How to Bring Your Adopted Child to the U.S.

The legal rules you’ll need to follow to bring in an adopted child depend on the country you’re adopting from and whether the child is an orphan.

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Children whom you adopt from overseas are not automatically entitled to enter the United States. You will need to comply with certain immigration rules to get them into the U.S. to join you. Exactly which rules you’ll need to follow depend on the country you’re adopting from and whether the child is an orphan.

The procedures described below are complicated and paperwork intensive. As a practical matter, you will most likely want to work with an attorney or an agency that facilitates international adoption, to help you with many of these steps. Even if you get professional assistance, however, it’s worth acquainting yourself with the process that you will be embarking upon.

Bringing an Adopted Child to the U.S. From a Hague Convention Country

There is an international agreement on adoption procedures called the “Hague Convention.” Its rules apply only in countries that have agreed to follow them. The United States is one of those countries. (For a list of Hague Convention countries, see http://adoption.state.gov/hague_convention/countries.php.)

As a result, if you’re thinking about adopting a child from a “Hague Convention country,” those are the rules and procedures you will need to follow in order to bring the child to the U.S. to live with you. (See also, “Overseas Adoption: The Hague Process.”)

First, you must be a U.S. citizen. Also, if you’re not married, you must be at least 25 years old before filing the petition to classify your adopted child as your relative (the Form I-800, discussed below).

You don’t need to be 25 if you are married, but you and your spouse must go through the immigration and adoption process together.

You must comply with certain processing requirements, which are designed to protect the orphan. For example, you, your spouse, and any adults (18 years old or older) in your household will need to be fingerprinted and undergo conduct, background, and criminal checks. You will also be the subject of a “home study” by an adoption service provider authorized or approved by the U.S. Department of State.

Step one of the process is to file Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country. (If you’re single, you can do this as soon as you turn 24.) You submit this form to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). You’ll need to pay a filing fee and a fee to have your “biometrics” (fingerprints) taken. Your home study must be submitted with the I-800A unless the state you live in must approve the home study, in which case the state will forward it to USCIS after approval.

If USCIS approves your I-800A, you can then file with USCIS a Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. Form I-800 focuses on the child’s situation and eligibility as a Hague Convention adoptee. There is no filing fee for the first child, but if you’re adopting more than one child, you’ll need to pay a separate additional fee for each. However, if the children are siblings before the proposed adoption, no additional filing fee is required.

To be considered a Hague Convention adoptee under U.S. immigration law, the child must be a habitual resident in a Hague Convention country and you must be a habitual resident in the United States. The child’s last legal custodian or custodians must give up the child, and freely give written irrevocable consent to the termination of their legal relationship with the child, and to the child’s emigration and adoption. The last legal custodian or custodians may be either (1) two living natural parents who are incapable of providing proper care for the child; (2) one natural parent, in the case of a child who has one sole or surviving parent because of the death or disappearance of, or abandonment or desertion by, the other parent; or (3) other persons or institutions that retain legal custody of the child.

You must file the I-800 before the child’s 16th birthday. However, there is some protection against USCIS taking a long time with I-800A approvals for older children. You can file the I-800 later than the child’s 16th birthday if you filed your Form I-800A for a child between 15 and 16, so long as you file the Form I-800 within 180 days of the day on which USCIS approves the Form I-800A.

If your I-800 petition looks approvable, USCIS will notify the U.S. embassy or consulate, which will tell the Hague Convention country that the adoption may proceed.

At that point you will be able to complete the adoption or custody in anticipation of adoption. After the adoption or custody is granted, the U.S. embassy or consulate will issue final approval of the I-800 and issue the child a visa to come to the United States.

You can travel overseas and complete the adoption there, or you can bring the child to the U.S. to complete the final adoption. Either way, the child will receive an immigrant visa.

Bringing an Adopted Orphan to the U.S. from a Non-Hague Convention Country

If you want to bring in an adopted orphan from a country that did not sign onto the Hague Convention, you can do so provided you meet certain qualifications and follow certain rules. (Also see “Adopting an Orphan Child From a Non-Hague-Convention Country.”)

