International Adoption Process: FAQs

Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors.

Often referred to as intercountry adoption, international adoption relates to the adoption of a child from a different country. As you can probably imagine, the international adoption process is complex and involves a number of different parties, laws, and procedures. Since adoption is such an important and life-changing event, it's important for adoptive parents to fully understand what the process entails.

Below are answers to some of the most frequently asked questions regarding the international adoption process.

Q: What laws govern the international adoption process?

A: International adoption is governed by three different sets of laws:

  1. U.S. federal adoption laws;
  2. Adoption laws of the country from which you are adopting; and
  3. The laws of where you live (U.S. state, territory, or country).

The more familiar you are with these laws before you begin the process, the fewer tangles you'll encounter. For example, some laws require you to spend several weeks in the child's country of residence before beginning adoption proceedings.

To save time, there are many forms that you can begin filling out even before you decide who'll be your adoptive child. Your adoption agency will be able to help you with many of these forms and any questions you may have, but can't represent you in front of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Q: What's a "Hague adoption?"

A: A Hague adoption follows the process according to The Hague Adoption Convention, which is an international treaty used to ensure the best interests of the children, birth parents, and adoptive parents involved in the international adoption process. The Hague Adoption Convention was enacted in April of 2008.

For a child to be classified as a Hague Convention Adoptee, they must meet the following criteria:

  • Be under age 16 at the time you file Form I-800;
  • Habitually reside in a country that is part of the Hague Convention;
  • Be determined to be eligible for intercountry adoption by their country of residence; and
  • Have obtained all necessary consents for adoption from their country of residence.

Q: What's a non-Hague, or orphan adoption?

A: According to U.S. immigration law, an orphan is a child who's not born in the U.S. and either:

  • Both of their parents have died, disappeared, abandoned, or deserted the child by separation or loss; or
  • They have a sole surviving parent who's not able to care for them, according to local standards of her country, and that parent has (in writing) irrevocably released the child for emigration from their country and for adoption.

Q: What are the special requirements for the international adoption process for a Hague adoption?

A: For a Hague adoption, to be an eligible adoptive parent, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen;
  • Reside in the USA; and
  • If married, your spouse must also sign your Form I-800A and must also intend to adopt any child you adopt;
  • If unmarried, you must be at least 24 years old at the time you file your Form I-800A, and you must be at least 25 years old at the time you file your Form I-800.

Be sure that your adoption agency has the authorization to provide services under the Hague adoption. Your agency can't provide legal advice or services to you or represent you before USCIS. Only a lawyer can do this.

Q: What steps are involved for a Hague adoption?

A: After you've chosen a Hague-accredited adoption agency, and perhaps a lawyer, follow these steps:

  • Have your home study conducted by someone authorized to conduct Hague adoption home studies and submit your home study document.
  • Apply to USCIS before adopting your child.
  • Once USCIS approves your application, work with your adoption agency for proposed adoption placement.
  • Before adopting your child, file a petition with USCIS to have the child found eligible to immigrate based on the proposed adoption.
  • Submit Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country in order to establish your eligibility and suitability.
  • Once USCIS approves your Form I-800A, submit Form I-800 (Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative) to determine the child's eligibility as a Hague Convention adoptee.
  • Once these forms are approved, adopt the child, or obtain custody of the child in order to adopt the child in the U.S.
  • Obtain the child's immigrant visa.
  • Bring the child to the USA for admission with her visa.

Q: What are the eligibility requirements for adoptive parents seeking an Orphan adoption?

A: For an orphan adoption, you must:

  • Be a U.S. citizen;
  • If married, your spouse must also sign I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative and your spouse must also adopt the child;
  • If unmarried, you must be at least 25 years old when you file the Form I-600 petition;
  • Establish that you'll provide proper care for the child;
  • Establish that the child is an orphan according to U.S. immigration law; and
  • Establish either:
    • That you and your spouse have adopted that child abroad, and that you each saw the child in person before the adoption, or
    • That you'll adopt the child in the U.S. after the child's arrival, so long as you have permission to take the child from their country of residence to the United States.

Q: What steps are involved in an orphan adoption?

