By Steven N. Garmo
We at Garmo & Associates, P.C. encourage you to familiarize yourself with each adoption process as there are important differences. An adoption agency will be able to help you arrange an adoption placement, but cannot represent you before USCIS or advise you on the legal aspects of your child’s immigration. If you want representation with adoption proceedings you may contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The intercountry adoption process is governed by three different sets of laws:
- U.S. federal law
- The laws of the child’s country of birth.
- The laws of where you reside (U.S. state/territory or foreign country).
There are three different processes to immigrate your adopted child:
- Hague Adoptions
- Orphan Adoptions (Non-Hague)
- Immigrating Other Adopted Children
Home studies are very important to the intercountry adoption process. Visit the Home Study Information page to learn:
- What is a home study?
- Who can conduct a home study?
- What are the home study requirements?
When to Contact USCIS
USCIS is committed to deciding cases as promptly as possible. For information about how long you can expect your case to take please visit the Processing Times page. If your case has not been decided within the regular processing time, you should contact USCIS at the USCIS Adoptions Contact Information page.
After the Adoption
The process does not stop with the adoption. Make sure you understand citizenship requirements and how to obtain documentation of citizenship.
Before Your Child Immigrates to the United States
If the child you adopted or intend to adopt in the United States is residing abroad, the child will need an immigrant visa to enter the United States. Visas are issued by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) at the Embassy or Consulate in the foreign country where your child resides.
The type of visa your child is issued will determine what steps you need to take for the child to acquire U.S. citizenship.
If your adopted child is already in the United States, visit the “Other Adoption Related Immigration page.
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).
For more information on the Child Citizenship Act see the Child Citizenship Act Information Fact Sheet.
Children with IR-3 and IH-3 visas automatically acquire citizenship if:
- they enter the United States prior to their 18th birthday.
- they are under 18 years old they are automatically U.S. citizens upon admission to the United States.
- 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, we will automatically send your child’s Certificate of Citizenship to your U.S. address without requiring additional forms or fees.
Children with IR-4 and IH-4 visas:
- do not acquire automatic citizenship upon entry to the U.S., but instead become Permanent Residents.
- will automatically receive a permanent resident card (green card).
- 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 years old 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.).
- over 18 years old become permanent residents and receive a green card.
Children with IR-2 visas who did not automatically acquire U.S. citizenship can apply for naturalization when eligible.
Immigration through Adoption
Immigration through adoption, or “Intercountry adoption,” refers to the adoption of a child born in one country by an adoptive parent living in another country. USCIS plays a key role in the intercountry adoption process.
United States immigration law provides three different processes through which someone may immigrate on the basis of an intercountry adoption. An individual may immigrate under one of these provisions only if the individual’s adoption meets all the requirements of that specific process.
Two separate processes apply only to children adopted by U.S. citizens. The child may immigrate immediately after the adoption or may immigrate to the U.S. to be adopted here.
- The Hague Process: if the child is habitually resident in a country that is a Party to the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention.
- The Orphan Process (non-Hague): if the Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention does not apply.
Many aspects of the Hague and Orphan requirements are similar. To learn the details about each adoption process, see the links to the specific process under the “Immigration through Adoption” to the left.
Another process applies to a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident who may petition for his or her adoptive child through an Immediate Relative Petition. See the “Other Adoption Related Immigration” to the left under “Immigration Through Adoption.”
The home study is a required document that must be submitted to USCIS for all Orphan and Hague adoption cases. The primary purpose of the home study is to help USCIS determine whether the prospective adoptive parents are suitable and eligible to adopt a child, based on the criteria that have been established by law.
Preparing a Home Study
USCIS does not conduct the home study. An adoption home study must be conducted by someone who is licensed or otherwise authorized to conduct adoption home studies. The individual must complete the home study according to Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regulations.
For more information see the “Hague Home Study Guidelines” and “Orphan Home Study Guidelines” links to the left under “Home Study Information.”
Special Needs Children
If you wish to adopt a child with a disability or special needs, the home study must contain a discussion of the preparation, willingness, and ability of the applicant to provide proper care for a child with a disability or special needs.
- Sample Wording for Known Special Needs Condition of a Child:
“Bradley and Susan are seeking to adopt one female child from Country X, age 0-4 years with mild to moderate special needs. Child X, who was born on June 1, 2007, has the minor special need of congenital heart defect and ASD, or atrial septal defect. The Smith's have reviewed the child's medical records and consulted with medical professionals, including those who work in the field of international adoption medicine. Having done the research on this medical condition, they feel well prepared to parent a child with this special need and would like pursue the adoption of this child.”·
- Sample Wording for Unknown special needs of an unknown child:
“Bradley and Susan are seeking to adopt one female child from Country X, age 0-4 years with mild to moderate special needs. Both Bradley and Susan have experience and training working with children having various special needs. Bradley and Susan have the preparation, willingness, and ability to parent a child with special needs.”