First, you must be a U.S.citizen. If you’re not married, you must be at least 25 years old before filing the petition to classify your adopted child as your relative (the Form I-600, discussed below).

You don’t need to be 25 if you are married, but you and your spouse must go through the immigration and adoption process together.

You must comply with certain processing requirements, which are designed to protect the orphan. For example, you, your spouse, and any adults (18 years old or older) in your household will need to be fingerprinted and undergo conduct, background, and criminal checks. You will also be the subject of a “home study” by a licensed adoption agency or a home study preparer.

If you want to start the immigration process before you’ve identified an orphan to adopt, you can file with USCIS a Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition. (If you’re single, you can do this as soon as you turn 24.) The information you provide on the I-600A, along with the results of your background check and home study, enables USCIS to determine whether you are qualified as a prospective adoptive parent or parents. You’ll need to pay a filing fee and a fee to have your “biometrics” (fingerprints) taken.

Getting your I-600A approved can be the most time-consuming part of the process, so if you are eager to adopt, you will want to file it as soon as possible. However, it’s not a good idea to go to the foreign country before getting your I-600A approved, because you can’t be sure how long it will take or whether it will be approved.

Once USCIS approves your Form I-600A, you can then identify an orphan child you would like to adopt. After that, you must file with USCIS a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative. There is no filing fee or additional biometrics fee if you’re filing in connection with a recent, approved I-600A. The Form I-600 focuses on the child’s situation and eligibility as an orphan.

An “orphan” who can be adopted under U.S. immigration law is either (1) a child without any parents because each parent has died or disappeared or has abandoned or deserted the child, or because of separation from or loss of each parent; or (2) a child with a sole or surviving parent who is unable to provide for the child’s basic needs (as measured by local standards of the foreign country), and who has irrevocably and in writing given up the child for emigration and adoption.

Generally, you must file the I-600 before the child’s 16th birthday. The adoption itself can occur after the child’s 16th birthday, but only if the I-600 was filed before the child turned 16.

The age limit is raised to 18 if the orphan is not from a Hague Convention country and is the birth sibling of another foreign national child whom you’ve adopted and brought or will bring to the United States.

If you’re not in a great hurry, or you want to wait until you’ve identified an orphan child to adopt, you can file the I-600A and I-600 simultaneously.

If USCIS approves your I-600, it will notify the U.S. Embassy or consulate so the State Department can issue the child a visa to come to the United States. It doesn’t matter if you complete the adoption overseas or in the U.S.-- the child will be issued an immigrant visa either way.

Bringing a Non-Orphan Adopted Child to the U.S.

You will be able to file a petition to classify an adopted child as a relative who is eligible for an immigrant visa if certain conditions are met, even if, in some cases, the child is from a Hague Convention country.

There are several eligibility requirements. (Also see “Adopting a Child From a Non-Hague-Convention Country.”)

First, you must have the adoption finalized before the child’s 16th birthday. The age limit is raised to 18 if you also adopted a birth sibling of the child and the birth sibling is immigrating either as an orphan or as an adopted child who is not an orphan or Hague adoptee as described above.

Second, you must have lived with your adopted child, and the child must have been in your legal custody, for at least two years, either before or after the adoption -- but before submitting the visa petition. Moreover, if the adoption took place in a Hague Convention country on or after April 1, 2008, the two-year period of residence and custody can’t be in the United States. You also can’t get a visa approved for any child adopted after April 1, 2008, who is living with you in the U.S. but whose habitual residence immediately before coming to the U.S. was in a Convention country.

The law does not say you have to be a U.S. citizen to bring an adopted child to the U.S., but the practical difficulties of living with a child for two years overseas eliminates most lawful permanent residents (green card holders) from eligibility, because they must maintain U.S. residence to keep their green card.

If you meet the requirements, you can file with USCIS a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, to classify the adopted child as your “child” who is eligible for an immigrant visa. See “Filling Out, Submitting Form I-130 for Unmarried, Minor Child of U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident.” If the I-130 is approved, the U.S. embassy or consulate can issue an immigrant visa to your adopted child.

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