Wednesday, November 5, 2008

International Adoption

I can still remember the first time I started thinking seriously about adopting internationally. We had been in the process of adopting an infant domestically (and by "in the process" I simply mean that we were working very slowly towards obtaining our homestudy) for about 10+ months and we were moving at a snail's pace. I could not figure out why neither of us had the motivation to get through the beginning stages. We knew that there were more children who were meant to be a part of our family and we knew that the wait for a child would likely be long even after the homestudy was complete. So why were we dragging our feet? Something just didn't feel right.

One Sunday, as I was walking the halls at church trying to calm one of my babies, I saw a stack of brochures for an adoption fair lying on a table and I stopped to pick one up. Inside the brochure there were names of agencies (both domestic and international) that would be represented and topics that would be discussed. I tucked the brochure into my diaper bag hoping to find a spare moment to browse some of the agencies' websites and gather information. Up to this point, we had been focused solely on the domestic adoption of an infant through our church. It was our most affordable option and we could adopt an infant (at the time we were hoping to adopt a child 12 months old or younger), but I just couldn't shake the feeling that we were moving in the wrong direction.

I started researching the agencies listed in the brochure who had international adoption programs. I looked at countries, costs, wait times and the ages of available children. I also spoke extensively with my friend Elaine, who had adopted a little boy from Korea and was in the process of adopting another little boy from Vietnam, trying to gather as much information as possible. The more I learned, the stronger I felt that this was the direction we were to move in. Richard and I spent hours discussing and praying about the topic and eventually, we both knew, with surety, that international adoption was the path we were intended to take. The rest, as you know, is history (ah, if it had only been that simple)!

The process of adopting internationally cannot be tied up quite as neatly as domestic adoption because the process will differ greatly from country to country so I will just be covering the basics in this post and will talk more about the specifics throughout the month. As always, if you have any questions regarding the process, would like to learn more about a specific country, etc. please be sure to leave a comment and I will do my best to address it.

Adopting Internationally

In 2007, more than 20,000 immigrant visas were issued to orphans adopted by US citizens. In the past 12 years, international adoptions have more than doubled. While the process to adopt internationally will differ from country to country, there are many requirements that are the same for ALL prospective adoptive parents, no matter where your child comes from.

Choosing a Country

The first step when adopting a child internationally is to determine what you are looking for. By this I simply mean that you will need to sit down and determine (or at least have a general idea) of the child/children you are looking for. Are you open to race and gender? What age range is acceptable? Are you open to adopting a child with special needs? If so, which special needs would you consider? Are you able to travel to complete an adoption? If so, how long will you be able to travel? How much are you able to spend? There are many countries that allow international adoption. Determining your specifications and limitations will enable you to narrow down the number of countries on your list

Once you have determined your specifications the next step in the process is to choose a country. As previously mentioned, there are many countries that allow international adoption. Each country will have their own requirements and restrictions that adoptive families must meet in order to adopt. Many countries impose upper and lower age limits (China; India; Ukraine; Haiti), others may only allow a certain number of children already in the home (Serbia; Korea; some regions of Russia). Some countries have income requirements (China; India) and others have religious requirements (Armenia). These restrictions and requirements, along with your specifications for a child, will likely narrow down even further the number of countries on your list. Most countries require one or both parents to travel for an extended period of time to complete the adoption. Many countries require multiple trips. Some countries are more expensive than others. Many countries only have older and special needs children available for international adoption, while infants are available in other countries. The "wait times" in each country will likely vary depending on your specifications (for example, to adopt a healthy girl under the age of 2 from Bulgaria, the wait is generally 18-36 months, while adopting a boy or girl with special needs or an older child or sibling group could take as little as 6-9 months).

