With the recent reorganizing of and new restrictions on adopting internationally as a U.S. citizen, it’s a good idea for all hopeful parents considering this path to understand how international adoption works. How exactly does the U.S. Department of State oversee international adoption? What are its requirements for parents, and what are the different steps of the process?
A wealth of information is available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ website, but we’ve broken down the basics of this legal process below:
What Role the U.S. Department of State Plays
Any adoption completed by U.S. citizens in another country is subject to the regulations and approval of the U.S. Department of State before a child can be brought into the country. The U.S. Department of State not only oversees adoptive parents and internationally adopted children but also the professionals who provide services to these parents. When this agency’s regulations and requirements change, as they have under the Trump administration, the approval that certain professionals have expires, and adoptive families have to follow different steps to safely and legally adopt a child from another country.
For example, adoptive families today must pay an additional $500 intercountry adoption fee after one of two accrediting agencies halted their business. This, in turn, came from a new reinterpretation of state department requirements for accrediting agencies.
Like any other adoption agency, those agencies and professionals providing international adoption services must be accredited by the U.S. government to complete legal and safe adoptions. So, the Department of State’s influence on the accreditation of these professionals plays a direct role in how many providers are available to hopeful parents and, therefore, which countries they may be able to adopt from.
As part of its international adoption regulations, the Department of State requires several legal steps in this process to protect adopted children from deportation and adoptive parents from criminal repercussions.
Legal Requirement #1: Hague Convention Regulations & Eligibility
The Hague Convention on the Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is an international agreement between countries, enacted to protect the children at the center of the adoption process. The Hague Convention established a set of standards that all nations in the agreement must comply with.
- Using accredited or approved adoption agencies
- Being transparent about fees and expenses
- Receiving appropriate adoption and custody certificates
- Filing the appropriate forms and visa categories
The U.S. Department of State provides a step-by-step Hague process explanation for prospective adoptive parents. Anyone who adopts from a non-Hague country will still need to follow the Hague requirements for the process in the U.S., but they need not follow the same regulations in the country where their child is adopted.
If you are considering adopting a child from a Hague-member nation, you will need to work with a properly accredited adoption professional both in the U.S. and in your child’s home country. These professionals can explain a bit more about the particular process awaiting you. There will be certain pre-placement requirements to meet, like completing an international home study.
Once you decide where you wish to adopt from, you will need to apply for adoption eligibility. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be the agency that determines your eligibility. They will review your forms, only after which will you be able to start your search for an adoption opportunity.
Legal Requirement #2: Visa Process for Return to U.S.
Once you have worked with an adoption professional in another country to obtain a placement and adopt your child, you will need to have the proper paperwork to return back to the U.S. While you will already have a passport, your new child will need a visa to enter the United States as your adopted child.
Visas are issued at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country where a child was adopted. It’s important that a child is eligible for an immigrant visa under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. If you work with a U.S. adoption agency, they will typically ensure any adoption opportunity presented to you meets those requirements.
Again, there are two separate paths to obtaining a child’s visa, dependent upon whether or not he or she was adopted from a Hague nation. After you have taken custody of your child, you will complete the application process at the local U.S. Embassy, which includes a visa interview and requires the submission of an adoption or guardianship order.
There are two kinds of visas given out for international adoptions:
- IH-3 Visa: For children who are adopted in Hague Convention countries. Usually, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services will automatically send certificates of citizenship for a child with this visa upon their return to the U.S.
- IH-4 Visa: For children who will be formally adopted in the United States, because their adoption was not completed in their home country. Parents will have custody of this child upon reentering the U.S. but will not have a finalized adoption certificate.
Legal Requirement #3: Acquiring U.S. Citizenship
If a child is brought into the United States on an IH-3 Visa, their certificate of citizenship should be sent to adoptive parents by the USCIS automatically. If a child is brought into the country on an IH-4 Visa, their adoption must be finalized in the U.S. before they can file the federal application for a certificate of citizenship.
Many attorneys in the United States will finalize adoptions or complete re-adoptions within the U.S. to protect adoptees and their American parents. Talk with a local attorney to learn more about what additional legal steps may be required in your situation.
In addition, always speak with an accredited adoption agency or a representative from the Department of State about any questions you have regarding the legal requirements of international adoption.