International (also called intercountry) adoptions are largely immigration cases, and they are complex. They involve international treaties, immigration law in the sending and the receiving countries, and adoption law in the sending country and the receiving state in the United States. Therefore, as a first step, prospective adoptive parents who wish to adopt a child born abroad should retain an attorney who practices U.S. immigration law and is experienced in international adoption. We have several attorneys in the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys (AAAA) who focus on this unique area of law. Search for attorneys with a specialty in “intercountry adoption” in our Directory.
International relative adoptions are no different than other international adoptions. Such adoptions are subject to all the same treaties and immigration requirements, although change may be coming via revised policies from the U.S. State Department and USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services). AAAA has been advocating for a special, abbreviated process for U.S. citizens who wish to adopt a relative-child born abroad and bring that child to live in the United States, especially in urgent cases such as when a parent and child live abroad, the parent dies abroad, and the U.S. citizen is named the guardian of the child.
Adoptions of children born abroad in state courts in the United States may still be considered international adoptions, and treaties and immigration law will still apply. Therefore, even if the child is already in the United States, an immigration attorney should still be consulted before any document is filed with a state court.
Consulting with an attorney should be the first step in any international adoption, even before selecting an adoption agency. This is because the attorney should be able to talk to you about the different countries of origin, reputable international placing agencies, the treaties involved, and what the immigration process will look like for the child. Adopting the child is only one half of this process; the other half is getting the child into the United States and securing lawful status for them, if not U.S. citizenship.
Once the child is home, your attorney should guide you through the final steps: registration of the adoption in your state of residence (or re-adoption or finalization, depending on the facts) and confirmation of U.S. citizenship with USCIS. Completing these steps immediately after the child enters the United States is highly recommended, so there are no problems when the child later applies for a job, driver’s license, U.S. passport, financial aid, or college. An experienced attorney can also help you to ensure that your international adoption is ethical and that no one involved in the adoption is being exploited or mistreated.
AAAA has a history of advocating for orphans around the world. As the number of international adoptions has plummeted since 2008 when the Hague Convention on Intercountry Adoption took effect, AAAA’s advocacy has become more rigorous. AAAA takes the view that it is a fundamental human right of a child to have a safe, permanent family, and that a family abroad is preferable to institutional foster care in the country of origin. AAAA will continue to press this view globally and to its own U.S. government.
Here are some useful links for individuals considering international adoption: