In FY 2019, 2,971 foreign-born children were adopted by American citizens. (1) Intercountry adoption is defined as adopting a child from another country and bringing that child to your country of residence, the U.S., to live with you permanently. (2)
Americans may choose the route of adoption because they are unable to conceive a child, they are single and want to raise a child or they are in a same-sex relationship and are hoping to start a family. (3)
There are two means of adopting a child from another country, through the Hague process or Orphan process. The Hague process is applicable when the child resides in a country belonging to the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention. Otherwise, a child may be adopted through the Orphan process. (4) If the child is an immediate relative to the adoptive parent, however, they process adoption through different means.
The Hague Adoption Convention is an international treaty designed to ensure safety and to protect the rights of children, birth parents and adoptive parents. Implemented in the U.S. in April of 2008, adoptive cases (involving another Hague country) filed after that date are required to follow the Hague process. Cases filed before April of 2008 could be processed without adherence to the Hague Adoption Convention. (5)
Convention countries span from Albania to Zimbabwe, as of April 6.
The Hague Process
First, the prospective adoptive parent needs to select an Adoption Service Provider (ASP) that is authorized to complete Hague adoptions. Approved ASPs are listed on the website of the Intercountry Adoption Accreditation and Maintenance Entity (IAAME). (5)
Next, the prospective adoptive parent has to be subjected to a home study — essentially a screening — following Hague requirements by an authorized individual. This is to ensure that the adoptive parent and the living environment are suitable and eligible to raise a foreign-born child. (5) The home study may be completed by the chosen ASP. Additionally, the adoptive parent must provide fingerprints and complete a thorough background check.
Then, the prospective adoptive parent will need to apply to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) through the Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country and accompanying supplements. Instructions on how to fill out I-800A and the additional supplements may be found here. (5)
If that application is approved by the USCIS, the prospective adoptive parent should work with the ASP to organize an adoption placement, where the adoptive parent is paired with a child. (5)
The prospective adoptive parent needs to submit a set of documents to the central authority of the child’s birth country to do so. If those documents are then approved, the prospective adoptive parent will receive a referral to adopt a child, which they may decide to accept or reject. (6)
Before that child can be adopted, the prospective adoptive parent needs to file a petition to the USCIS so that the child (under 16) is eligible to enter the country and be adopted through Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. Instructions on how to fill out I-800 and the singular supplement may be found here. (5)
An important caveat is that an unmarried individual must be 24 years old at the time of submission of the I-800A and 25 for the I-800. If married, then there is not an age requirement, but the spouse must also agree to adopt that child. (5)
In addition to the I-800, the prospective adoptive parent needs to submit an application for a visa with a Form DS-260, Immigrant Visa and Alien Registration Application digitally to the Embassy or Consulate of the child’s birth country. In turn, they will receive an Article 5/17 letter that notifies the central authority of the child’s birth country that they can live in the U.S. (6)
Once the child has been adopted, the adoptive parent will receive an immigrant visa after obtaining a birth certificate and passport for the child. An IH-3 visa is for children adopted in a Convention country. Typically, the child acquires citizenship upon arrival in the U.S.
The IH-4 visa, however, is for children from Convention countries that are adopted in the U.S. Since they do not immediately acquire citizenship, the adoptive parent will need to file a N-600, Application for a Certificate of Citizenship. Instructions on how to file may be found here. (6)
The Orphan Process
As aforementioned, an orphan process is applicable when adopting a child born in a non-Hague country. They need to be legally classified as orphans, according to the Immigration and Nationality Act.
