National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
- Selecting an agency.
- Child health considerations.
- Compiling documents.
- Filing with immigration.
- Child placement.
- The legal adoption process.
- Postplacement requirements and services.
More and more Americans are creating families by adopting children from foreign countries. In 1996, 11,316 foreign-born children were adopted by U.S. families. Overall, China was the greatest source for intercountry adoptions, followed in descending order by Russia, Korea, Romania, Guatemala, India, Vietnam, Paraguay, and Colombia.
Intercountry adoption may be a viable alternative to domestic adoption for many families, especially those who want to adopt an infant. However, the process can be complex, paperwork-intensive, and expensive. Like domestic adoptions, costs and waiting time vary significantly depending on the country and child chosen. Costs can range from a low of $12,000 to a high of $30,000, although most intercountry adoptions average between $15,000 and $20,000. The waiting time for intercountry adoption, including the home study and Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) approval process, can take from 1 to 3 years. Special needs adoptions may have lower fees and waiting periods.
The information presented here is designed to help prospective adoptive parents through the detailed process of adopting a child from abroad. While some of the procedures discussed – such as immigration procedures – are standard for all intercountry adoptions, others will vary by source country or by agency.
When seeking to adopt a foreign-born child, it is advisable to use a reputable adoption agency with experience in intercountry adoption. Although service quality can vary, adoption agencies are regulated by state governments. Non-agency intercountry adoptions are rarely regulated and pose many risks, including involvement in the black market, loss of confidentiality, infringements upon the child’s rights to privacy and permanency, failure to meet INS guidelines required for immigration, inadequate health information, incomplete or flawed legal processing, insufficient counseling, and outright fraud. Regardless of the involvement of an adoption agency or other processing assistance, you are ultimately responsible, FINANCIALLY AND LEGALLY, for any commitments you make.
There are hundreds of licensed private agencies that arrange intercountry adoptions; public social service agencies do not do intercountry placements. You can shorten the agency selection process by checking out which source countries have stable political situations and well-established adoption processing mechanisms in place with governmental oversight. In general, the fewest international adoption scandals have occurred in countries when the government has centralized authority over adoption processing. Adoption fees tend to skyrocket in countries where there is little governmental oversight and many non-governmental intermediaries involved throughout the adoption process.
Check out international news sections of newspapers and other reputable sources for information on specific countries’ political stability. If you have Internet access, you can log onto the US State Department’s web site at http://travel.state.gov/ and then peruse their intercountry adoption web site for information on adoption processing in 60+ countries, checking their travel advisories for information on countries experiencing political instability. If you do not have Internet access (most public libraries provide Internet access as an information service now), you can call the US State Department’s automated phone system at (202) 736-7000 and follow the recorded instructions to learn information about specific countries.
Once you have narrowed down the countries in which you would like to adopt, you can then contact agencies working in the particular country. Evaluate the advantages and disadvantages of working with a large, national agency (which may have larger numbers of children to place and longer waiting lists of applicants) versus working with a smaller, local agency (which may have fewer children to place but shorter waiting lists). Evaluate the agency’s accessibility and past working relationships with applicants. Once you have a list of agencies, call them to ask about their services. Some agencies have contracts or contacts with foreign adoption programs, institutions, and/or lawyers, while others can only do a home study and process the paperwork in the United States. Look carefully at the agency’s relationship with its foreign contact and evaluate the foreign contact’s proven track record over time.
While most private agencies are reputable, some are not, and it is vitally important to select an experienced, licensed one. First, call the state licensing specialist to verify that the agency is licensed and find out if complaints have been filed against the agency. In some states you can arrange to review complaint files. You should check with the Better Business Bureau local to the agency to see if complaints have been lodged against an agency. Also check with the state attorney general’s office to see if complaints have been filed with that office. Then, talk to members of adoptive parent support groups local to the agency to check their reputation.
Most agencies have some minimum requirements for prospective parents (often related to marital status, age, income, and perhaps infertility). In some cases, agency restrictions reflect the laws of the child’s country of origin or requirements of the agency in that country. Inquire about applicant restrictions to ensure that you are eligible to adopt with the agency’s programs.
