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Ultimate Guide to International Adoption for U.S. Citizens

International adoption is a legal process enabling individuals and prospective parents to adopt a child from another country and bring them to the USA to live with them permanently. This pathway ensures the establishment of a lifelong, legal parent-child relationship across international borders.

To finalize an inter-country adoption and bring a child to the United States, you must meet the requirements established by both the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the foreign country where you plan to adopt. The regulations in some foreign countries may include criteria such as a minimum income level, specific marital status, residency in the country for a certain period, and occasionally, adherence to certain religious beliefs.

Difference between international and domestic adoption

International adoption differs significantly from domestic adoption. Domestic adoption involves adopting a child born in the United States, often with significant involvement from the birth family or birth mother, especially in private adoptions, which are usually open. On the other hand, most international adoptions are closed.

In domestic adoption, prospective parents only need to comply with U.S. laws. However, international adoption requires adherence to multiple regulations:

  • U.S. federal law
  • The laws of the child’s country of origin
  • The laws of the adoptive parent’s home state

Adoptive Parents Eligibility Requirements

For Americans considering adoption, including those with disabilities and individuals in protected categories (such as age, sex, race, color, national origin, or religion), compliance with three sets of laws is necessary: U.S. federal law, the laws of the child’s country of origin, and the laws of your home U.S. state.

Importantly, U.S. federal law does not have any law against adoption by persons with disabilities or those in federally defined protected categories from adopting. However, some countries from which children are adopted may have restrictions based on disabilities or may not permit adoption by single parents. Additionally, state laws in the U.S. can vary, adding another layer of requirements for prospective adoptive parents to navigate.

The United States has specific qualification requirements that prospective parents must fulfill to adopt internationally. The international adoption requirements include the following:

  • You must be a U.S. citizen
  • Unmarried couples or individuals should be at least 25 years old
  • Married couples must adopt the child unanimously
  • You must fulfill any other requirements, such as fingerprinting, home study, and criminal history checks
  • The adoptive parents must have stable physical and mental health. If one or both of the parents have a history of a chronic illness or are currently experiencing a serious illness, a letter from their primary physician is needed stating that they are physically stable and able to parent until the child turns at least 16 years old. If one or both parents have a current psychiatric illness, or if there is a history of such an illness, a professional statement vouching for their emotional stability is required. A doctor’s statement indicating stability and ability to parent is also needed if there is, or was, medication use.

Eligibility of an Adopted Child

The general rule is that the child must be adopted before turning 16 years old. If the child has a sibling who was adopted by the same parents, the age limit can extend to under 18 years. Different countries have different eligibility criteria for the children for adoption.

Ineligibility for Adoptive Parents

If one of the adopted parents is ever involved in a felony involving child abuse or neglect, domestic violence, child pornography or sexual assault, it is highly unlikely that they will be considered eligible to adopt a child.
However, different countries have different ineligibility criteria for the adoptive parents. For example, Bangladesh allows only Bangladeshi citizens to adopt, Nigeria, Poland, Thailand adoption law do not allow same-sex parenthood for international adoption, Morocco requires the international adoptive parents to be Muslim and Nicaragua and Niger does not allow single parents to adopt from their countries. Therefore, it is really important to do your country and eligibility research while considering international adoption. 

Adoption of children under Shari’a law

Islamic family law does not permit adoption as understood in the United States, making it difficult for U.S. citizens to adopt orphans overseas and obtain immigrant visas for them. However, some Shari’a-law countries allow guardianship transfers.

The Immigration and Nationality Act permits immigrant visas for orphans to be adopted in the U.S. Prospective parents must first secure legal guardianship or custody per the child’s country laws, demonstrating the child’s eligibility for emigration and adoption. This can be shown via written consent from a Shari’a court or relevant authority, either on the guardianship decree or as a separate document.

Issuing the immigrant visa requires proof that Shari’a law or Islamic courts allow for the child’s overseas adoption. Consular officers may verify this with the issuing court or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Consequently, I-600 processing for these cases may take longer.

Prospective parents must also show they meet all pre-adoption requirements of their U.S. state when submitting the I-600 application and guardianship decree.

International adoption is a complex but rewarding journey that creates lifelong family bonds across borders. By understanding and adhering to the various legal requirements, prospective parents can successfully navigate the process and welcome their adopted child into a loving home.

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