To be an orphan, the child must have no parents or the child’s surviving parents must be unable to provide care. Additionally, the child must be under the age of 16 before the filing of Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative and the single accompanying supplement. (7)
Before filing I-600, however, there is an option to file Form I-600A, Application of Advance Processing of Orphan Petition. Instructions on how to do so may be found here. Since the USCIS needs to evaluate the prospective adoptive parent’s eligibility, submission of I-600A could speed up the process. With I-600A, a home study, fingerprints and other documents will be required. (7)
Upon adopting an orphan in a non-Hague country, the adoptive parent needs to file Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative. Instructions on completing the I-600 can be found here. Where to file I-600, though, depends on whether the parent is living in the U.S., or residing elsewhere during that time period. (7)
If the adoptive parent is in the U.S., the I-600 may be directly submitted to the USCIS office in the U.S. For adoptive parents outside of the U.S., the I-600 should be submitted to the USCIS office of that country or to the country’s Embassy or Consulate (accompanied by an approved I-600A). (7)
When filing for the I-600, the adoptive parent will need to provide the child’s birth certificate, evidence that the child has been released for emmigration and adoption, and evidence of an adoption or intent to adopt. (7)
The adoptive parent’s case will then be assigned to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate who will inform next steps. From here, the Embassy or Consulate of the child’s birth country will file a Form I-604, Determination on Child for Adoption to affirm that the child is in fact a legal orphan and eligible for adoption into the U.S. (7)
Upon approval of the I-600, a U.S. Embassy or Consulate will schedule a date for the child’s visa interview. At the interview, the adoptive parent will need to submit a visa application — Form DS-260, as described in the Hague process— in addition to other specified legal or medical documents for the child. (7)
They will receive an IR-3 or IR-4 visa. An IR-3 visa is given to children who come into contact with an adoptive parent abroad and are subsequently adopted there as recognized by the child’s country of origin and the U.S. (8)
The IR-4 visa is designed for situations where neither adoptive parent observed or met the child prior to or during adoption proceedings, both adoptive parents are unable to meet the child abroad, or the adoption is planned to be finalized in the U.S. As mentioned in the Hague process regarding IH-4 visas, the adoptive parent should file for N-600, Application for a Certificate of Citizenship with the IR-4 visa. (8)
On top of a large volume of paperwork, the process is lengthy. Adoptive parents typically wait from 1 to 3 years before they are able to bring the child back to the U.S. However, timing is dependent on age, gender and country of origin. The cost of intercountry adoption is fairly predictable, and ranges from $30,000 to $35,000 on average. (9)
Given the variance, a prospective adoptive parent should look into the factors associated with adopting from the country they’re interested in.
For instance, as of 2015, the wait for a referral in Bulgaria for a healthy toddler is approximately 4 years in addition to a wait of 4 to 6 months to retrieve the child. The cost of adopting from Bulgaria ranges from $22,000 to $29,000, excluding travel. (10)
However, in Poland as of 2015, the wait for a referral may be under a calendar year and the parents are able to adopt a few months after accepting the referral. Yet, the cost of adopting from Poland ranges from $30,000 to $34,000, excluding travel. (11)
Aside from length of wait and cost, other factors including whether the applicant may adopt as a single adult or if the gender of the child may be requested should also be investigated by the prospective adoptive parent.
- “Adoption Statistics.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/Intercountry-Adoption/adopt_ref/adoption-statistics-esri.html?wcmmode=disabled.
- “Intercountry Adoption.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/Intercountry-Adoption.html.
- “The Benefits of Adoption - A Child's Hope.” A Child's Hope Adoption Agency, A Child's Hope Adoption Agency , 2 May 2018, achildshope.com/want-to-adopt/why-adopt/.
- “Immigration through Adoption.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 27 Jan. 2020, www.uscis.gov/adoption/immigration-through-adoption.
- “Hague Process.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 30 Jan. 2020, www.uscis.gov/adoption/immigration-through-adoption/hague-process.
- “Hague Visa Process.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/Intercountry-Adoption/Adoption-Process/immigrant-visa-process/us-hague-convention-adoption-and-visa-process.html.
- “Non-Hague Visa Process.” Travel.State.Gov, U.S. Department of State - Bureau of Consular Affairs, travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/Intercountry-Adoption/Adoption-Process/immigrant-visa-process/non-hague-visa-process.html.
- “Your New Child's Immigrant Visa.” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Homeland Security, 18 Mar. 2019, www.uscis.gov/bringing-your-internationally-adopted-child-to-the-united-states/your-new-childs-immigrant-visa.
- “Quick Comparison of Adoption Types.” Creating a Family, Creating a Family, 14 Aug. 2018, creatingafamily.org/adoption/comparison-country-charts/quick-comparison-adoption-types/.
- “25 Factors to Consider When Adopting From Bulgaria.” Creating a Family, Creating a Family, 10 Sept. 2018, creatingafamily.org/adoption/comparison-country-charts/25-factors-consider-adopting-bulgaria/.
- “25 Factors to Consider When Adopting From Poland.” Creating a Family, Creating a Family, 10 Sept. 2018, creatingafamily.org/adoption/comparison-country-charts/25-factors-consider-adopting-poland/.