Steps for International Adoption

Have you completed all of the steps for your child’s international adoption?
Don’t Be Surprised!

Each year, we get four or five calls from former international adoption clients wanting to know how to secure a certificate of foreign birth filed in their home state. This need is most commonly related to: 1) Entry into the US military, 2) Application for a driver’s license, 3) A birth certificate written in English for a cruise or mission trip that does not need a passport but still needs a translated birth certificate, or the replacement or a name change on a social security card. Sometimes, while digging into that old box of adoption papers, often more than 10 – 15 years old, a family may find some unexpected surprises.

Many times, families have become so paperwork weary that the domestication (sometimes called a re adoption or court certification in various states) step is not completed and not needed until long after the post placement supervision is complete. Properly completing the adoption process of a child from a foreign country is important.

Many families wait for years to bring home the child that has been identified for them in an international adoption. The process can be long and trying to the adoptive parents. When the parents finally have that child in their loving arms and in their home, they are ready to be finished. Often, parents do not realize that they may need to take further steps to make their child a U.S. citizen and/or domesticate the child’s adoption in their home state to have a certificate of foreign birth written in English and on file with the state authority of official record keeping.

In the worst case scenario it may not be until years later that the parents discover that their adoptions were never finalized in their home country based on only one parent traveling to pick up the child (an IR 4 Visa). They may unfortunately find out that their eighteen year old child is not a U.S. citizen when their child has difficulty getting college scholarships, applying for a driver’s license, working legally, voting, and enjoying other rights and privileges. In some cases, the child might even be subject to deportation if he or she has committed a crime.

The Child Citizenship Act was enacted to permit a foreign-born child – including a child adopted by United States citizen(s) – to acquire U.S. citizenship when he or she enters the United States, if the child meets certain requirements. Beginning February 27, 2001, U.S. citizenship was automatically to certain eligible children. To be eligible for automatic citizenship, the child had to meet the definition of “child” for naturalization purposes under immigration law and also must meet the following requirements:

• The child has at least one parent that is a United States citizen (by birth or naturalization);
• The child is under 18 years of age;
• The child is currently residing permanently in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the parent that is a United States citizen;
• The child is a lawful permanent resident; and
• An adopted child meets the requirements applicable to adopted children under immigration law

During the first couple of years of this law, even though citizenship was automatic for certain adoptees, the family needed to apply to INS for proof of citizenship. After 2004, most eligible children were given proof of citizenship shortly after arriving into the United States in a letter from the President of the United States. It is critical that if your child arrived during these “gap years” efforts to secure proof citizenship may be needed. Proof of citizenship such as a citizenship paper or a US passport is key to giving proper proof of citizen and being recognized by certain government entities.

To satisfy the last requirement for the child to qualify for automatic citizenship under the Child Citizenship Act, the adoption must have been finalized in the foreign country under the laws of the foreign country and the facts of the adoption must comply with the laws of United States Immigration.  If the adoption overseas was final under the laws of the foreign country and complied with the laws of United States Immigration, the adopted child should have entered the United States with an IR-3 or IH-3 immigration visa. Children with an IR-3 or IH-3 visas automatically become United States citizens when they enter the United States. BUT… Remember that acquiring proof of this is critical. 

Adoptions that require an IR 3 Visa are generally are required to be finalized in the foreign country.  However, the Child Citizenship Act also requires that the facts of the adoption comply with the United States Immigration regulations. Those regulations require that the child be visited by the sole adoptive parent (in the case of a single parent) or by both adoptive parents before the adoption was finalized. Adoptive parents are required by the foreign adoption laws in certain countries to visit the child before completing the adoption. Therefore, if the child entered the United States on an IR-3 or IH-3 visa, and the child is a United States Citizen. REMEMBER that proof of citizenship is essential.

Children that meet the requirements for automatic citizenship may not have received proof of citizenship (such as a Certificate of Citizenship or passport) if they entered the United States after January of 2004. If proof of citizenship is desired, parents of the eligible child should apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for the child with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and/or for a passport for the child with the Department of State.

Children that entered the country on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa are not automatically citizens and their adoptions have not been finalized. Parents whose children entered the country on these visas must finalize the adoption in the United States. The parents of these children have been given custody of the child and the child has only been granted a resident alien status. If the child is over the age of 13 when the adoption is finalized, the child must go to the citizenship ceremony in person, rather than completing the process by mail. Adoptions from countries such as Korea, Philippines, and India are not finalized overseas and must be finalized in the United States. Children adopted from these countries entered the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa.

Adoptions from some countries do not require both parents to see the child before the adoption was finalized.  If only one adoptive parent or both parents did not see the child before the adoption was finalized, then the child should have entered the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa, and the child is not a United States citizen until the adoption is finalized in the United States.  Children with IR-4 and IH-4 visas obtain a Resident Alien card (sometimes referred to as a “green card”). If the child entered the United States on an IR-4 or IH-4 visa, the adoption should be finalized in the United States under the adoptive parent’s state laws. The child acquires citizenship in the United States when the adoption is full and final in the United States.  The adoption decree and the birth certificate from the adoptive parent’s state, however, do not serve as proof of citizenship. Actual proof of citizenship is essential.

In summary, remember that beginning in January 2004, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services began issuing Certificates of Citizenship automatically to children who qualified as citizens under the Child Citizenship Act. If the child entered the United States before January 2004 on an IR-3 or IH-3 visa, the adoptive parents or child can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application. The adoptive parents also can apply for a United States passport as proof of citizenship. However, if the child entered the U.S. on an IR-4 visa or an IH-4 visa, the adoptive parents can apply for a Certificate of Citizenship by filing the N-600 application after the adoptive parents have finalized the adoption in the U.S. The adoptive parents SHOULD also apply for a U.S. passport as proof of citizenship after the adoptive parents have finalized the adoption in the U.S.

Domestication of a foreign adoption in the family’s home step is another step that should be taken if the child enters the US on an IR 3 Visa. This added process is available in many states and provides a certificate of foreign birth on file with the state. The easily availability of a birth certificate written in English is a huge advantage and may be required in some states for attaining a driver’s license or other service.

Co Authored by June S. Bond, B.A. M. Ed. And Jacqueline Anthony, Esquire