Step One: Choosing a country and agency
The choice of country and agency to work with for an international adoption is very important to the success of your adoption plans. Each country has its own procedures, rules and restrictions. These can change while your adoption is pending. The country that you choose might even close to adoptions while you are waiting. Information you receive from friends or acquaintances who adopted internationally just a year or two ago may no longer be reliable. For these reasons, it is important to use care in the selection of a country and agency to work with for an international adoption.
Determining whether the country you choose is a signatory to the Hague Convention
Many countries have agreed to a specific set of procedures and rules for international adoptions, which are called the "Hague Convention". These countries are commonly called "Hague Convention countries". The United States is a Hague Convention country. If you choose to adopt from a Hague Convention country your adoption must follow the Hague Convention procedures. For a list of Hague convention countries, check out the weblink below. If you are adopting from a Hague Convention country, then you must use a "Hague accredited" adoption agency to handle your adoption. There are a few exceptions, but they are rare. If you are adopting from a non- Hague Convention country then you do not have to work through a Hague accredited adoption agency to handle your adoption. A few non-Hague Convention countries allow independent adoptions, (where the family does the adoption on their own, without the use of an adoption agency). But this is becoming increasingly rare.
Step Two: The "Paper Chase"
This step is often called "the paper chase" because it involves three different projects, all requiring extensive documentation.
Step Two, Part One: Obtaining a homestudy.
Your homestudy must be prepared by a licensed adoption agency in your state of residence. If you are adopting from a Hague Convention country, then the homestudy agency must either be a Hague accredited adoption agency or be supervised by a Hague accredited adoption agency. If you are adopting from a non-Hague Convention Country, then your homestudy agency does not have to be Hague accredited or supervised by a Hague accredited adoption agency.
Step Two, Part Two: Obtaining pre-approval from US immigration authorities
You must be approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, or "USCIS" to "sponsor" an adopted child into the US. The fact that you have adopted the child is not alone sufficient to gain entry of the child into the United States. The restrictions on immigration are one of the main factors that makes international adoption risky, expensive and complicated. This is one of the most misunderstood and inherently risky parts of international adoption. It is very important that you use competent professional assistance in pursuing an international adoption and not to underestimate the task you are taking on when you decide to adopt internationally.
Immigration approval when adopting from a Hague Convention country
If you are adopting from a Hague Convention country, the form that you use to request pre-approval from US immigration officials is called a Form I-800A. You will file the I-800A with USCIS, along with your homestudy, proof of your age and citizenship, proof of your marriage if applicable and other required paperwork. USCIS will then send you a letter telling you when and where to go have your fingerprints scanned so that they can be cleared through the FBI. Your adoption agency should provide you with information about how to complete this form and where to file it. A few weeks after USCIS has received all the required paperwork from you and has cleared your fingerprints, you will receive in the mail a notice that you have been pre-approved to sponsor an adopted child into the US from a Hague Convention country. This pre-approval letter is called a Form I-171.
Immigration approval when adopting from a non-Hague Convention country
If you are adopting from a non-Hague Convention country, the form that you use to request pre-approval from US immigration officials is called a Form I-600A. You will file the I-600A with USCIS, along with your homestudy, proof of your age and citizenship, proof of your marriage if applicable and other required paperwork. USCIS will then send you a letter telling you when and where to go have your fingerprints scanned so that they can be cleared through the FBI. Your adoption agency should provide you with information about how to complete this form and where to file it. A few weeks after USCIS has received all the required paperwork from you and cleared your fingerprints, you will receive in the mail a notice that you have been pre-approved to sponsor an adopted orphan into the United States from a non-Hague Convention country. This pre-approval letter is called a Form I-171.
Step Two, Part Three: Preparing your application or "dossier" for presentation to foreign officials.
