The Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) sets forth procedural protections that benefit the children, birth families, and prospective adoptive parents involved in the adoption. U.S. Citizens planning to adopt from a Convention country must follow a specific set of steps to adopt and then obtain immigration benefits for their child. It is important to follow these steps in the correct sequence to avoid potential road blocks to bringing the child to the United States. You will find additional country specific information on the relevant country information sheet.
Steps in the Convention Adoption and Visa Process
Follow these steps in a Convention case to complete the adoption and visa process:
- Choose a U.S. Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider. The first step is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited or approved to provide services to U.S. citizens. A primary provider must be identified in each case and only accredited or approved adoption service providers may act as the primary provider in your case. The primary adoption service provider is responsible for ensuring that all six adoption services defined at 22 CFR 96.2 are provided consistent with applicable laws and regulations.
- Apply to USCIS to be Found Suitable and Eligible to Adopt: You will need to file Form I-800A – Determination on Suitability to Adopt a child from a Convention Country with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) to establish your suitability as an adoptive parent. You will need to complete a home study, fingerprints, and a background check as part of this application. You can learn more about the home study on our Home Study Requirements flyer. Review the instructions for the Form I-800A on the USCIS website to learn how to file this form.
- Apply to the Country of Origin’s Authorities to Adopt and be Matched with a Child
- Submit your dossier to the central authority for adoption in the child’s country of origin. You will need to review the requirements for the dossier on our country information sheet for the country from which you plan to adopt. You will need to include evidence that you have completed step one and have been found suitable and eligible to adopt by the U.S. Central Authority. (This is done through the Form I-800A application with USCIS.) If your dossier is approved by the central authority of the country from which you plan to adopt, the central authority will determine whether a child is available and eligible for intercountry adoption that will fit the criteria for which you have been approved in your home study, i.e. age range, number of children, and special needs. In some countries, it may take months or years for a referral.
- Receive a referral for a child from the central authority of the country from which you plan to adopt. The referral will include a report on the child, which should include information about the child’s identity, adoptability, background, family history, medical history, any special needs of the child, the child’s social history, and confirmation that all necessary consents to adoption have been obtained. You will need to decide whether to accept the referral. Do not obtain an adoption or guardianship order yet.
- Apply to USCIS for the Child to be found Provisionally Eligible for Immigration to the United States as a Convention Adoptee and Receive U.S. Agreement to Proceed with the Adoption.
- Submit a petition for a determination on the child’s immigration eligibility through the USCIS Form I-800 Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. (See below for the definition of Convention Adoptee.) You will need to show that you have completed each of the steps above and that you have not yet obtained an adoption or guardianship order for the child. You can learn more about where to file this form and what documents you will need to present in the Form I-800 instructions. If the child is likely eligible for U.S. immigration, you will receive instruction to proceed to the next step.
- Submit an immigrant visa application, Form DS-260, to the Embassy or Consulate responsible for processing immigrant visa applications for the child’s country of origin. If everything has been done in the required order and the child is likely eligible to immigrate as a Convention Adoptee, the Embassy or Consulate will issue a letter, called the “Article 5/17 letter”, notifying the central authority of the child’s country of origin that the child appears to be “eligible to enter and permanently reside” in the United States following the completion of the adoption or guardianship in the child’s country of origin. You must not obtain an adoption or guardianship order until you receive this letter.
- Adopt the Child or Obtain Legal Custody of the Child in the Country of Origin for Purposes of Emigration and Adoption
- Complete the Application Process for a U.S. Immigrant Visa for your Child and Bring your Child Home:
- Obtain a birth certificate and passport from the country of origin for your child. Because your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, he/she will need a passport or travel document from the country of origin.
- Schedule and appear at the Embassy or Consulate for a visa interview. After you receive the final adoption or guardianship order, you will submit it to the Embassy or Consulate to complete the immigration process.
- Receive your child’s immigrant visa. If no ineligibilities are found and all the steps of the Convention process were followed correctly, you will receive either an IH-3 or IH-4 category visa for your child as well as your child’s Hague Adoption Certificate, or Hague Custody Certificate.
- IH-3 visas are generally for children who are adopted in a Convention country. Children who are under 18 generally acquire U.S. citizenship when they enter the United States on an IH-3 visa in order to reside in the legal and physical custody of their U.S. citizen parent(s). In such cases, USCIS sends Certificates of Citizenship without requiring additional forms or fees.
- IH-4 visas are generally for children coming from a Convention country who will be adopted in the United States. IH-4 recipients do not acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry into the United States, but are lawful permanent residents until the adoption is full and final. You will need to file the N-600 Application for a Certificate of Citizenship once you have the final U.S. adoption decree. See our web page on the Child Citizenship Act for more information.
The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) identifies ineligibilities, or reasons that disqualify a foreign national from receiving a visa. In some cases, a visa applicant may apply to USCIS for a waiver of ineligibility. See the USCIS website for more information on waivers and filing Form I-601 (Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility).
U.S. Law and the Definition of Convention Adoptee
The INA, as amended by the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 (IAA), defines a child residing in a Convention country who is eligible for intercountry adoption as a Convention adoptee. This definition includes the following elements:
- The child must be under the age of 16 (or 18 for the biological sibling of a child already adopted or to be adopted by the same prospective adoptive parents) at the time the immigrant visa petition (Form I-800) is filed on his or her behalf (taking into account special rules and instructions on filing dates for children aged 15-16 or siblings aged 17-18). The child must also be unmarried and live in a Convention country.
- The child has been adopted or will be adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse jointly, or by an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age, habitually resident in the United States, whom USCIS has found suitable and eligible to adopt (by approving Form I-800A), with the intent of creating a legal parent-child relationship.
- The child's birth parent(s) or other legal custodian, individuals, or entities whose consent is necessary for adoption, have given freely their written, irrevocable consent for the termination of their legal relationship with the child and to the child's emigration and adoption.
- The child has been adopted or will be adopted in the United States or in the Convention country according to the rules and procedures of the Convention and the IAA.