Adopting children from all over the world has steadily increased in the past decade. Over 20,000 inter-country adoptions are taking place per year in addition to the more than 200,000 foreign-adopted children already living in the U.S. The Department of Homeland Security – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) plays a key role in the inter-country adoption process.
Prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to familiarize themselves with inter-country adoption processes before they begin filing applications for a particular child. A good place to start is with the booklet, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adopted Children, which can be found at www.uscis.gov.
Prospective adoptive parents may find the services of an adoption agency helpful for guidance and assistance with the immigration of orphans and adopted children. It is highly advisable for prospective adoptive parents to seek out a reputable agency with established foreign adoption experience and/or competent legal representation in their efforts to bring foreign-born orphans into the United States. One place to start looking for an agency is through the adoption advocacy community.
There are two legal ways to bring an adopted child into the country.
- Immigration/Adoption of child based on 2-years residence through submitting Form I-130: If you adopt a child before the child turns 16 (or 18, as described below), and you live with the child for two years as the child’s primary caregiver, then you may file an I-130 petition for an alien relative. The petition may be filed after the 16th (or 18th if a sibling) birthday, and the two years may culminate after the 16th (or 18th) birthday. (Please note that, generally, all qualifying criteria must be established BEFORE the child may enter the U.S.)
- Immigration/Adoption of an orphan through submitting Form I-600: If you adopt or intend to adopt a child who meets the legal definition of an orphan, you may petition for that child at any time prior to the child’s 16th (or 18th, as described below) birthday, even if the adoption takes place subsequently (and in certain cases, the adoption does not occur until the child comes to the US).
If you are interested in adopting a child from a particular country, you may access important information from the Department of State Website web pages addressing Country-Specific Adoption.
These materials alert prospective adoptive parents to conditions that may develop or already exist in foreign adoption cases. International adoption is essentially a private legal matter between a private individual (or couple) who wishes to adopt, and a foreign court, which operates under that country’s laws and regulations. U.S. authorities cannot intervene on behalf of prospective parents with the courts in the country where the adoption takes place. The adoption of a foreign-born orphan does not automatically guarantee the child’s eligibility to immigrate to the United States. Also, the adoptive parent needs to be aware of U.S. immigration law and legal regulatory procedures. An orphan cannot legally immigrate to the United States without USCIS processing.
Adopting Older Children – “Aging Out” of Eligibility to Immigrate Through Adoption
If you are considering adopting an older child, you should be aware of the age limits on eligibility for adoptions and immigration, regardless of whether or not your state laws permit the adoption of older children (or even adults).
US law allows the adoption and immigration of children who are under 16 years of age, with two exceptions:
- Biological siblings of a child adopted by the same parents may be adopted if under 18 years of age; and
- Orphans over the age of 16 may be adopted, as long as the I-600 petition was filed on their behalf before their 16th birthday (or in the case of an orphan who is the sibling of a child adopted by the same parents, before their 18th birthday).