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Democratic Republic of the Congo
Frequently Asked Questions
The Department of State is providing the following answers to some frequently asked questions regarding the status of intercountry adoptions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and the ongoing suspension on exit permit issuances for adopted children.
Q: Should I start an adoption in the DRC?
A: The Department of State strongly recommends against initiating an adoption in the DRC at this time, as adoptive children cannot leave the DRC without an exit permit issued by the DRC’ s Directorate of General Migration, even with a finalized adoption.In light of the DRC’s September 25, 2014 announcement that its exit permit suspension for adopted children remains in effect indefinitely, the Department of State has asked all adoption agencies to cease referring new DRC adoption cases for U.S. prospective adoptive parents at this time. Congolese courts continue to issue adoption decrees under existing Congolese law, despite the exit permit suspension.
Q: Why did Congolese authorities implement the suspension on exit permit issuances for adopted children on September 25, 2013?
A: The DRC government has cited concerns with safeguards in the Congolese adoption process and concerns regarding the welfare of the children being adopted internationally. Congolese officials have informed us on several occasions that the suspension was prompted in part by weaknesses in Congolese adoption procedures, which they believe may not adequately protect children. The suspension was imposed on all intercountry adoptions of Congolese children by prospective/adoptive parents from all countries, not just adoptions by United States prospective/adoptive parents.
Q: Is there a timeline for the suspension?
A: DGM officials initially stated that September 25, 2014, was the earliest date upon which the suspension may be lifted, but later said the suspension will not be lifted until the implementation of new adoption laws. On September 25, 2014, the DGM announced that the suspension will remain in effect until further notice. No timelines has been provided for when the suspension will be lifted or new laws will be enacted. The Department of State and U.S. Embassy will continue to engage the DRC government to clarify how new proposed adoption laws would impact adoptive families, as well as to offer technical assistance in the formulation of the law.
Q: Are there any exceptions being considered by the DGM for exit permits since the suspension went into effect?
A: On May 26, 2014 officials from the DGM informed the U.S. Embassy that exit permits were granted for 15 U.S. adoption cases that met all Congolese legal and procedural requirements prior to September 25, 2013, and in which no signs of fraud or other concerns were raised in the DGM’s investigation. Although the Department is aware of other cases that appear to meet the DRC’s established grandfathered criteria, the DGM stated that no further exit permits would be issued until after the passage of a new law reforming the intercountry adoption process.
Grandfathered cases: On June 6, the U.S. Embassy presented the DGM a list of U.S. families that appeared to have met the DGM’s October 22, 2013 exception criteria. At the request of the DGM, the U.S. Embassy submitted complete dossiers for these cases to the DGM. During a meeting between Ambassador Swan and the DGM on July 10, 2014, the DGM restated that they will not accept exit permit applications for any adoption approved by the Ministry of Gender and Family after September 25, 2013 until the new law is passed. Nevertheless, Congolese courts continue to issue adoption decrees.
Life-threatening medical cases that cannot be treated in the DRC: The U.S. Embassy has engaged the DGM on life-threatening, medically critical cases of which we became aware through the visa process from the time we learned about the suspension. This resulted in the approval of two exit permits for medically critical cases. In the Department of State’s June 9 Adoption Alert, we asked for further information on medically critical cases to ensure that all cases of this nature are brought to our attention so that we can present them to the DGM for review and potential exit permit issuance. U.S. adoptive families or their adoption service providers are asked to submit information on adopted children with life-threatening medical conditions that cannot be treated in the DRC to the ExitPermitSuspensionDRC@state.gov mailbox.
Q: Are there any alternative means for my adopted child to leave the DRC without an exit permit?
A: No. Congolese law requires you to obtain an exit permit for your child. Once your I-600 has been approved and an orphan review is complete, the U.S. Embassy will schedule your visa interview. Please be advised that once you have a U.S. visa for your adopted child, you still must obtain an exit permit for your child to leave the DRC. We want to be clear that any attempts to leave DRC with your child without an exit permit could violate local law and significantly jeopardize the status of pending and future adoption cases between DRC and the United States.
