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International Adoption Basics

American citizens are seeking to adopt children in increasing numbers. With the reduction in children available for adoption in the United States, more and more U.S. citizens have adopted children from other countries. This year, thousands of children came to the United States from foreign countries, either adopted abroad by U.S. citizens or as potential adoptees.

International adoption is essentially a private legal matter between a private individual (or couple) who wishes to adopt, and a foreign court, which operates under that 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. However, the Department of State does provide extensive information about the adoption processes in various countries and the U.S. legal requirements to bring a child adopted abroad to the United States.

Adoption Requirements

To complete an international adoption and bring a child to the United States, prospective adoptive parent(s) must fulfill the requirements set by the United States Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services in the Department of Homeland Security (BCIS), the foreign country in which the child resides and sometimes the state of residence of the adoptive parent(s). Although procedures and documentary requirements may seem repetitive, you should procure several copies of each document in the event they are needed to meet the requirements of BCIS, the foreign country and your home state. The process is designed to protect the child, the adoptive parent(s) and the birth parent(s).

Applicable Laws

The U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the U.S. immigration law regarding the issuance of visas to nationals of other countries, including children adopted abroad or coming to the United States for adoption. The basic statutory provision concerning adopted children is in INA Section 101(b)(1)(E). Which provides immigrant classification for "a child adopted while under the age of sixteen years if the child has been in the legal custody of, and has resided with, the adopting parent or parents for at least two years." This so-called "two-year provision" is for individuals who are temporarily residing abroad and wish to adopt a child in accordance with the laws of the foreign state where they reside. Most adoptive parents, however, are not able to spend two years abroad living with the child. Therefore, they seek benefits under another provision of the INA, Section 101(b)(1)(F), which grants immigrant classification to orphans who have been adopted or will be adopted by U.S. citizens. Under this section of the law, both the child and the adoptive parents must satisfy a number of requirements established by the INA and the related regulations, but the two-year residency requirement is eliminated. Only after it is demonstrated that both the parents and the child qualify, can the child be issued a visa to travel to the United States.

What the State Department Can Do:

  • Provide information about international adoption in countries around the world

  • Provide general information about U.S. visa requirements for international adoption

  • Make inquiries of the U.S. consular section abroad regarding the status of a specific adoption case and clarify documentation or other requirements

  • Ensure that U.S. citizens are not discriminated against by foreign authorities or courts in accordance with local law on adoptions

What the State Department Cannot Do:

  • Become directly involved in the adoption process in another country

  • Act as an attorney or represent adoptive parents in court

  • Order that an adoption take place or that a visa be issued

Visit the web site of the U.S. Department of State's Intercountry Adoption.

Next Steps
Contact a qualified attorney specializing
in adoptions.
(e.g., Chicago, IL or 60611)

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