Note: Remember it is always best to address specific special needs to the most serious degree of disability/health condition where possible.
As part of the process to immigrate your adopted child to the United States, USCIS will conduct a background check on you, your spouse, and any household member of age 18 or older.
The background check is a required part of the adoption process.
Fingerprint-Based Criminal Records Check
The validity period of your fingerprint check will be noted on your Notice of Approval (I-171H or I-797). Your fingerprints never “expire” but the validity period of background check and clearance based on the collection of your fingerprints is 15-months.
The validity period of your background check and clearance may be different than the validity period of the approval of your Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, or I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country.
Differing validity periods
If you are now filing a Form I-600 or Form I-800 and the validity of your Form I-600A or Form I-800A approval is current but the validity of your background check and clearance check has expired, then advise the National Benefits Center (NBC) via email at:
NBC.Adoptions@dhs.gov (For Non-Hague Cases I-600/600A) OR NBC.Hague@dhs.gov (For Hague Cases I-800/800A)
Include the prospective parent(s) name(s) and receipt number from your approved Form I-600A or I-800A in the email.
The NBC will then:
- instruct you on the submission of any required fees (via Request for Evidence (RFE) I-72), and
- schedule you for fingerprints
Note: the Lockbox is unable to accept fees for fingerprinting unless the request is submitted with a proper form (I-600/600A, I-800/800A, or RFE). Biometrics fees and requests for fingerprinting that are submitted to the Lockbox without a proper form will be rejected and returned to the applicant.
Your background check and clearance must be valid at the time your Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative or Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative, is processed; regardless of whether your Form I-600A or I-800A Notice of Approval is still valid.
Checking Available Child Abuse Registries
In a Hague Intercountry Adoption Convention case, your home study preparer must check available child abuse registries for you, your spouse and each additional adult member of your household. This must be addressed in the home study.
- Child abuse registries must be checked in any State or foreign country that you, your spouse and any adult member of your household has resided in since that individual’s 18th birthday.
- USCIS may also conduct its own check of any child abuse registries.
The home study preparer must take one of the following courses of action:
- Allowed Access: If the home study preparer is allowed access to the child abuse registries, he/she must make the appropriate checks for the applicant and each additional adult member of the household.
- Permission Required: If the State or foreign country requires the home study preparer to secure permission from the applicant and each additional adult member of the household before gaining access to child abuse registries, the home study preparer must secure such permission and make the appropriate checks.
- Information Only to Individual: if the State or foreign country will only release information from the child abuse registry to the individual to whom the information relates, the prospective adoptive parents and adult members of the household must secure and provide information to the home study preparer.
- No Release: if the State or foreign country will not release information to the home study provider or the prospective adoptive parents or adult household member, the home study preparer must note the unavailability of information in the home study.
Orphan (Non-Hague) Cases
Screening For Abuse and Violence
- In an orphan case, your home study preparer must make a check of any available child abuse registry for you, your spouse and any adult member of your household in your current State or foreign country of residence.
- If your current State or foreign country will not release information to the home study provider or the prospective adoptive parents or adult household member, the home study preparer must note the unavailability of information in the home study.
After Approval of Orphan and Hague Application
In most cases, there is a two-step process in completing your adoption case. This varies by which process you choose.
The Hague Process
- If you filed Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, and it was approved, you will receive Form I-797, Notice of Action.
- Notification of the approval will be forwarded to the National Visa Center (NVC), which will in turn forward to the Department of State overseas processing post.
After this first-step approval, but prior to filing the petition for your child, things may change in your case. See the link to the left under “After Approval” for information on:
- Extensions and validity periods
- Significant changes
- Change of country
For more information on the “Hague Process” and “Orphan Process,” see the links under “Immigration Through Adoption” to the left.
For information on Child Citizenship see the “Before Your Child Immigrates to the United States” link to the left.
The Orphan (Non-Hague) Process
- If you chose to file Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition, and it was approved, you will receive either Form I-171H, Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advanced Processing of Orphan Petition or Form I-797, Notice of Action.
- Notification of the approval will be forwarded to the NVC), which will in turn forward to the Department of State overseas processing post.
After this first-step approval, but prior to filing the petition for your child, things may change in your case. See the links to the left under “After Approval” for information on:
- Extensions and validity periods
- Significant changes
- Change of country