We understand the hardship for you and your children as the suspension period remains undefined. We believe that this current uncertainty could make adoptive families more vulnerable to solicitations by individuals or organizations offering inappropriate or illegal means of assistance. If you are approached with offers to help bring your children home that do not include obtaining exit permits by the appropriate DGM office in Kinshasa, we strongly recommend that you inform the U.S. Embassy and ask for clarity on the legality of the proposal before taking any action.
Q: What specific actions has the U.S. government taken to engage
with the Congolese government on this issue?
A: The Department of State is robustly engaging the DRC government at all levels to encourage children who have finalized adoptions in the DRC to be issued the necessary exit permits and join their adoptive families in the United States as soon as possible. On May 4 and August 4, Secretary of State John Kerry personally asked DRC President Joseph Kabila to lift the exit permit suspension as soon as possible. U.S. Ambassador to the DRC, James Swan, continues to press all Congolese ministries involved in intercountry adoptions to resolve the exit permit issue and engage with the United States on long term adoption reforms. Special Advisor on Children’s Issues, Ambassador Susan Jacobs, has also met with the DRC Ambassador to the United States, Faidi Mitifu, to ask what steps the Department of States can take to resolve this issue.
In addition to these meetings, in March 2014, a delegation of adoption officials from the Department of State and USCIS met with officials from the DGM, the Children’s Court, and the Ministries of Gender and Family, Foreign Affairs, and Justice, in the DRC, in order to share our best practices, discuss discrepancies in Congolese procedures, and discuss ways in which we could share information about adoptions to help expedite the process. The U.S. delegation asked if technical and training support may be beneficial for the DGM, and invited a delegation of Congolese adoption officials to visit the United States in order to continue working-level discussions on adoptions and meet with adopted children to see first-hand that the children are thriving in the United States.
On September 30, 2014 the Department hosted a call with U.S. families adopting from the DRC and interested congressional offices to provide information on our next steps. Some of these steps include engagement with other countries impacted by the suspension and scheduling a joint working group meeting with a delegation in the DRC or Washington DC to seek a resolution for pending adoption cases and discuss long term adoption reforms.
Q: The United States provides millions in aid funds to the
DRC. Where does the money go? Do we fund the orphanages where adopted children reside?
A: The United States provides no direct budget support to the government of the DRC. The vast majority of U.S. assistance goes towards humanitarian and health programs directly helping the Congolese population, as well as to support the UN peacekeeping mission in the DRC, which is responsible for protecting the population from the dozens of armed groups that are brutalizing the Congolese people. U.S. foreign assistance to the DRC is coordinated through the USAID mission to the DRC. These funds are expended through a range of programs seeking to improve the lives of Congolese by addressing issues such as crisis stabilization and recovery, agriculture and food security, governance, education, environment, child and maternal health, assistance to the approximately 2.7 million refugees and internally displaced people in the DRC, and economic growth. None of the current programs directly fund the orphanages where some of the children adopted by U.S. families reside. It is our understanding that most of those orphanages are privately funded through donations and U.S. adoption agencies’ contributions.
Q: My adopted child is not receiving proper care in DRC. Does the
U.S. Embassy conduct welfare checks on all of the children adopted by U.S. families who are residing in orphanages or other arrangements?
A: Unfortunately, the U.S. Embassy does not have the resources to conduct welfare checks on children adopted by U.S. families. We understand families’ frustrations with discrepancies in fees charged and care received by adopted children and encourage families to work with their agencies to discover the reasons why any discrepancies exist in individual cases. Adoptive parents may also wish to consider obtaining second opinions regarding any non-life-threatening medical issues and treatment options from physicians operating in the DRC who would be able to physically examine the children.
Q: When will the new Congolese adoption law be passed?
