Bringing a Foreign-Born Orphan to the U.S.

The term "orphan" often conjures up images from the popular musical "Annie," about a young girl who lives in an orphanage before she's adopted by a wealthy man. But in the context of international adoption, the word orphan has a specific meaning in the law. If you're seeking to adopt an orphan from another country, you'll have to follow a specific process while adhering to the laws of both the United States and the country where the child resides.

The following is an overview of the process of bringing a foreign-born orphan to the United States, one of three main types of international adoption.

U.S. Immigration Law: What it Means to be an Orphan

If you're a U.S. citizen adopting a child from outside the United States, the manner in which you complete the adoption will depend on the status of both the child and the country where they live. Under U.S. immigration law, an orphan is a foreign-born child who:

  • Doesn't have parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents; or
  • Has a sole parent who's unable to care for the child, consistent with the local standards of the foreign sending country, and who has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.

If the child you'd like to adopt lives in a country that has signed onto the Hague Adoption Convention, you probably won't use the orphan process described in this article. Instead, you'll most likely use the Hague Process, which provides more safeguards for the parties involved.

Eligibility to Bring a Foreign-Born Orphan to the United States

If you're a U.S. citizen, you may immigrate an adopted orphan to the United States if you establish your ability and intent to properly care for the child (determined through the "home study" process). Other requirements include proof that the child is indeed an "orphan" in accordance with U.S. law and the establishment that either:

  • You've adopted the child abroad (or personally observed the child during the process); or
  • You intend to adopt the child in the United States after they've arrived (requiring permission to bring the child out of their country of origin and to the United States).

If you're single, you must be at least 25 years old when you file the Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative (Form I-600). If you're married, your spouse must also sign Form I-600.

The Process for Bringing a Foreign-Born Orphan to the United States

There are a number of steps involved in the orphan adoption process, including investigations into the status of both the child and the prospective adoptive parent(s). These steps include the following:

  1. Home Study: In order to adopt a child, you'll have to submit a home study processed by someone authorized in your state to do so. USCIS provides an overview of orphan home study guidelines to help you comply.
  2. Advance Application: You may file an Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition (Form I-600A) if you don't yet know the country of the prospective adoption, but by doing so you may not adopt a child from a Hague Convention country. Submit the home study and any other relevant evidence that you're a suitable adoptive parent.
  3. Petition: File Form I-600 with the USCIS if you've already identified the child you'd like to adopt (or have already completed the adoption in the child's country of origin). USCIS can review the child's status as an orphan and your suitability as an adoptive parent after filing the petition.
  4. Overseas Investigation: Either the USCIS or the State Department will conduct an investigation to ensure that the child is an "orphan" according to U.S. law; verify that you've secured a valid grant of custody or adoption; confirm that the child's health information described in the orphan petition is accurate; and to generally determine the child's suitability for international adoption.

Before you travel abroad to the child's country of origin, make sure you verify the validity of your Approval Notice and biometrics data (fingerprints). You'll also want to contact the appropriate U.S. officials (USCIS, embassy, or consulate) to get details on processing times.

Considering Bringing a Foreign-Born Orphan to the United States? Get Legal Help

If you want your orphan adoption to have a happy ending, you'll want to ensure that you've gone through the proper channels. International adoption involves not only U.S. immigration and family laws, but also laws pertaining to the child's country of residence. Don't go it alone; contact an experienced adoption law attorney licensed in your state for help today.

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