How Adoption Works

Intercountry Adoption

I­n 1990, American families adopted about 7,000 children from abroad [ref]. In 2006, they adopted 20,679 [ref]. These children are generally younger than children adopted domestically: in 2003, 46 percent were less than 12 months old, and 42 percent were one to four years old [ref].

There are particular challenges involved in adopting a child from another country, but the process can be equally, if not more, rewarding than adopting domestically. Because of U.S. law, children adopted from abroad must be classified as orphans, meaning the child must have been abandoned or his or her parents deceased. Intercountry adoption is also appealing because:

  • The waiting time is usually easier to predict.
  • You can choose which country your child comes from, learn about his or her culture and integrate that culture in your own life.
  • Contact with birth parents is rare.

The waiting time for an intercountry adoption is generally one to three years, and the adoptive parents often have to go to the child’s home country to pick up the child. Some sending countries -- the adopted child’s home country -- require prospective parents to visit the country of origin more than once. The cost for an intercountry adoption is usually $7,000 to $30,000, depending in part on how many trips abroad the prospective parents have to make.

Intercountry adoptions are done through an agency specializing in those types of adoptions. Parents who are matched with a child can often review information on the child; pediatricians sometimes assist in this process by helping parents look over the child’s medical records.

When doing an intercountry adoption, the first step is selecting a country from which to adopt. Sending countries are usually developing countries in Asia, Central and Eastern Europe, Africa and Central and Southern America. Compare adoption programs in several different countries in order to find one that best fits with your family’s needs and can help you find a child that you want. Depending on the country, children of certain ages may not be available.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requires prospective adoptive parents (or one spouse from a married couple) to be U.S. citizens and at least 25 years old. The USCIS also requires a two-part application to be filed. The first part determines if you can provide a safe, loving home for a child. The second part of the application, filed after a match is made, determines if the child is an orphan as defined by the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act.

After your paperwork is filed with the government and the agency you are working with, you will be matched with a specific child within a few months to a year. You will then receive a packet of information on the child, usually including medical records, information about the child’s life and a picture. You will have time to review this information and decide if you can satisfy the child’s needs. If you have any questions or concerns about the child’s medical record, feel free to consult a pediatrician.

After you decide you want to adopt the child, you must file with the USCIS Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as Immediate Relative. While waiting for final approval, the child will visit a doctor approved by the U.S. embassy. After the orphan investigation and the medical exam are complete, the U.S. Consular office issues the child an orphan visa. If for any reason you have difficulties during this process, consult the USCIS Web site and if need be, ask your social worker or an adoption attorney to contact the USCIS.

As previously stated, some sending countries require adoptive parents to personally pick up their children. There can be some disadvantages to traveling to meet your child, namely cost, having to navigate an unfamiliar or even dangerous country and a potential language barrier. But there are also many good reasons to travel to the sending country: you can experience the child’s home country, meet the child earlier, learn about the child’s background and where he or she has been living, become more involved in the adoption process and learn what your child may need to adapt to his or her new home.