The following are the top 20 countries issuing orphans US immigrant visa's in 2007:

China (5,453)
Guatemala (4,728) (now closed)
Russia (2,310)
Ethiopia (1,255)
South Korea (939)
Vietnam (828)
Ukraine (606)
Kazakhstan (540)
India (416)
Liberia (314)
Columbia (310)
Philippines ( 265)
Haiti (190)
Taiwan (184)
Mexico (89)
Poland (84)
Thailand (67)
Kyrgyzstan (61)
Brazil (55)
Uganda (54)

Choosing an Agency

Once you have selected a country that works for your family, it is time to choose an agency. Selecting an experienced, ethical and trustworthy agency and/or facilitation team can be one of the biggest factors in ensuring a smooth adoption process. Because the selection of an agency and/or a facilitation team is such a vital step in this process, I will be discussing this more in depth in a later post. While some countries, such as Serbia and Ukraine, do not require the use of a licensed adoption agency, others do. In fact, in April 2008, the United States formally entered into the Hague Convention, an important treaty that governs adoptions between the US and nearly 75 other countries. The Hague Adoption Convention protects children and their families against unregulated adoptions abroad and ensures that intercountry adoptions are in the best interest of the children The convention also serves to prevent the abduction, sale and trafficking of children. When adopting from a "Hague country" the use of a Hague accredited agency is REQUIRED. Again, I will be discussing the selection of an agency in greater depth in a later post, so please check back!

The Paper Chase

The next step in the international adoption process is often referred to as the "paper chase" of which the first step is to complete a homestudy. As mentioned in my previous post on domestic adoption, a homestudy is literally an in depth study of your home and family. The homestudy process requires multiple interviews of each occupant of the home, fire and safety inspections, background checks, fingerprinting, a report of your finances and medical reports, letters of recommendation, as well as a specified number of "training" or "education" hours.

While you are in the process of obtaining your homestudy, you will also be compiling your dossier, a set of documents required by the country you are adopting from. The required documents will differ from country to country but generally include your homestudy, marriage certificate, background checks, financial report, letters of employment, medical reports, petition to adopt, a copy of your I-171H approval to adopt, etc.

While you are in the process of completing your paperwork you must also file form I-600A (for non-Hague countries) or form I-800A (for Hague countries) with your local USCIS office (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). These forms, along with their associated fees, are submitted with a copy of your homestudy. You will also submit a biometrics (fingerprinting) fee at the time of filing so that USCIS may issue an appointment for you to be fingerprinted (fair warning, you will be fingerprinted more during the adoption process than most hardened criminals are during their lifetime!!). Upon approval of your I-600A or I-800A you will be issued form I-171H which states that you are approved to adopt from the country your have requested and will also list the number of children you are approved to adopt.

An important note about your homestudy and your USCIS approval: Your homestudy and your approval MUST MATCH the child/children you intend to adopt. For example, if your homestudy states that you are approved to adopt a healthy child between the ages of 1-7 and you adopt an 8 year-old with special needs, the US Embassy may deny your adopted child a visa until your homestudy is updated to approve you for such a child. When your homestudy is written be sure to allow yourself some padding (if you are hoping to adopt a child between the ages of 1-4, you may want your homestudy to state that you are approved for a child between 0-5 "just in case." If you are open to special needs, be sure to state the specific special needs that you are open to such as mild CP, down syndrome, heart conditions, cleft lip/palate, limb differences etc.). It is always better to play it safe than to be stuck in a foreign country or unable to bring your child home while you wait for your homestudy to be updated! Also, if you think there may be a possibility that you will adopt more than one child, please be sure to specify that number in your homestudy so that USCIS can approve you for that number of children. If your I-171H says you are approved for 2 children and you decide to adopt a third at the same time, you will have to wait until your homestudy and your USCIS approval are updated before your children can receive a visa!

Once all of the paperwork is complete you will need to have everything notarized, county certified (this only applies to a handful of states), state certified or apostilled and in some cases it will need to be legalized by the Department of State in Washington DC as well as the Embassy of the country you are adopting from (this was the case for us when we adopted from Uzebekistan). Once the notarizing, certifying, apostilling and legalizing is complete, your dossier will be ready to send to the country officials in the country you have chosen. Once in the country you have chosen, the documents will usually be translated and submitted to the adoption authority in that country.

At this point, the adoption process begins to differ greatly depending on which country you are adopting from and so I will end this post here!!! Over the course of the next few days, I will discuss the different requirements, costs and processes of the many different countries open to international adoption. If you have any questions about the general process or would like to know more about a specific country, please leave a comment so that I can cover it.


Beth said...

Wow! I haven't been here in a while, and boy have you been busy! What fabulous information! Thank you for laying it all out for everyone to access.


Christine said...

Interesting stats! Thank you for taking the time to post all of this info.