International Adoption Overview
The information below will help you to understand the overall process for adopting a child from another country.
The number of healthy newborns and infants available for a domestic adoption within the U.S. has been decreasing for the past few years. Accordingly, more and more U.S. citizens have pursued adopting children from other countries. Every year thousands of children come to the United States from foreign countries, either adopted abroad by U.S. citizens or as potential adoptees.
There are literally hundreds of thousands of children across all countries that are in need of a loving and safe home. In the United States alone, approximately 500,000 - 600,000 children live in our foster care system, and over 100,000 of them are waiting to be adopted. Whether your choice is a domestic or international adoption, in the end it is a very personal decision. When making your decision, research both domestic and foreign country adoption requirements. Some countries may, for example, not allow single-parent adoption, have age or income requirements, and may even have residency requirements. While the popularity of a specific country varies, currently the most popular countries for U.S. citizens are Russia and China as well as several other countries including Colombia Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Kazakhstan, Liberia, Philippines,, South Korea, Taiwan, Ukraine, and Vietnam.
Remember that International adoption is essentially a private legal matter between a private individual (or couple) who wishes to adopt, and a foreign court operating under that foreign country's laws and regulations. U.S. authorities cannot intervene on behalf of prospective parents with the courts in the country where the adoption takes place.
Your pursuit of an international adoption will vary depending on the country from which you decide to adopt. However, there is a general process that the majority of adopting persons go through including the following:
You decide to adopt internationally instead of a domestic adoption.
Decide what country or contrives you want to consider
Select of an adoption service provider
Obtain a Home Study and agency and government approval to adopt
You are matched with a child
You adopt or obtain legal custody of the child in the foreign country
You apply for a visa for the child to enter the United States
The child is brought to your home in the U.S.
To complete an intercountry adoption abroad and bring a child to the United States, you must fulfill the requirements of three separate governmental authorities: a) the foreign country; b) U.S. federal law; and c) your state of residence. Accordingly, there are numerous documents required and the process is often complex and lengthy. It is important to note that if you intend to adopt from a country that is party to the Hague Adoption Convention, you will need to select an adoption service provider that has been accredited or is working with an accredited agency.
Once you have decided on an international adoption and on an adoption agency to work with, you will need to have a Home Study completed. Once successfully completed this Home Study must be submitted as part of your application to the U.S. government to be approved for an international adoption.
In order to be approved by the U.S. government and before you can bring a child home from another country, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) must approve your application. The most important requirement for USCIS approval is the above referenced Home Study. Your adoption service provider should know the requirements of your state, and make sure that your home study satisfies all laws and regulations (including those of the Hague Adoption Convention). If adopting from a Hague Convention country, your home study must be completed by an accredited adoption service provider or an agency that works with an accredited provider.
Once the Home Study has been completed, it is submitted to USCIS with one of two forms: a) Form I-600A used for non-Hague Adoption cases or b) Form I-800A used for Hague Adoption cases. Both forms, along with their filing instructions, can be accessed on the link I-600 & i-800. The USCIS evaluates your suitability and eligibility to adopt. If your application is approved, the USCIS will notify you and the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country from where you have indicated you wish to adopt.
At this point in the process your adoption agency will then match you with a child available for adoption. In some cases you will travel to the country to see your child before the next step while in other countries you do not need to travel at this point. Once the match has been made and accepted, you will need to adopt the child. In most cases this will require you to travel to the child's country of residence.
It is important for you to recognize that adoption procedures vary from country to country, and sometimes even within a country. In most countries, a child must first be legally recognized as eligible to be adopted internationally before any adoption or custody proceedings take place. It is important to note that a country's determination of the child as an orphan or Convention adoptee does not guarantee that the child will be considered an orphan or Convention adoptee under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.
