphans” (if they are from non-Convention countries) or as “Convention adoptees” (if they are from Convention countries), as defined by these laws. Convention adoptees must have biological parents who are “incapable of providing proper care.” (See: “I am a U.S. Citizen: How Do I Immigrate an Adopted or Prospective Adopted Child or Help My Adopted Child Become a U.S. Citizen or U.S. Permanent Resident?” at www.uscis.gov/files/article/A3eng.pdf.)
TIPS FROM THE PRINCIPAL ATTORNEY BASED UPON HIS PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
The first step, which is crucial when considering the adoption of a foreign child, is to preferably work with an adoption agency located in your state and/or with an experienced immigration attorney familiar with international adoption. There is no harm in working with an agency outside your state, but since most of the documents required in this process may involve your state of residence, it would be best for you to work with an agency located in your state. However, your immigration attorney can be found in any State since immigration law is federal. It is essential, though, that he or she should be able to assist you until the end of the procedure.
Once you locate a potential adoption agency, I strongly recommend reviewing whether the agency is experienced in international adoptions. In essence, I suggest that you check the number of years the agency has been in business, the agency’s experience with the country from which you intend to adopt, and their relationship with the foreign agency in the country from which you intend to adopt. Once you have determined the adoption agency you are interested in working with, the agency will send you an application form and the list of documents, which will be required from your end. For example, you will be required to pay the application fee, provide copies of your marriage certificate (or your divorce decree, if applicable), your good conduct 145
certificate, proof of employment, three years’ worth of tax returns, job letters, a list of all your prior addresses over the past ten years, etc.
The second step in the adoption process is the “Home Study” requirement; that is, to obtain a study of your home from a state social worker to ascertain whether you meet some of the basic requirements for adopting a child. Based on my personal experience, it is best for you to work with a social worker referred to you by the adoption agency, which will assist you in the adoption process. This is because, on most occasions, your retained agency will not accept the “Home Study” report from an outside social worker, and this can delay the process, leading to unnecessary expenses being incurred by you.
Once the adoption agency is satisfied with your initial list of documents and if a child is readily available for adoption, the agency will send you pictures of the children who are available for adoption. Be sure to request that the adoption agency sends you the complete medical report of any available children you may be able to adopt.
While you are reviewing the pictures and once your Home Study report has been completed, and before you have identified a child for adoption, you should consult with an immigration attorney or the adoption agency to consider filing the advance processing of an orphan application with immigration. The purpose of this form is to inform the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) that you are interested in adopting a child from a foreign country and you meet the requirements for adoption. Filing the advance processing of an orphan form with immigration (before identifying the child) assists you in expediting the adoption process.
After receiving the available children’s pictures and the medical reports, and you have decided on one particular child, you should consult a physician to review the reports to ascertain if the child has any health issues. In some countries, such as China, there is a priority for adopting out children with disabilities. I would like to encourage you not to shy away from children with reported disabilities, especially because some of these children have very temporary or minor disabilities—some of which are easily curable. Discuss with your adoption agency and your physician the nature of any disability in such instances. Indeed, it is possible that you are interested in adopting a foreign orphan who has no reported health issues or disabilities. If so, the above-recommended consultation with a physician should be able to determine this for you.
Following these steps, I strongly suggest that you visit a foreign country and meet the child. I do not think it is wise for a prospective parent to decide by only looking at a child’s picture. Additionally, once you visit a foreign country, you may be able to meet with a local doctor and review the medical reports there; you may also have a choice to see other children and make a decision accordingly. Since this is a possible option, it is imperative you must ask questions about whether your agency will assist you with the adoption of a different child if you feel that you are not interested in adopting a particular child recommended by the agency.
As mentioned earlier, working with an experienced adoption attorney from the very beginning will assist you in addressing most of the complexities involved in this process.
Once immigration approves the initial petition, and you have identified (and hopefully met) the child, you should consider working on the dossier documents. Don’t be disappointed or confused by the word “dossier” – its meaning will be thoroughly explained below.
