International Adoption

Adopting a child from another country can be a long and complicated quest. But a growing number of Americans, including gays and lesbians, have done it in recent years as the number of children available for adoption in the United States has declined. Many people find it an especially attractive option because it increases their chances of being able to adopt an infant.

You should know, however, that  many foreign countries are less than welcoming of gay and lesbian couples interested in adoption. In fact, many require that couples seeking to adopt an infant be married. But you may have greater opportunities to adopt if you are single or willing to adopt an older child or a child with special needs.

Here is an overview of what you will need to do:

Step 1: Choose a Country

After you think about which countries you would like to adopt from, the Child Welfare Infomation Gateway (CWIG) recommends that you check out their political conditions and adoption procedures and eliminate those that are unstable or have decentralized authority over adoption.

To find out what the U.S. State Department says about adoption in approximately 60 countries, visit their Office of Children's Issues website on intercountry adoption.

Also, keep in mind that conditions in some countries change quickly. So periodically check back with the State Department website for any relevant bulletins.

Step 2: Choose an Agency

Only private adoption agencies "and, only some private adoption agencies" handle international adoptions. To find all the agencies that handle international adoptions in your area, visit the CWIG's overview of the intercountry adoption process.

Be sure to ask any agency you are considering what their minimum requirements are for prospective parents. For example, some match their requirements regarding sexual orientation and marital status to the laws of the countries they deal with. Also ask for an itemized list of expenses and fees.

And before signing up with any agency, make sure that it is reputable. This is especially important when pursuing an international adoption because of the complexities of working within another country's governments and procedures. To do this, the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse recommends that you:

  • Call the state-licensing specialist to verify that the agency is licensed and find out if any complaints have been filed against it. To find the licensing specialist in your state, go to the CWIG State Licensing Specialists Directory.
  • Call the state office of the attorney general and Department of Consumer Affairs and ask if any complaints have been filed against the agency.
  • Talk to members of a local adoptive parents group. To find one near you, visit CWIG's Postadoption Services.

Step 3: Complete an Application and Home Study

The paperwork, interviews and home visits that are part of domestic agency adoptions are only the beginning of the process for international adoptions.  To review these basics, see "Step 4" in "How to Adopt Through an Agency."  In addition, you will need to compile a number of documents that are likely to be required by foreign courts. According to the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse, these include but are not limited to:

  • Birth certificates
  • Marriage licenses and divorce decrees, if applicable
  • A letter from a physician vouching for your good health
  • Tax returns, statements of assets and liabilities, and a statement from your bank describing your accounts
  • Letters from your employer(s) documenting your position, salary and length of employment
  • Letters of recommendation from colleagues and friends.

Step 4: File with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services

After being approved by an adoption agency, you will need the approval of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS replaced the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service on March 1, 2003) The quickest way to do this, according to the BCIS , is as follows:

  • Before you identify the child you wish to adopt, file an "Application for Advance Processing of Orphan Petition" (BCIS Form I-600A.) This will begin their process of reviewing your ability to parent a child.
  • Then, when you have found a child you wish to adopt, file a "Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative" (BCIS Form I-600.) Once this petition is approved, you will be able to get an immigrant visa for the child, which will permit you to bring him or her in as a lawful permanent resident of the United States. (Citizenship comes later.)

The adoption agency, and your attorney, will help you complete these forms. But you also can find them, and more information about the requirements, by going to USCIS Advance Processing page.

Step 5: Ask Questions about Any Child Offered You

Many children awaiting adoption in foreign countries have come from poverty, family dysfunction (including alcoholism, drug abuse and child abuse or neglect) or other situations that put their health at risk. You may want to help these children for exactly this reason. But you should, at a minimum, gather as much information as you can about them before you agree to a placement.
For an interpretation of medical records by an American doctor, call the National Adoption Information Clearinghouse at 888-251-0075 or 703-352-3488 and ask for a referral.

Step 6: File for Adoption or Guardianship with the Foreign Court

Some foreign courts grant adoption and some only guardianship pending subsequent adoption. Some require that you travel to their country; others do not but, rather, permit you to give power of attorney to an agency or attorney who can represent you. In short, adoption and guardianship laws vary widely, and you should ask your attorney to guide you through them.

Step 7: Apply for a Visa for the Child

A representative of the State Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs will conduct an investigation to verify that the child is an orphan and guarantee that he or she does not suffer from a condition that you are unaware of and then issue an immigrant visa so the child can enter the country.

Step 8: Have the Child Examined by a Pediatrician

Once the child arrives in the United States, he or she should be screened for blood lead level, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS, syphilis, tuberculosis, internal parasites and other conditions, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Step 9: Find Out If You Should Readopt the Child in Your State

Due to the varied laws governing adoption overseas and throughout the United States, you may need to readopt your child in your home state. But even if you do not need to under law, readopting the child in your home state is a good idea because it will provide you with a U.S. documentation of parentage. It is also a preventive measure since states change their adoption laws from time to time.  Ask your attorney if this is advisable in your situation.

Step 10: Apply for Citizenship for Your Child

After the adoption process is complete, you are at last ready to file an "Application for Certificate of Citizenship in Behalf of an Adopted Child" (BCIS Form N-643) with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services . Once approved, this will allow your child to be considered a U.S. citizen.

On Oct. 30, 2000, President Clinton signed a new bill into law that will no longer  require that parents apply for the naturalization of a child adopted abroad. Citizenship will instead be automatically conferred on children who meet these criteria:

  • They are under 18 years old
  • They are admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident
  • They are in the legal and physical custody of at least one parent who is a U.S. citizen.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 (H.R. 2883) will go into effect Feb. 27, 2001. If you already have applied for citizenship for your child, you need not take any further steps. If your application is still pending while the law goes into effect, your child will become a citizen on the date the law goes into effect and will no longer need to be naturalized.