Some countries do not allow full and final adoptions. Instead, adopting parents are granted guardianship, which permits the child to leave his/her country of origin. Final adoption occurs under the laws of the U.S. and the adopting parents’ state of residence. If you gain legal custody of a child abroad (as opposed to full adoption), the child may be eligible to immigrate to the United States using an IH-4 or IR-4 immigrant visa. The IH-4 immigrant visa is issued to children from Hague Convention countries immigrating to the United States for adoption. The IR-4 immigrant visa is issued to children from non-Convention countries. Once back in the United States, it is important to finalize the adoption as soon as possible so that your child is eligible for U.S. citizenship.
After the adoption or guardianship has taken place in the foreign country you will need to go to the U.S. embassy to obtain a visa to bring the child into the U.S. The consular section at the U.S. embassy will schedule the visa interview when all required documentation has been received and your file is complete. In most cases, adoptive parents seek one of two types of visas for their child:
IR-3 or IH-3 visa is for a child fully adopted overseas (IR-3 in non-Hague countries; IH-3 in Hague countries)
IR-4 or IH-4 visa is for a child who has not been fully adopted, or if the adoptive parent(s) did not see the child before the adoption's finalization (IR-4 in non-Hague countries; IH-4 in Hague countries)
Most children who enter the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 immigrant visa must be re-adopted after they enter the United States. Adoptive parents should determine in advance the requirements of their own particular state of residence.
Finally, many countries require one or more post-adoption follow-ups conducted by the adoption agency or the foreign country's consul in the United States.
The above information was adapted from the Department of State website.
Additional Ares of Interest
Validity of Foreign Adoptions:
In most cases, the formal adoption of a child in a foreign court is legally acceptable in the United States. A U.S. state court, however, is not required to automatically recognize a foreign adoption decree. While re-adoption back in the U.S. may not be required, most adopting families are strongly encouraged to do so. Following a re-adoption in the state court, parents can request that a state birth certificate be issued. In some instances, re-adoption of the child in the United States is required.
Safety Issues Regarding Travel:
The U.S. Department of State, Office of American Citizens Services and Crisis Management (ACS) issues Public Announcements and Travel Warnings for particular countries and Consular Information Sheets for all countries. For assistance from ACS, call 202-647-5225 and visit the website http://travel.state.gov.
Some countries require legalization of documents. This process is called authentication. Generally, U.S. civil records, such as birth, death, and marriage certificates must bear the seal of the issuing office, state capitol, then by the U.S. Department of State Authentication's Office. For additional help please visit document authentication.
International Adoption and Stress:
Adoption can be an emotionally stressful process, particularly while facing the additional challenges of adjusting to another culture. Gathering information on the culture of the country prior to travel and even setting aside time for sightseeing can reduce stress and make the experience more positive. It will also provide invaluable information and experiences to relate to your child in later years.
International adoption is governed by the laws of the child’s country, the laws of the U.S. government, the requirements of the Hague Convention, and the laws of your U.S. state of residence.
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, including the country’s procedures, the agency’s process, the U.S. immigration process, and the specific circumstances of the adoption.
The cost of adoption services for intercountry adoption also varies widely from case to case and generally falls between $17,000-$35,000 including your travel.
Hague Adoption Convention
The United States is part of the (Hague Adoption Convention) which is a treaty that governs adoptions between the United States and approximately 75 other countries. The process of adopting a child from a Convention country differs in several key ways from adoption a child from a country not party to the Convention.
The quickest way to bring a foreign-born child that you hope to adopt to the U.S. is to file a USCIS form I-600A or I-800A (Application for Advances Processing of Orphan Petition) before you identify a foreign-born child to adopt. This allows the USCIS to first process the application that relates to your ability to provide a proper home environment and your suitability as a parent.
A new process applies to children adopted from countries that are party to the Hague Convention.
Key issues include:
* You must work with an accredited adoption service provider and you must have a Home Study completed and a dossier prepared.
* For Convention adoptions, you must file a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Forms I-800A and I-800
* A Consular Officer at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate must determine that the child qualifies for the visa before you adopt or obtain legal custody of the child.
* The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), as amended by the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), defines a child residing in a Convention country who is eligible for intercountry adoption.
Visa Types for Hague Adoptions
Children adopted in Convention countries receive IH-3 or IH-4 visas.
