Under U.S. immigration law, a foreign-born child is an orphan if he or she does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents. A foreign-born child is also an orphan if his or her sole or surviving parent is incapable of providing care of the child and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. For such a child to gain immigration benefits, an orphan petition must be filed before his or her 16th birthday. An orphan petition may be filed before the child's 18th birthday, if the child is a natural sibling of an orphan or adopted child, and is adopted with or after that child, by the same adoptive parents.
A married U.S. citizen and spouse (no special age) or an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age may file an orphan petition. The spouse does not need to be a U.S. citizen; however, the spouse must be here legally if living in the United States. To make the adoption process faster, you may apply for advanced processing before you actually find an orphan to adopt. An application for advance processing may be filed by anyone eligible to file an orphan petition. An unmarried U.S. citizen may file an application for advance processing if the U.S. citizen is at least 24 years of age and will be at least 25 when an orphan petition is filed on behalf of an actual child and when the child is adopted.
The complete orphan definition can be found in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) at Section 101(b)(1)(F). The specific eligibility requirements and procedures for applying for immigration benefits for an orphan are included in the Code of Federal Regulations [CFR] at 8 CFR § 204.3.
The fastest way is to file USCIS Form I-600A (Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition) before you identify a foreign-born child to adopt. This allows the USCIS to first process the application that relates to your ability to provide a proper home environment and your suitability as a parent. Then, once a child who meets the INA's definition of orphan is identified, you must file USCIS Form I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative) on behalf of the child.
Should I do "advance processing" if I've already identified the child? Yes, it is generally advisable for all prospective adoptive parents to do advance processing. You should do advance processing even if you are traveling to the country where the child is located and will file an orphan petition at an overseas Immigration office (or at an American consulate or embassy if there is no Immigration office in the country). By completing advance processing, you will ensure that USCIS has already processed the application that relates to your ability to provide a proper home environment and your suitability as a parent before you adopt a child in a foreign country. This is important, because you will not be allowed to bring a child that you have adopted to the United States if you are found to be unable to provide that child with a proper home environment or you are found unsuitable as a parent.
What kind of information about myself and my spouse will I, as the petitioner, need to provide to the USCIS? You must provide proof of U.S. citizenship. If you are married and living in the United States, you must provide evidence of your spouse's U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status as well as proof that you are married and that any previous marriages ended legally. You must submit a complete and current home study within prescribed time limits. You may also have to prove that you have complied with the preadoption requirements of the state in which you will live with your adopted child. You must submit the required filing fee for your application, and be aware that each adult member of the household must be fingerprinted by the USCIS. Please refer to USCIS' The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children (document M-249N, revised September, 2000) for more information.
Questions and answers about Fingerprinting Procedures in the Adoption Application Process
Q: I have adopted my child and brought him/her into the country. Is there any reason for me to be fingerprinted again?
A: No, there is no need for you to be fingerprinted again. Your application for a specific child was approved. If you file another I-600A application to adopt another child, you will need to be fingerprinted at that time.
Q: I filed an I-600A and an I-600 application in your office. The I-600A was approved 12 months ago, and the I-600 was approved 10 months ago. My child will be brought into the U.S. in 4 months. My fingerprints, taken when I filed my I-600A, expire in 3 months. Should I be reprinted?
A. No, you do not need to be printed again. You filed both your I-600A and your I-600, and got approvals on both within the 15 months that your prints were valid.
Q. My I-600A was approved 12 months ago, and I had my fingerprints taken when I filed my application. That would mean that my prints will expire in 3 months. I plan to bring my child home in 2 months and want to file an I-600 then. Should I be printed again, just in case?
A: Yes, if you will be filing an I-600 application within 30 days of your fingerprint expiration, it is recommended that you be printed again.
Q: I brought in my I-600A application 6 months ago, and it was approved 3 months ago. If I don’t know when I will be filing my I-600, should I be re-fingerprinted so that I can be assured that my prints will remain valid for the duration of my approval?
A: No, it is best if you wait until you are certain that your prints will expire before having them taken again. Have your prints taken again a month before expiration.
Q: If I do need to be re-fingerprinted, will I need to pay the fee?
A: Yes, if you need to be re-fingerprinted you will need to pay the $80 fingerprinting fee for each adult member of your household being re-fingerprinted. Please note, the fingerprint fee cannot be paid at the Application Support Center (ASC) where your fingerprints are taken. The fingerprint fee must be paid at your local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. When you go to the USCIS office to be scheduled for fingerprints, bring your I-171H approval notice with you. You will then be provided with a referral letter/appointment notice giving you the date, time and location to appear for fingerprinting.
