By Melissa McCall, J.D. | Legally reviewed by Melissa Bender, Esq. | Last reviewed May 28, 2023
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International adoption offers a less expensive and quicker option for potential adoptive parents. This is as compared with domestic adoption. This may be due to the number of available children in foreign countries. Many foreign countries have orphanages full of children ready for adoption. The costs of raising children in other countries may be too high for birth parents to bear. There are many types of adoptions available to potential adoptive parents. International adoptions are the best choice for some parents.
International adoption can also raise more issues and concerns compared with domestic adoption. Different countries follow different standards and regulations. They may not provide the same safeguards adoptive parents enjoy in the United States. This can open children and parents up to potential risks. Child trafficking is one risk. Or there may be situations where the birth mother is forced to give up her child for adoption. Adoption could disrupt a child's birth family.
Those who want to pursue international adoption should understand the adoption process. Below, you'll find information on international adoption, including tips on the application process. You will also find links to overseas adoption resources from the federal government.
International Adoption: Overview
Considering required legal obligations while planning an international adoption is essential. International laws apply in international adoption. Countries that signed the Hague Adoption Convention have different rules about adopting children. The Hague Adoption Convention has the same adoption standards for these countries. The United States signed the Convention in 1996, but it wasn't effective until 2008.
The Hague Adoption Convention
The Hague Adoption Convention covers adoption between parents who live in the United States and children who don't. According to the U.S. Department of State, "those seeking to adopt may receive greater protections if they adopt from a Convention country." The Convention helps avoid child trafficking and kidnappings. It also ensures intercountry adoptions are in a child's best interests.
The Hague Adoption Convention applies to children of all ages, including older children. Countries that are party to the Hague Convention must follow specific procedures. Non-party countries may have their own rules and procedures.
The Hague Adoption Convention Process
Applicants must fulfill the requirements of the country where the child lives. The immigration laws of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and the adoption laws of the state where they live also apply. The USCIS has forms potential adoptive parents must complete before they can move forward with the adoption. Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, is first.
After approval of Form I-800A, the potential adoptive parents must submit a second form. The eligibility of the potential adoptee is determined using Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. This form allows the government to determine the potential adoptee's immigration status. After approval of both forms, prospective adoptive parents may start an adoption. These forms are parts of the Hague Convention Process. Below is an outline of the entire adoption process:
- Potential adoptive parents must choose an approved adoption service provider or adoption professional. This adoption agency must be U.S. approved or accredited. Adoption Attorneys are not adoption services providers. They can offer help in other aspects of international adoption.
- Go through a home study with someone, like a social worker, authorized to complete intercountry adoption home studies.
- File Form I-800A. Approval of this form is necessary to adopt or receive a placement. The USICS uses this form to determine if the adoptive parents and adoptive family are suitable for international adoption.
- After approval of Form I-800A, potential adoptive parents apply for placement. They must go through that country's Hague-specific Central Authority office.
- Form I-800, filed before adoption, allows the USICS to determine the child's eligibility to immigrate to the United States. Attach the child's birth certificate to this form to prove the child's age.
- After approval of Form I-800, adoptive parents can adopt or gain physical custody of the child. International adoption agencies can help with this part of the process.
- Get an immigrant visa for the child.
- Bring the child to the U.S. with an immigrant visa.
These steps are the international adoption process for countries under the Hague Adoption Convention. Foreign governments may have other rules for adoptive parents to follow. Governments have an interest in protecting children. That means adoption requirements are often quite strict. Failure to comply may complicate the adoption process.
Foreign-Born Orphan Adoption
The U.S. has special procedures for adopting orphans from a foreign country. A child is an orphan if they have neither birth parent due to their death, disappearance, or abandonment. A child is also an orphan when their sole parent cannot provide care for the child. In this case, the sole parent must release the child for emigration and adoption. This release must be irrevocable and in writing. Orphan petitions are filed before the child's 16th or 18th birthday if they have a natural sibling adopted by the same parents.
State Department Involvement
Although the U.S. Department of State can be a valuable resource, there are limits to the help it can or will provide. The Department of State provides information about U.S. visa requirements and international adoption procedures. They can make inquiries to U.S. consular offices about the status of cases. They can also clarify documentation requirements to ensure that U.S. citizens do not face discrimination.
The State Department will not involve itself in a foreign adoption process or represent adoptive parents. They also do not order an adoption or visa issuance. The State Department has a webpage with resources to help adoptive parents navigate the adoption process. You can learn more about intercountry adoption statistics. You can compare the Hague vs. Non-Hague adoptions. They also offer resources to find accredited adoption programs and adoption service providers.
Citizenship for Foreign-Born Children
Many adopted children born abroad get U.S. citizenship upon entry into the United States under the Child Citizenship Act of 2000. At least one of the potential adoptive parents must be a U.S. citizen and have custody of the child. They must live in the U.S. The child must be younger than 18. This is part of the Hague Process outlined above. Parents may request a certificate of naturalization through a separate application.
Learn About International Adoption
- International Adoption Basics — Overview of adoption requirements and applicable laws; how an international adoption occurs. This includes the role of the State Department and related information for potential adoptive parents.
- International Adoption Process: F.A.Q.s — Answers to frequently asked questions about international adoptions. Includes information about adoption laws; the meaning of "Hague" and "non-Hague" adoption. It also provides information on how to get citizenship for an adopted child.
- Bringing a Foreign-Born Orphan to the U.S. — Answers to frequently asked questions about adopting a foreign-born orphan, such as the definition of "orphan," eligibility for filing an orphan petition, and related matters.
- Inter-Country Adoption Costs — Overview of costs and fees associated with inter-country adoptions. This includes travel fees. It also includes the cost of processing visas and medical examinations, foreign agency fees, and more.
- Adopting a Child from a Different Race, Ethnicity, or Culture — A primer on the challenges of adopting a child from a different background. This includes examples and tips.
- U.S. Citizenship for a Foreign-Born Adopted Child — An overview of the process of getting U.S. citizenship for your child after a foreign adoption. This includes links to relevant USCIS forms (FindLaw's Immigration Law Center).
International Adoption Articles
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Learn About International Adoption
International Adoption Articles
You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help
Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.