Determine whether the agency conducts their own home studies, which countries they work with, how many children they place, their requirements and fees, and what types of postplacement services they provide. Request written materials and references from past clients. Ask agencies to provide an itemized list of expenses and fees — keeping in mind that some costs cannot be predicted, such as travel expenses. Attend orientation meetings at all agencies that interest you, while continuing to ask other adoptive parents about their experiences. Consider not only the range of services the agencies offer, but also their client satisfaction and your level of confidence and comfort with their staff. Then choose the agency that best meets your needs. Most agencies do not allow applicants to work with more than one agency at a time.
Once you have arranged to work with an agency, the agency will assign a social worker. The social worker will discuss your preferences, provide information on source countries, and explain the agency’s policies and procedures. At this point, you may be required to pay the first installment of the adoption agency fees. Some agencies will prorate their charges according to your income. You should avoid programs where you are required to pay all the fees in advance. Most programs have a fee payment system which allows payment as services are rendered. Find out what fees are refundable if you withdraw from the adoption process or the agency withdraws its services after a service agreement is signed.
Every adoption requires a home study, which involves a series of interviews with a social worker or group sessions with other applicants. The home study helps applicants think through their desire and ability to adopt a child from another culture. The social worker wants to ensure that you will provide a safe and nurturing environment for a new child. A home study is usually completed in a few months. The final, approved home study documents your suitability as adoptive parents and provides a description of the prospective home to the foreign source. Home study fees vary from $750 to $5,000 and may or may not be included in the overall fee. When a home study is approved, your case is assigned to a particular foreign adoption agency, orphanage, institution, or private attorney.
Certain health risks are inherent when adopting foreign children. Generally, children come into care because of abandonment, poverty, illness or death of parents, or family dysfunction (including alcoholism, drug abuse, child abuse and/or neglect). Children may have experienced poor prenatal and/or postnatal care, early neglect, and a lack of health care services, including immunizations. Specific health problems may include malnutrition, parasites, minor congenital defects, developmental delay, tuberculosis, hepatitis (A, B, or C), and HIV/AIDS.
Reputable agencies will provide prospective parents with as much information as possible on a child’s background and medical history; however, they cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information. Medical evaluation (including lab testing) in developing countries does not match U.S. standards. The birth parents’ medical and genetic histories are not always known, especially for abandoned children.
Most foreign countries have developed child welfare systems but most struggle to provide a minimum standard of care for dependent children. Children who spend formative early periods or many years in large institutions with few caretakers will usually show the effects of lack of stimulation and institutionalization. In institutions, it is the strong children who survive. It should be noted that some children exhibit remarkable recovery from developmental delays after they have proper nutrition and medical care and are in a family setting. Some children show long-term delays and will require rehabilitative therapies to help correct the damaging effects of institutionalization. Loving care notwithstanding, other children who have suffered prolonged neglect and abuse in orphanages may require expert help over long periods.
You should educate yourself about the impact for children of the conditions detailed above — all factors which can affect a child’s physical, developmental, and emotional growth. Learn what resources are available to you in your community should the child you adopt need some professional help to make up for early delays. Talk to other families who have adopted from different countries and orphanages to see how their children are doing–after arrival and several years thereafter.
You will need to compile a variety of documents for the home study and the document dossier for the foreign court. The required documents usually include, but are not limited to, the following:
- birth certificates of both prospective adoptive parents;
- marriage license, and, if applicable, divorce decrees from previous marriages;
- a letter from a physician confirming the prospective parents’ good health;
- financial statements, including tax returns, statements of assets and liabilities, and letters from your bank describing your accounts;
- letters from your employer(s) confirming position, salary, and length of employment;
- letters of recommendation from friends and associates;
- police records;
- child abuse clearance; and
- psychological evaluations.
Most agencies ask that you have these documents signed and notarized and provide multiple copies. In addition, some countries will require authenticated translations of the documents.