Each country has its own list of documents that needs to be supplied by adopting families. All international adoptions require a homestudy, US immigration approval, background checks, and medical approvals. Other documents that are usually required are your birth certificates, your marriage certificates, divorce decrees if you have been divorced, death certificates if you have been widowed, letters from your employers, a financial statement, and reference letters. The list of required documents varies from country to country. Typically, the required documents must be notarized or certified. For some countries the notarized or certified documents must also be sent to the Secretary of State or similar office of the State in which they were notarized or certified to be "apostilled". Some countries require even further levels of authentication of your documents. Obtaining your homestudy and putting together your dossier usually takes about six months to complete.
Step Three: Receiving the "child referral"
After your dossier is submitted to the foreign country's adoption authorities, a child will be proposed for you to adopt. In Hague Convention countries the child is selected by a Central Authority of that country, which may be a branch of the government or a Hague accredited agency in that country. In some non-Hague Convention countries, private facilitators or orphanage officials will propose a child for you to adopt. These types of adoption referrals are not preferred by US officials because of the potential for corruption in these types of systems. After you receive the information about the child proposed to be adopted by you, you will have a short period of time to determine whether to proceed with the adoption. If you decline the referral for any reason, you may or may not receive a referral of a different child, depending on the policies of the foreign county and your reasons for declining the referral.
Step Four: Traveling to the foreign country
Travel by the adoptive parents to the child's country is required by almost all countries that allow international adoptions. Only a very few countries allow your child to be escorted to the United States by adoption agency officials to be adopted here. Some countries allow you to have only one spouse travel to complete the adoption, if you prefer. Some countries require two or more trips to complete the adoption. The length of the trip or trips also varies greatly from country to country and can be as short as three days or as long as six weeks or more. You have two goals to accomplish during your trip to your child's country: 1. Completion of the adoption under that country's laws, and 2. Obtaining permission from the US government to bring your child back into the US.
Obtaining an immigration visa for your child - Hague Convention countries
If you are adopting from a Hague Convention country, you must obtain US government permission to bring your child into the US before you finalize the adoption. To do this you file Form I-800 with the US Consular office in your child's country. (Note: Form I-800 is different than Form I-800A.) After you receive US immigration approval, you will complete the adoption under the laws of your child's country. Your adoption agency should be extensively involved in handling these parts of the process for you. Once the adoption is completed you may return with your child to the United States.
Obtaining an immigration visa for your child - non-Hague Convention countries
If you are adopting from a non-Hague Convention country, you will complete the adoption first under the laws of your child's country, and afterwards you will file a Form I-600 with the US Consular office in your child's birth country. (Note: Form I-600 is different from Form I-600A.) The Consular officials will review your foreign adoption documents to see if they are in order and to determine whether your child was legally an "orphan" prior to the adoption. "Orphan" is specifically defined by the law and has a broader meaning than a child whose parents are both deceased. It can also mean an abandoned child or a child with only one parent who cannot provide for them as well as children are normally provided for in that country. If US Consular officials determine that everything is in order, they will then issue a visa to allow you to bring your adopted child into the United States. After you receive your child's visa from US consular officials, you can bring the child home.
Step Five: Re-Adoption
You should file an adoption petition in your state court to obtain a Decree of Adoption for your child from your own state. This process is called "re-adoption". Once your child has been re-adopted, you may be able to obtain a birth certificate for your child from your state. It will show their actual birth place, but will name you as the parents. It will be a great convenience to your child should they ever need additional copies of their birth certificate. In addition, re-adoption effectively allows your child's adoption to be governed by your state's law, rather than by the law of your child's birth country. If only one spouse traveled to the foreign country to adopt the child, or if for any other reason your child was admitted to the US under an IR4 or IH4 Visa rather than an IR3 or IH3 Visa, then re-adoption is mandatory before the child will be a US citizen.
Step Six: Reporting Back to Your Child's Birth Country
The country that you adopted from may require that you provide periodic Post Placement Reports on how the child is doing. The number, frequency and formality required for these reports varies depending on what country your child was born in. Some countries require these to continue until your child reaches adulthood. Some countries allow these reports, or some of them, to be prepared by you, rather than by an adoption professional. In addition, some countries require that you register your child with that country's embassy or consulate in the United States. It is very important that adoptive families comply with these requirements so that international adoptions can continue to be available to other families and children.