THE DOSSIER REQUIREMENT
A dossier generally refers to a collection of all your documents that provides detailed information about you. The good news is that the earlier documents assembled will be a part of your dossier. Most of the countries from which you intend to adopt require that the adoptive parents provide them with a dossier. The dossier part of the process involves compiling all your documents, getting the documents notarized, obtaining any seals, apostle’s certifications, etc., from your county, state, and the U.S. government. Do not be disheartened after reading the dossier paragraph below. It is not that difficult to develop a dossier. The best way to handle the development of your dossier is to either be prepared with all the documents from the time you begin your home study or engage the services of an agency, which specializes in assisting you with the dossier part of the adoption process. The best way to locate a dossier specialist is to obtain a reference from your adoption agency. Most people know how to find a notary public to assist them with the signing of specific documents. However, if you need to get the documents apostilled (legalization of a document for overseas use), you should visit the website of your Secretary of State or call them directly. The Office of the Secretary of State can assist you in getting your documents apostilled.
The dossier package includes documents such as certified copies of your birth certificate (Please note: If you are married, you have to include the same documents for your spouse), tax returns for the past three years, job verification letter, proof of your U.S. Citizenship, approval document from immigration, marriage certificate (where relevant), good conduct certificate, original or certified copies of your divorce decree (if divorced), original or certified copy of your health report from a physician, your adoption petition, which will be provided to you by your adoption agency, a post-placement agreement, which will again be provided by the adoption agency, a power of attorney which is given to your adoption agency, certified copy of your lease or your property deed, death certificate of your spouse (if applicable), your criminal background check obtained from the FBI and your local police precinct, your Home Study report, which was conducted by the social worker, your agency’s license, copy of your passport, letters of reference from friends, casual home picture with your family, photos of the room where the baby will be living with you, etc.
Once the dossier documents are completed and once your adoption agency has obtained a clearance from the foreign government to adopt the child and has obtained a decree of adoption from the court or a guardianship order, your immigration attorney or the adoption agency will request that you make arrangements to travel to the child’s country of adoption and meet with the prospective child at the orphanage. Then, you will need to visit the U.S. Consulate in that country, bringing with you all of the dossier’s documents.
Before finalizing the trip, however, you should consult with your adoption agency to determine if they can obtain the child’s passport, adoption decree or guardianship decree, and immunization requirements before your trip to the orphanage. This will save you a lot of time and aggravation, mainly because you may not be familiar with the local court system, the local doctors, or the local language, as well as the procedures for obtaining the child’s passport in that country. It is a good idea for you to ask your adoption agency or your immigration attorney whether it would be possible for you to hire a reputable native person in the foreign country who can assist you with most of the requirements.
Once you meet with the child and the orphanage, and the orphanage provides you with custody of the child, you will experience the wonderful moment you have been waiting for! It would be wise to have a camera ready for this joyous occasion!
After you obtain custody of the child, you will need to visit the U.S. Consulate in that country, wherein you will be asked questions regarding your background and an evaluation of the agency you were working with during your adoption. After completing the interview, you will be given an official document package, which you are not allowed to open. Upon your return to the U.S., the Customs and Border Patrol Officer will collect the documents and stamp the child’s Passport at the port of entry. After that, your child will receive the physical green card in the mail in approximately three months.
If you deal with an efficient, licensed adoption agency, and if a child is immediately available for adoption in a foreign country, you may be able to finish the entire process within twelve to fourteen months. If you have received a guardianship decree, you will have to complete the adoption process by retaining an attorney in the U.S.
Based on the principal attorney’s personal experience of adopting a foreign child, it is crucial for you to receive proper guidance from the inception of the adoption process, especially because the adoption procedure is complicated due to numerous governmental concerns, such as child molestation, kidnapping, abduction, child welfare issues, etc. Therefore, it would be in your best interest to work with an experienced adoption agency and/or an experienced immigration attorney that can assist you in navigating the entire process smoothly.