Once you have been selected by an agency for a foreign program, it is necessary to file a petition for approval to adopt a foreign orphan. The petition, called the I-600A, "Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition," should be filed with your nearest INS office. If you are resident in the United States, this petition must be approved before an adopted child can immigrate to the United States. INS publishes a helpful booklet that explains more about the I-600A entitled "The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children," publication M-249, which you can request either from your adoption agency or from your local INS office.
Your adoption agency is generally responsible either for filing the I-600A on your behalf or assisting you to file it. To file your I-600A, you will need to provide your fingerprints on form FD-258 and your approved home study. Married couples must submit proof that at least one applicant is a U.S. citizen, proof of their marriage(s), and documentation of any previous divorce(s). Single adopters must also submit proof of their U.S. citizenship and of any previous marriages or divorces. INS will determine if you can properly care for an adopted child. Upon approval from INS, you will be sent Form I-71H, "Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition." You also should request that notice of this approval be sent to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country in which you plan to adopt the child. Your I-600A petition approval will remain valid for 18 months from the date of approval. If the visa approval expires, you will have to re-apply to INS.
When your I-600A petition is approved, there is no guarantee that the petition for a particular child will be approved. Approval for a particular child depends upon the child’s status as an orphan according to the definition in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and, to some extent, upon the child’s medical status. The INS publication M-249Y referenced above explains the INA orphan qualifications in detail.
As a child becomes available for adoption in a foreign country, he or she is matched with prospective parents who can best meet that child’s needs. The more flexible you are in terms of the child’s nationality, age, and medical status, the faster you can be matched with a child. Ask your adoption agency about the status of foreign adoption in the country in which you are interested and how long it will take for the adoption to be processed. An excellent source of information is the Department of State’s Office of Citizens’ Consular Services. You may telephone this office at (202) 736-7000 for information on foreign adoption laws and the status of adoption in those countries in which you are interested. Simply identify yourself as a prospective adoptive parent and ask to speak to the officer who handles those countries. You can also access information about intercountry adoption on the State Department’s web page — http://travel.state.gov/ which gives a comprehensive adoption guide to sixty countries.
If a child is offered for placement, you should request all available information, especially information concerning the child’s health and orphan status. If you have any questions, clarify them prior to accepting the placement or initiating the adoption or guardianship process. If you have any doubts about the child’s medical condition, you may request additional information. Do not allow yourself to be pressured into committing to a placement if you do not feel you have sufficient information or if you feel you have been rushed into making the decision. Ask for a full translation of any medical information.
There are experienced physicians in the U.S. who evaluate medical records for children born abroad, including children cared for in institutions. Call the Clearinghouse to obtain the name of a physician near you. This additional review by a U.S. physician may help you to make a better informed decision about whether to accept the placement. U.S. physicians willing to evaluate medicals and videotapes usually can provide their services within a week of receipt of the information.
In some countries you may request that the child be examined by a "panel physician" visa medical examinations. This examination will only ensure that the child is free of diseases or signs of serious retardation. If any significant illness or disability is discovered, you will be provided with information on the condition.
Despite precautions, certain conditions, such as any learning disabilities and the delayed effects of early neglect or prenatal substance abuse, can only be identified over time. This is a particular concern for those adopting an infant or very young child. For those adopting an older child, a psychiatric evaluation may help to identify serious emotional or mental problems.
In some programs, once you accept the placement, you are responsible for the cost of the child’s medical expenses and care in a foreign foster home or orphanage. The cost of foster care varies and can be expensive. To assure yourself that the child is receiving the benefit of the funds you provide, you may request that your adoption agency provide you with an itemized list of foster care or orphanage expenses and some proof that the funds are actually being disbursed to the institution or individual caring for the child.
Once you accept the child, the adoption process can begin. Some countries will allow adoption of a child without the prospective adoptive parents’ physical presence. If a couple is adopting, the country may require only one member of the couple to be present to conclude the foreign adoption. Other countries’ laws do not permit foreigners to adopt a child, but rather, grant you guardianship of the child with permission to remove the child to the United States for subsequent adoption. In order to accomplish the adoption or guardianship, you may have to give power of attorney to the international agency or to a foreign lawyer who will represent you in court during these proceedings. The fee for this is usually part of the foreign program fee. Your adoption agency and/or your foreign attorney also can assist you in securing a passport for the child to enable travel to the United States.