A: On June 6, the DGM informed the U.S. Embassy that they hope the DRC Parliament will draft, pass, and implement a new law as soon as possible, but were unable to specify a time frame due to the difficulty in predicting the parliamentary and legislative process. On October 13, the DGM informed the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa that the new law has been drafted and is under review. The review process requires the various ministries involved in intercountry adoption in the DRC to look at the law before it is moved to the parliament. The DGM also noted that the new law may include retroactive provisions which could impact adoptions already completed and possibly require adoptive families to redo certain steps of their adoption in the DRC.
Congolese courts are able to dissolve an adoption at the request of the adoptee or the adoptive parent in exceptional circumstances, but only through appropriate legal procedures. In the event that the new law is passed and includes retroactive provisions for finalized adoptions, adoptive parents who have already received adoption decrees and certificates of non-appeal may wish to seek independent legal counsel in the DRC to learn about their legal rights as adoptive parents under Congolese law.
The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of attorneys who have identified themselves as willing to assist U.S. citizen clients. Placement on this list does not constitute endorsement or assessment of an individual attorney's qualifications by the U.S. Embassy or the Department of State.
The Department of State has requested a delegation to meet in the DRC or in Washington DRC as soon as possible to consult on the provisions of the new law and to express the significant additional hardships retroactive provisions would cause children and families who have already completed adoptions.
U.S. Case Processing FAQs
Q: Are U.S. Orphan Determinations necessary?
A: Department of Homeland Security regulations require that a Form I-604, Determination on Child for Adoption (“orphan determination”) be completed for every Form I-600 petition filed, to determine if the child is eligible to immigrate to the United States as an orphan based on an adoption abroad. The authority to conduct orphan determinations rests with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). However, in countries where USCIS is not physically present, such as the DRC, USCIS has delegated authority to Department of State to conduct orphan determinations and verify the child meets the definition of an orphan under U.S. immigration law. If fraud or inconsistencies that are material to the child’s status as an orphan are identified in a case, the Embassy refers the case to USCIS for further review.
Q: How long does the review process for an orphan determination
with the U.S. Embassy take?
A: Adoption cases are processed as expeditiously as possible. In light of the significant increase in the adoption workload over the last two years, the unreliability of documents in the DRC, and the difficulty of traveling within the country, the average timeframe for completing orphan determination has been approximately three to six months. These orphan determinations may take longer if children come from an area experiencing civil unrest, where the security situation does not allow U.S. Embassy staff to travel safely, or if the circumstances of the individual case are such that additional follow up is necessary.
In an effort to meet the challenge of completing these reviews as expeditiously as possible, the Department of State began sending additional temporary consular personnel to Embassy Kinshasa in early August 2014 to assist with the cases. The Department of State is already seeing faster completion of orphan determinations and will continue to provide additional staffing support to the extent our resources allow while the caseload remains high.
Q: What if fraud is found in my case through the Orphan
Determination review process?
A: Following completion of the Orphan Determination, if a consular officer finds the child either does not appear to qualify as an orphan according to U.S. immigration law or that the documents submitted with the petition contain inconsistencies or discrepancies material to the case, the officer will forward the case to USCIS for further review. In the majority of DRC cases, the U.S. Embassy has been able to make a determination that the adopted child meets the definition of an orphan in accordance with U.S. immigration law.
Q: If the DRC courts are continuing to issue new adoption decrees,
will the number of affected pipeline cases continue to grow? Can the U.S. government stop accepting cases from the DRC?
A: While we recognize the vulnerability of U.S. families who continue to finalize adoptions in the DRC before the DRC ends the suspension on exit permits for adopted children, U.S. law does not provide a specific basis to refuse to accept a Form I-600A application or Form I-600 petition on the grounds that the child’s country of origin has stopped issuing exit permits. This differs from the status of intercountry adoptions in other countries where the U.S. government could no longer reasonably determine that the child met the definition of an orphan. We provide information on our website at www.adoption.state.gov to ensure that adoptive parents are well-informed of the situation in DRC and can make informed decisions whether to pursue an adoption in the DRC.