Who is Considered an Orphan?

Under U.S. immigration law, a foreign-born child is an orphan if he or she does not have any parents because of the death or disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents. A foreign-born child is also an orphan if his or her sole or surviving parent is not able to take proper care of the child and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption. For such a child to gain immigration benefits, an orphan petition must be filed before his or her 16th birthday. An orphan petition may be filed before the child's 18th birthday, if the child is a natural sibling of an orphan or adopted child, and is adopted with or after that child, by the same adoptive parents.

Who is eligible to file an orphan petition?

A married U.S. citizen and spouse (no special age) or an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age may file an orphan petition. The spouse does not need to be a U.S. citizen; however, the spouse must be here legally if living in the United States. To make the adoption process faster, you may apply for advanced processing before you actually find an orphan to adopt. An application for advance processing may be filed by anyone eligible to file an orphan petition. An unmarried U.S. citizen may file an application for advance processing if the U.S. citizen is at least 24 years of age and will be at least 25 when an orphan petition is filed in behalf of an actual child and when the child is adopted.

How Do I Apply?

What is the quickest way to bring a foreign-born orphan that I adopt to the U.S.?

The fastest way is to file ) before you identify a foreign-born child to adopt. This allows the INS to first process the application that relates to your ability to provide a proper home environment and your suitability as a parent. Then, once a child who meets the INA's definition of orphan is identified, you must file INS Form I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative) in behalf of the child.

Should I do "advance processing" if I've already identified the child?

It is generally advisable for all prospective adoptive parents to do advance processing. You should do advance processing even if you are traveling to the country where the child is located and will file an orphan petition at an overseas INS office (or at an American consulate or embassy if there is no INS office in the country). By completing advance processing, you will ensure that INS has already processed the application that relates to your ability to provide a proper home environment and your suitability as a parent before you adopt a child in a foreign country. This is important, because you will not be allowed to bring a child that you have adopted to the United States if you are found to be unable to provide that child with a proper home environment or you are found unsuitable as a parent.

What kind of information about myself and my spouse will I, as the petitioner, need to provide to the INS?

You must provide proof of U.S. citizenship. If you are married and living in the United States, you must provide evidence of your spouse's U.S. citizenship or lawful immigration status as well as proof that you are married and that any previous marriages ended legally. You must submit a complete and current home study within prescribed time limits. You may also have to prove that you comply with the preadoption requirements of the state in which you will live with your adopted child. You must submit the required filing fee for your application, and be aware that each adult member of the household must be fingerprinted by the INS. (Please refer to The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children (document M-249N, revised 1998) for specific information on this question).

What kind of information about the child will I need to provide to the INS?

You must provide:
  • The child's birth certificate or, if the certificate is unavailable, evidence of the child's age and identity;
  • Proof that the child is an orphan as defined by the INA;
  • A final decree of adoption, if applicable;
  • Proof of legal custody of the child for emigration and adoption, if applicable; and
  • Proof of compliance with preadoption requirements, if applicable.

Can I adopt a foreign-born orphan and bring him/her to the U.S. without involving the INS?

There is no way an orphan can legally immigrate to the U.S. without INS processing.

Can I adopt a child from a country experiencing social or political upheaval?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service shares your concern for the children of countries experiencing social or political upheaval. However, adopting children from a country in crisis is usually not a feasible way to assist them. There are a number of reasons for this.

During times of crisis, it can be exceptionally difficult to fulfill the legal requirements for adoption of the child's country of origin. This is especially true when civil authority breaks down. Correspondingly, it can be very difficult to gather documents necessary to fulfill the legal requirements of the immigration law of the United States. Also, in a crisis situation, it can be extremely difficult to determine if children whose parents are missing are truly orphans. It is not uncommon in a hostile situation for parents to send their children out of the area, or to become separated during an evacuation. Even when children have been truly orphaned or abandoned by their parents, they are often taken in by other relatives. International conventions place a strong preference on keeping children within extended family units and within their culture as opposed to uprooting the child completely. For these reasons, individuals considering adoption from a country in crisis should proceed with extreme caution. They should review the Department of State's website and contact their local INS office early in the process to avoid disappointment at not being able to complete the adoption and emigration of a child.