Foreign courts generally require prospective adoptive parents to submit evidence of the child’s identity, the child’s orphan status or availability for adoption or guardianship, the acceptability of the prospective adoptive parents, and the clearance of the government of the prospective adoptive parents to adopt.
Adoption and guardianship laws in foreign countries vary widely and do not always conform to the equivalent procedure in U.S. courts. Learn about the requirements of the foreign country for the adoption/ guardianship process. It is essential that you ensure that the child you are adopting or gaining guardianship of in a foreign country will meet the Immigration and Naturalization Act’s definition of an "orphan." Since foreign adoption laws vary, it is possible in some countries to adopt a child who does not qualify as an "orphan" under U.S. law.
When you have legally adopted the child in a foreign court or a foreign court has given you guardianship of the child and permission for the child to emigrate to the United States, you must then file INS form I-600, "Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative." You must file an individual I-600 petition for each child you plan to adopt. Your I-600A approval should already be on file in the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country in which the child resides. You should ensure that it is on file there prior to your filing an I-600 petition. You may file your I-600 petition either in the United States with your local INS office or at the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country in which the child resides. No matter where you file the petition, you will need to present information similar to that which you presented to obtain the child’s adoption or guardianship. You must present acceptable proof of the child’s identity, such as a birth certificate, national identity card, or passport. Next, you must present proof of the child’s orphan status. In general, such proof can consist of (1) evidence that both parents have died, such as their death certificates; (2) evidence that a court of competent authority declared the child abandoned or severed the biological parent(s) ties by declaring the child a ward of the State; or (3) evidence that the child has been irrevocably relinquished to an orphanage by biological parent(s). You must also present proof that a court of competent authority has granted you guardianship of the child or that such a court finalized your adoption of the child.
Finally, you must present Form I-864, the Affidavit of Support, and certified copies of tax returns from the three most recent taxable years. The Form I-864 is a contractually binding agreement that applies to all immigrants. This form certifies that the prospective parents can demonstrate "means of financial support" and that they agree to reimburse any government or private agency that provides their child with any means-tested public benefit, such as food stamps or welfare. Copies of federal tax schedules should bear a simple signed declaration that the copies are true and unchanged from the originals–this statement is then notarized. Tax returns must verify that the parents’ income is 125% above the poverty guidelines set by the Department of Health and Human Services. You can obtain Form I-864 by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs (Autofax 202-647-3000), your local INS office, or the State Department’s web page (http://travel.state.gov/visa_services.html).
The Department of State Consular Officer who adjudicates the child’s immigrant visa application is required to conduct an investigation, called the "I-604 Orphan Investigation," prior to issuing an immigrant visa for the child. The purpose of this investigation is two-fold: (1) to verify the orphan status of the child and (2) to ensure that the child does not suffer from a medical condition of which the adoptive parents are not already aware and willing to accept. As a part of the immigrant visa application process and the I-604 Orphan Investigation, the child will be examined by a U.S.-approved foreign physician. Prospective adoptive parents may apply for an exemption from immunizations required by US immigration law for their child prior to their child’s entry into the United States. The exemption forms can be downloaded from the State Department’s web site (http://travel.state.gov/).
There are two immigrant visa categories for foreign orphans. The IR-3 (IR stands for"immediate relative") denotes a child adopted overseas under the following two conditions: (1) the adoptive parent (if a single parent) or both parents (if a married couple) saw and observed the child prior to the adoption and (2) the foreign adoption bestows upon both adoptive parents and child the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges as would an adoption in the United States. Children who are issued IR-3 immigrant visas do not, under federal laws, require readoption in the United States.
The other orphan immigrant visa category is the IR-4 category, which denotes a child coming to the United States for adoption. An IR-4 visa is issued to a child under the following circumstances: (1) the foreign country’s laws only permit the adoptive parents to obtain guardianship of the child, not fully adopt the child in that country and (2) the prospective adoptive parent(s) did not see and observe the child prior to the adoption process. With the IR-4 visa, the foreign adoption does not meet the U.S. equivalent requirements of severing biological parent(s) ties and/or ensuring that both the adoptive parents and child have the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges. Children who have been issued IR-4 immigrant visas must be adopted or readopted after they enter the United States. Your adoption agency should be able to tell you what kind of a visa your child will receive.