If you and your child both qualify under the orphan international adoption process, then follow these steps:

  • Have the overseas investigation conducted by USCIS or the U.S. Department of State.
  • Submit your home study document, filled out by someone authorized to complete an adoption home study.
  • File an orphan petition before the child's 16th birthday, or before their 18th birthday if they're the sibling (by birth) of another child immigrant you have adopted:
    • File Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, before you even identify your adoptive child.
    • Once you identify your child, and USCIS approves your Form I-600A, file Form I-600, Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative, along with your home study document an any other evidence that you are a suitable adoptive parent.
  • After your Orphan Petition is approved, apply for your child's visa.
  • Bring your child to the United States along with their visa.

Q: Do I need to have a home study conducted?

A: Yes. One of the documents required by USCIS is a home study document. This must be submitted for both Orphan and Hague adoption cases. USCIS just wants to ensure that your home is suitable for the adoptive child, based on the applicable laws.

USCIS doesn't send someone to conduct the home study for you. You're actually responsible for setting this up yourself. Someone who's licensed or authorized to conduct adoption home studies must come visit your home and fill out the home study document in accordance with the Department of Homeland Security regulations.

Q: Is my adopted child automatically a citizen?

A: No, children are not automatically citizens without a previously obtained visa. However, there are steps to take both to provide your child with a visa upon their entrance to their new home, and to obtain their U.S. citizenship.

If the child lives abroad now, you must get them an immigrant visa in order for them to enter the United States. These visas are issues by the United States Department of State at the embassy or consulate in the foreign country where the child now lives.

Q: What steps are required to secure my adopted child's U.S. citizenship?

A: The type of visa your child needs depends on a few factors:

Visa types for Hague Adoptions

  • IH-3 visa: Issued for children with full and final adoptions from a Hague Convention country.
  • IH-4 visa: Issued when a child is coming to the United States from a Hague Convention country to be adopted.

Visa types for Orphan (Non-Hague) Adoptions

  • IR-3 visa: Issued when a full and final adoption is completed abroad.
    • Requires that the parent(s) physically see the child prior to or during the adoption proceedings.
  • IR-4 visa: Issued to a child that
    • is coming to the United States to be adopted
    • was adopted abroad by only one parent (if married)
    • was not seen by the parent(s) prior to or during the adoption

Visa types for Other Adopted Children

  • IR-2 visa: Issued to a child
    • adopted by a citizen if the child immigrates to the U.S. while unmarried and before his or her 21st birthday
    • after the child's 21st birthday, if he or she is treated under the Child Status Protection Act as if he or she were still under 21)

Q: What steps are necessary to obtain citizenship for my child?

A: Steps required to obtain citizenship, an important part of the international adoption process, will depend on the type of visa they have.

Children with IR-3 and IH-3 visas automatically acquire citizenship if:

  • They enter the United States prior to their 18th birthday; and
  • They reside in the United States with their parents (U.S. government or military personnel assigned overseas may qualify as residing in the United States)

For IR-3 and IH-3 cases, your child's Certificate of Citizenship will automatically be sent to your U.S. address without requiring additional forms or fees.

Children with IR-4 and IH-4 visas:

  • Don't acquire automatic citizenship upon entry to the U.S., but instead become permanent residents;
  • Will automatically receive a permanent resident card (green card); and
  • Will automatically acquire citizenship on the date of their adoption in United States, if the adoption occurs before the child's 18th birthday.

Children with IR-2 visas that are:

  • Under 18 automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States if they reside in the United States with their parents (U.S. government or military personnel residing overseas may qualify as residing in the U.S.); and
  • Over 18 become permanent residents and receive a green card.

Children with IR-2 visas who didn't automatically acquire U.S. citizenship can apply for naturalization when eligible.

Get Professional Legal Help With the International Adoption Process

Potential family and immigration law issues mean that international adoptions can be quite complicated. A lawyer's assistance can help ensure that you prepare to meet the challenges of both systems successfully. Before you shell out your hard-earned cash and fly halfway around the world, make sure you're doing it right by speaking with a family law attorney.

Next Steps

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