IH-3 visas are for children who are adopted in a Hague Convention country. Children who are under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States on an IH-3 visa. In such cases, USCIS automatically sends Certificates of Citizenship without requiring additional forms or fees.
IH-4 visas are for children coming from a Convention country who will be adopted in the United States. IH-4 children do not automatically acquire U.S. citizenship, but are lawful permanent residents until the adoption is full and final. See our web page on the Child Citizenship Act for more information.
Steps in the Hague Convention Adoption Process
Follow these steps in a Convention case, which must be completed before applying for a visa :
First, select an adoption service provider. The adoption service provider will guide you through the adoption process and provide services such as performing the Home Study.
Second, file Form I-800A with USCIS. The USCIS must find that you are eligible and suitable to adopt a child from a Convention country. Submit Form I-800A (Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country) to USCIS along with your home study and other documents. As part of the review, prospective adoptive parents submit their fingerprints to be checked against criminal and child abuse registries. Once approved, your adoption service provider transmits the I-800A and supporting documents to the country from which you plan to adopt.
Third, the foreign country matches you with the child. The Convention country from which you plan to adopt reviews the I-800A and accepts you as a prospective adoptive parent. The country then matches you with a child and sends a report on the child’s medical and social history – called an Article 16 Report – through the adoption service provider. You have at least two weeks to accept the match.
Fourth, File the I-800 with USCIS. To accept the match, file Form I-800 (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative) and Article 16 Report with USCIS. USCIS reviews Form I-800 to determine whether the child qualifies as a Convention adoptee. If needed, submit any waiver applications to cover known or suspected visa ineligibilities at this time as well. USCIS then provisionally approves the I-800 and any waiver applications and sends the file to the Department of State.
Fifth, Submit your Visa application to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. You will be contacted by the National Visa Center when your case has been assigned to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas. The Consulate or Embassy will contact you with instructions for the next steps in the adoption process. One of those steps will be to submit the immigrant visa application (Form DS-230) to the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the Convention country. (Certain cases require Form DS-156, the nonimmigrant visa application, instead; check with your ASP.) At this stage, a consular officer reviews the application to determine whether the child appears to qualify for the visa.
Sixth, Consular Officer sends Article 5 letter to the foreign Central Authority. After reviewing the visa application, the consular officer sends the Convention country’s Central Authority notification – called an Article 5 Letter – that you are a suitable adoptive parent and that the child will be able to enter and reside permanently in the United States.
Seven, adopt or obtain legal custody of the child. With the issuance of the Article 5 Letter, you may adopt or obtain legal custody of the child.
Eight, the Convention country issue an Article 23 Certificate. The Convention country certifies that the adoption or grant of custody complies with the Convention by issuing an Article 23 Certificate. This may take the form of the adoption or custody decree and may be sent directly to the consular officer at the Embassy or Consulate.
Nine, you have your final Visa interview at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Once the consular section has a complete file, they will contact you to schedule the final visa interview at the Embassy or Consulate. During the interview, present the valid adoption or custody decree.
Ten, the Embassy or Consulate issues a Hague Certificate, approves the I-800 and issues a IH-3 or IH-4 Visa. At the final visa interview the consular officer issues you a Hague Certificate to certify that the adoption or grant of custody meets the requirements of the Convention and the IAA, grants final approval of the I-800 petition, and issues your child the IH-3 or IH-4 visa.
A separate process applies to children adopted from non-Hague Adoption Convention countries. Such children must qualify as orphans as defined by the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) before they can be considered for U.S. permanent residence or citizenship.
* For non-Hague adoptions, use U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Forms I-600A (optional) and I-600. (Read on for descriptions of both forms.)
* Adopt or obtain legal custody of the child in his or her country of residence before filing the immigrant visa petition (Form I-600) with USCIS.
* USCIS determines whether a child qualifies as an orphan according to U.S. law – not the law of a child’s country of residence.
Visa Types for Non-Hague Adoptions
Children adopted in non-Hague countries receive IR-3 or IR-4 immigrant visas.
