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Bringing a Child To Live in the U.S.

If you are a U.S. citizen who plans on bringing a child to live in the United States through international adoption, it is important to consider the child's age and marital status. For eligibility purposes, a "child" is anyone under 21 years of age and who is unmarried. You also may petition on behalf of your unmarried sons and daughters over 21 and married sons and daughters of any age. Unmarried children must fall below the age threshold of 21 years of age. Their children may also be included.

If you are a lawful permanent resident (green card holder), see Bringing a Child to Live in the US: Info for Permanent Residents. This article provides a general overview of bringing a child to live in America.

It's important to keep in mind that visas available to foreign nationals intending to travel from certain areas of the world may be less available. It is based on the U.S. government's allotment of visa availability by geographic region. This is the case regardless of visa categories. You can find more information about such availability on the U.S. visa bulletin, which is available here.

Documentation Requirements

Below are documents required in applying for visas related to bringing a child to the United States. You must fill out and submit them to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, as well as the United States Department of State. U.S. Consulates and U.S. Embassies abroad in your home country can provide help in navigating these processes. They can provide consular processing services for the documents listed below.

Under U.S. immigration law, it is required that you apply using any one of the forms listed below. If you are already in the United States, any national visa center (NVC), wherever you are located, can assist with this process, as well.

1. Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130)

Remember to sign the form and enclose the proper filing fee.

2. Evidence of U.S. Citizenship

Submit a copy of one of the following documents:

  • U.S. birth certificate
  • U.S. passport
  • Consular Report of Birth Abroad
  • Naturalization certificate
  • Certificate of citizenship

3. Proof of Name Change (if applicable)

Submit a copy of one of the following documents:

  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Court judgment of name change
  • Adoption decree or some other proof if your name or your child's name has changed

4. Proof of Relationship

Additional documentation requirements vary by relationship type:

Biological Mother:

  • Copy of child's birth certificate
  • For adopted children, learn more here

Biological Father:

  • Copy of the child's birth certificate
  • Copy of the father's marriage certificate establishing marriage to the child's biological mother
  • If no longer married to the child's biological mother, evidence of legal termination of a marriage
  • Evidence of an established parent-child relationship before the child turns 21 years of age (or marrying)


  • Copy of the stepchild's birth certificate
  • Copy of the civil marriage certificate to the stepchild's biological mother or father
  • Proof of legal termination of all previous marriages for both the stepparent and the biological parent, such as a divorce decree or death certificate

Adoptive Parent:

  • Copy of child's original birth certificate
  • Copy of adoption decree
  • Evidence that the adoptive parent had two years of legal custody
  • Evidence that the adoptive parent had two years of physical custody (i.e., time in which the child lived with the adoptive parent and the adoptive parent exercised parental control)

Filing on Behalf of a Relative Living in the U.S.

U.S. citizens petitioning on behalf of a child living in the U.S. must file a Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130). Your child files an Application to Register Permanent Residence of Adjust Status (Form I-485).

For children living in the U.S. who are married or over the age of 21, U.S. citizens must file Form I-130. Your child files Form I-485 as soon as a visa becomes available. This document is necessary for an appropriate adjustment of status, as is the case with every other variety of document listed within this article.

Filing on Behalf of a Relative Living Outside the U.S.

U.S. citizens filing on behalf of a child or adult child must file Form I-130. After the petition is approved and an immigrant visa is available, the petition will be sent to the consulate or embassy for further processing. For more details, see the USCIS page Bringing Children, Sons, and Daughters to Live in the United States as Permanent Residents.

Processing and Wait Times

Be aware that the visa process can be unexpectedly slow. Processing times have increased as of late. Plan your time accordingly, which is a task with which an attorney can assist, as well. It's always advisable to consult with an attorney on your immigration process. Wait times have increased since the return to Title 8 processing. You can find out more information about this here.

If you already have a relative in the United States, it's possible you could be prioritized in the visa application process. You may be given a priority date. In this case, you may not need to be as concerned about wait times. You can find out more information about this at the U.S. State Department's website.

If you have immediate relative family members, you also need not worry about restrictions on visa availability. The U.S. does not place a cap on the number of visas available under such circumstances. For immigration purposes, having an immediate relative in the United States, who is already a citizen, can be very beneficial. It can help in any visa petition process, given the absence of a cap on the number of available visas yearly and the higher likelihood of being given priority. This type of family-based set of circumstances, of course, applies to bringing a child into the United States. It also applies to other visa application circumstances, regardless of visa type.

Need Help Bringing a Child to the U.S.? Contact a Lawyer for Help

Immigration laws are complicated, and mistakes can be costly and time-consuming. Understanding immigration status can be difficult under any given set of circumstances. Not to mention, mistakes could jeopardize that long-awaited family reunion. The assistance of an immigration attorney can help streamline the process.

Maintaining your resident status can be hard, given the volume of requirements that can be placed upon a resident. Visa application processes can be time-consuming and exhausting. Don't assume that you need to navigate these processes on your own. An attorney can help. Contact a local immigration law attorney today to help you get started.

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