Q: How will I know that my fingerprint files are about to expire?
A: Your fingerprint clearances files expire 15 months after the date that the USCIS received a response from the FBI. This is approximately 15 months from the date that you were fingerprinted.
Q: I am planning to travel overseas to file my I-600. Can I wait and be fingerprinted at the Embassy or Consulate?
A: Yes, you can. You should be aware that the fingerprint clearance process for persons fingerprinted overseas takes much more time than it does for those who are fingerprinted in the United States. If your fingerprints have expired, or will expire before your date of travel, you should contact your local USCIS office to be fingerprinted again so that your fingerprints can be processed sooner.
- The child's birth certificate or, if the certificate is unavailable, evidence of the child's age and identity;
- Proof that the child is an orphan as defined by the INA;
- A final decree of adoption, if applicable;
- Proof of legal custody of the child for emigration and adoption, if applicable; and
- Proof of compliance with preadoption requirements, if applicable.
(Please refer to The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children (document M-249N, revised September, 2000) for more specific information on this question).
No, there is no way an orphan can legally immigrate to the U.S. without USCIS processing.
Can I adopt a child from any country in the world?
Countries experiencing social or political upheaval.
USCIS shares your concern for the children of countries experiencing social or political upheaval. However, adopting children from a country in crisis is usually not a feasible way to assist them. There are a number of reasons for this.
During times of crisis, it can be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of the child's country of origin. This is especially true when civil authority breaks down. It can also be very difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of the immigration law of the United States. Also, in a crisis situation, it can be extremely difficult to determine if children whose parents are missing are truly orphans. It is not uncommon in a hostile situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or to become separated during an evacuation. Even when children have been truly orphaned or abandoned by their parents, they are often taken in by other relatives. International conventions place a strong preference on keeping children within extended family units and within their culture as opposed to uprooting the child completely. Finally, corruption and lawlessness are more likely in such countries. This increases the risk that you may be provided with false documents or otherwise taken advantage of as you attempt to adopt a child. For these reasons, individuals considering adoption from a country in crisis should proceed with extreme caution. They should review the Department of State's website and contact their local USCIS office early in the process to avoid disappointment at not being able to complete the adoption and emigration of a child.
Countries that do not permit adoption
Some countries do not permit adoption and will grant legal custody only so long as the applicant for custody resides in that country. This is often true in countries that apply Islamic law. Children from such countries do not qualify for immigrant status in the U.S.
Where Can I File My Application? You should file your advanced processing application with the USCIS district or suboffice that serves the area where you live. Please see our USCIS offices home page for more information on USCIS office locations. Forms and USCIS' guide to orphan petitions are available by calling 1-800-870-3676. For further information on filing fees, please see USCIS filing fees. Also, please see our fingerprints page for more information on USCIS fingerprinting procedures.
If I am a U.S. citizen, will the child I adopt automatically become a citizen too?
When an orphan enters the United States with an immigrant visa, he/she is considered to be a lawful permanent resident of the United States, not a U.S. citizen. Please see our Backgrounder page for more information. There are exceptions to this and in some situations, a child might become a United States citizen upon admission into the United States as a lawful permanent resident.
How Do I Find out about the Status of My Application?
Please contact the USCIS office that received your application. You should be prepared to provide the USCIS staff with specific information about your application. Please click here for complete instructions on checking the status of your application. Click here for information on USCIS offices.
Can I Appeal?
If your petition is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to appeal. Generally, you may file a Notice of Appeal along with the required fee with the USCIS office that issued the denial letter. There are specific time requirements for filing an appeal. For more information, see How Do I Appeal?. Once the fee is collected and the form is processed, the appeal will be referred to the Administrative Appeals Unit in Washington, D.C. Sending the appeal directly to the AAU will delay the process.
Can Anyone Help Me?
If advice is needed, you may contact the USCIS District Office near your home for a list of reputable adoption professionals or agencies that may be able to assist you in applying for an immigration benefit. Please see our USCIS field offices home page for more information on contacting USCIS offices. In addition, please see our webpage that provides information on free legal advice.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do you want further information? Please see our Frequently Asked Questions. You may also refer to information provided at the June 2002 INS International Conference on Adoption. If you would like information on how to proceed with an adoption in a particular country, please go to the Department of State web pages addressing Country-Specific Adoption and Important Notices.