After your child has arrived, make an appointment with your physician for a general evaluation. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that the physical include hemoglobin/hematocritin and red blood cell indices, urinalysis, blood lead level, vision and hearing testing, dental examination, and screening for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, tuberculosis, and intestinal parasites. The International Adoption Clinic at the University of Minnesota (612/ 624-1164) has a complete list of recommended screenings for children placed for adoption from abroad.
Once your child is brought to the United States, you must consider readoption issues. If your child was issued an IR-3 immigrant visa, you are not required under federal law to readopt the child, although your state adoption law may require you to do so or you may feel more comfortable doing so. If your child entered the United States in the IR-4 visa category, federal regulations require you to adopt the child in the state of your residence, regardless of whether any type of adoption might have occurred overseas.
After a successful postplacement period during which agency staff will monitor the child’s adjustment in your home, the agency will write a recommendation for adoption to be filed with the court. These recommendations, along with the child’s documents, proof of at least one parent’s U.S. citizenship, proof that the child was under 16 when adopted, and a petition to finalize adoption must be filed in your local juvenile or family court. The adoption process may take several months and it is recommended that parents hire a knowledgeable attorney to coordinate the adoption process.
Adoption does not confer U.S. citizenship on your child. Therefore, you must take steps to naturalize the child. The adoption must be finalized, before you can begin naturalization procedures. In these procedures, the parent files INS form N-600 or a modified version N600K, the parent and child are interviewed, and the oath of allegiance is sworn. A certificate of citizenship is then mailed to the family.
Most adoption agencies mandate postplacement services for client families for a set amount of time-ranging from 6 months to 3 or more years – after the child has been placed. These services provide counseling for the new family, observe the child’s adjustment to the new home, and supply parents with information and referrals. Most foreign countries also require postplacement supervision for 6 months to 2 years to ensure that the child has been well-placed and is receiving adequate care and love. For this reason, your agency may ask you to furnish photographs, written reports, and medical reports to send to your child’s country of origin. As part of postplacement, many agencies have organized support groups for new adoptive parents. If your agency does not have such a group, it may be able to refer you to one in your community.
Like other kinds of adoption, intercountry adoption can be expensive, time-consuming, and fraught with uncertainties. It is important to learn as much as possible about intercountry adoption by reading books, attending parent support groups, and talking with people who have adopted from abroad. Being well-informed, maintaining a strong commitment, and working with a good agency will enable you to successfully negotiate the complicated paperwork and procedures required to adopt a child from abroad. Intercountry adoption has fulfilled the dreams of thousands of parents over the past 40+ years and continues to provide them joy and intense satisfaction as they watch their children grow to adulthood. Families are clear that their family life has been immeasurably enriched by learning about their child’s homeland and culture.
Updated 1997 by the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse.
Alperson, Myra. The International Adoption Handbook: How to Make Foreign Adoption Work for You. New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company, Inc., 1997. ISBN 0-8050-4579
Children’s Home Society of Minnesota. With Eyes Wide Open. Minneapolis, MN: CHSM, 1996.
Families Adopting Children Everywhere (FACE). The FACE Adoption Resource Manual. Baltimore, MD: FACE, 1997.
Gilman, Lois. The Adoption Resource Book. New York: Harper & Row, 1992.
Immigration and Naturalization Service. The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children (M-249 Booklet). Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1990. Write INS Outreach Program, Room 1418, 425 I St., N.W., Washington, DC 20536 or call 1-800-755-0777.
International Concerns for Children. Report on Intercountry Adoption 1998. Boulder, CO: ICC, 1998 (includes 10 monthly updates). (303) 494-8333
Knoll, Jean and Murphy, Mary-Kate. International Adoption: Sensitive Advice for Prospective Parents. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 1994.