IR-3 visas are issued after a full and final adoption is completed abroad by both adopting parents; both parents physically see the child prior to or during local adoption proceedings; and the country in which the child resides does not require re-adoption in the United States. Children who are under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States on IR-3 visas. In such cases, USCIS automatically sends Certificates of Citizenship without requiring additional forms or fees.
IR-4 visas are issued to children for whom a full and final adoption will be completed in the United States. This classification is used when a foreign country only permits prospective adoptive parents to obtain guardianship of a child, rather than allowing a full and final adoption; and/or the prospective adoptive parent(s) have not seen and observed the child prior to the adoption process. Orphans admitted to the United States on IR-4 visas become lawful permanent residents and are automatically processed to receive an Alien Registration Card (“green card”). See our web page on the Child Citizenship Act for more information.
Steps in the Non-Hague Adoption Process
Follow these steps in a non-Hague adoption case, which must be completed before applying for a visa:
1) Optional Filing of Form I-600A with USCIS
USCIS must determine your suitability as an adoptive parent; you may file Form I-600A (Application of Advance Processing of Orphan Petition) to establish this. Form I-600A is not designed to evaluate a particular child’s classification as an orphan. Filing it can help you get a head start on the intercountry adoption process. Together with Form I-600A, prospective adoptive parents submit a home study, their fingerprints, and other documents.
2) Adopt or Obtain Legal Custody of the Child
Adopt or obtain legal custody of the child in his or her country of residence.
3) File Form I-600 with USCIS
File Form I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative) and supporting documents with USCIS to establish that the child qualifies as an orphan under the INA. If you file the I-600 with a USCIS office in the United States, you may submit proof of your suitability to adopt at that time instead of using Form I-600A. Prospective Adoptive Parents residing abroad should file the I-600 with the USCIS office in that country. For countries with no USCIS presence, consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates may accept I-600s under limited circumstances, which include prior USCIS approval of an I-600A.
4) USCIS or Consular Officer in Child’s Country of Residence Completes Form I-604
You will be contacted by the National Visa Center when your case has been assigned to a U.S. Consulate or Embassy overseas. The Consulate or Embassy will contact you with instructions for the next steps in the adoption process. Next, a USCIS or consular officer in the child’s country of residence completes Form I-604 (Determination on Child for Adoption) to ensure the child has been properly classified as an orphan.5) Schedule Visa Interview and Submit Visa Application
Once your Form I-600 has been approved, the consular section will contact you to schedule the child’s visa interview. PAPs submit Form DS-230 (the immigrant visa application) at the interview. (Certain cases require Form DS-156, the nonimmigrant visa application, instead; check with your ASP or the Embassy or Consulate.) The Embassy or Consulate informs parents of the documents needed for the interview, which include evidence of the adoption or grant of legal custody and the results of the child’s medical exam.
REQUIRED DOCUMENTATION- The adoptive parents must present the following documents with Form I-600 in order for the petition to be considered to have been properly filed:
(1) Child’s original birth certificate, or if such certificate is not available, a written explanation together with secondary evidence of identity and age (example: a re-issued birth certificate showing adoptive parents);
(2) Evidence that the child either has no parents or a sole/surviving parent unable to provide proper care who has irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.
(3) Evidence of adoption or intent to adopt.
Any foreign language documents submitted with the Form I-600 petition must be accompanied by a full English translation, which the translator has certified as complete and correct, and by the translator’s certification that he or she is competent to translate the foreign language into English.
For Form I-600 filed at a US Embassy or Consulate, originals of required documents must be submitted for review with Form I-600.
NOTE: USCIS permits petitioners to submit copies of some documents when accepting Form I-600; please refer to the Form I-600 instructions for rules regarding copies of required documents when filing the petition with USCIS.
REQUIRED FEES - Payment of visa processing fees.
6) Embassy or Consulate Issues the Visa
If no ineligibilities are found, the consular officer issues your child the IR-3 or IR-4 visa.
Additional Information and Resources
Related U.S. Government Websites
U.S. Department of State, Office of Children’s Issues
U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
Child Welfare information Gateway
Congressional Coalition on Adoption Institute (CCAI)