Marindin, Hope. The Handbook for Single Adoptive Parents. Chevy Chase, MD: Committee for Single Adoptive Parents, 1997.
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse. National Adoption Directory. Washington, DC. NAIC, 1997.
Nelson-Erichsen, Jean, Erichsen, Heino R., and Gantley, Juleen. How to Adopt Internationally: A Guide for Agency Directed and Independent Adoptions. The Woodlands, TX: Los Niños International Adoption Center, 1992.
Wirth, Eileen M. and Worden, Joan. How to Adopt a Child from Another Country. Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1993.
National Adoptive Parent Support Groups and Information Services
National Council for Single Adoptive Parents (formerly Committee for Single Adoptive Parents), P. O. Box 15084, Chevy Chase, MD 20825. Information service which publishes a source book of domestic and intercountry adoption agencies willing to place with single applicants. http://www.adopting.org/ncasp.html
North American Council on Adoptable Children (NACAC), 970 Raymond Avenue, Ste. 106, St. Paul, MN 55114-1149, (612) 644-3036. Nonprofit coalition of individuals and local adoptive parent support groups. http://www.cyfc.umn.edu/Adoptinfo/nacac.html
Adoptive Families of America (AFA), 2309 Como Avenue, St. Paul, MN 55108, (612) 535-4829 or (800) 372-3300. Private, non-profit membership organization of families and individuals providing information on and assistance with adoption. http://www.adoptivefam.org
Families With Children From China (FCFC), 255 W. 90th Street-11C, New York, NY 10024. Network of parent support groups across the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Norway and Sweden supporting Chinese adoption. http://www.catalog.com/fwcfc
Families for Russian and Ukrainian Adoption (FRUA), P. O. Box 2944, Merrifield, VA 22116, (703) 560-6184. National network of parent support groups for families adopting from the former Soviet Union. http://www.serve.com/fredt/adopt/html
Latin American Parents Association (LAPA), P. O. Box 2013, Brick, NJ 08273, (908) 249-5600. Support network for parents who plan to adopt or have adopted children from Central and South America. http://www.lapa.com
Issues to Consider Before Pursuing Intercountry Adoption
Compiled by Holt International Children’s Services of Eugene, Oregon
1. What are your ideas about race? What characteristics do you think Asian, Indian, Latin American, etc., people have? Do you expect your child to have these characteristics? The children become Americanized; therefore try to visualize that cute little baby growing up into a child, a teenager, an adult, a parent. Think about grandchildren.
2. How do you feel about getting lots of public attention, stares, etc.? Possibly your adopted child will get too much attention and other children will tend to feel left out.
3. You will become an interracial family. Do you raise your child to have the same identity as you or your other children? How do you help him develop his own identity? Should his name reflect his national origin? What relationship will the name have to the sense of "Who am I"? Imagine a child you know and love being sent overseas to be adopted. How would you want him raised? As an American in a foreign country? A native in that country?
4. How can you learn to know what it’s like being nonwhite and growing up in a white society if you don’t know this from your own experience? You will have to find out how to reach or educate yourself to become sensitive to your child’s world.
5. Your family will now be interracial for generations. Adoption of a child of another race or country is not just a question of an appealing little baby. How do you feel about interracial marriage? How does your family feel about interracial marriage? How do you feel when people assume that you are married to an Asian person?
6. In addition to your qualities and abilities as parents, it is important for you to understand your motivation for this kind of adoption. Do you feel you are doing a good deed for a poor, homeless child, who will perhaps be more grateful to you when he is older than if he were your birth child? This is poor motivation and not very realistic. If your primary orientation is to help the child become absorbed into your culture at the expense of his own, then transracial adoption is not for you. You must have an attitude of respect for the country and culture of the child.
7. Do you have the capacity to identify with this child, to see the world from his point of view and to lovingly supply his physical, mental, and spiritual needs? Do you want to learn more about the child’s culture and heritage? If you do, then you can consider further the idea of intercountry adoption.
National Adoption Information Clearinghouse
P.O. Box 1182
Washington, D.C. 20013-1182
(703) 352-3488 · (888) 251-0075
fax: (703) 385-3206
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