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The Adoption Process

Three Happy GirlsThe following are the typical steps of the international adoption process. Completing an international adoption first involves tasks performed here in the United States and then involves traveling to the foreign country to complete your adoption. La Vida will guide you step by step through each of the tasks briefly outlined below. 

A.  Complete La Vida's application. We are generally able to review and respond to  your application within one or two business days.

B.  Complete a home study. A home study report is a requirement of your state of residence, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS), your child-placing agency, and the country from which your adoption will take place. The home study must be completed by a Hague Accredited agency licensed in your state of residence.  The home study must meet state, federal and country specific requirements. For purposes of submittal to the USCIS, the home study must be less than 6 months old at time of submittal.

If you live in Pennsylvania, La Vida will complete your home study. If you live outside of Pennsylvania, we will be happy to provide you with a list of resource agencies and assist you in selecting a home study agency. You are free to choose any Hague Accredited agency with whom you feel comfortable.

C.  La Vida will provide you with the appropriate form & guidance for applying to the United States Immigration and Naturalization Service. Complete and forward it to La Vida. We will review it and submit it to the USCIS along with your completed home study and the USCIS fee.  We will be seeking a provisional approval for adoption indicating you have met federal requirements for the completion of an international adoption.

D.  Complete a "dossier" -  a packet of documents that make up a country application. Nearly all countries require a dossier and each country's dossier varies, but the basic requirements are similar for each country. A dossier is generally made up of collected documents (such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, divorce decrees, etc.) and prepared documents (such as financial statements, health questionnaires, employment verifications, etc.). After collecting or preparing each of the documents required for the dossier, notarization and certification at the state (and sometimes county) level is required. Some countries also require that the documents be submitted to the U.S. Department of State in Washington, D.C. for another level of federal certification. After certification, all documents are ultimately "authenticated" or "sealed" by the foreign country's consulate or embassy here in the U.S. 

La Vida provides full dossier authentication service in an effort to make each family's efforts as simple as possible.

E.  Wait for referral of a child. After your dossier is submitted and while it is being translated, reviewed, and eventually approved, you will wait for a child to be assigned to you. The time frame for this varies depending upon the country program. In cases where an applicant is adopting a "waiting" child, this period of time will be significantly shortened, if not eliminated entirely. Please see the country program pages of our web site for information about current estimated waiting times for each specific international adoption program.

F.  Review and acceptance of a child referral. When a child is eventually assigned, La Vida will receive all available information about a specific child directly from the child's central adoption authority or its representative. The child's medical and additional information should be reviewed very carefully within the context of the type of information generally provided by the specific country. Care should be taken to understand medical risks inherent in children from the country. For any questionable information, international adoption medical specialists should be consulted for an opinion. A child should only be accepted when you believe that you have sufficient information from which to make a decision.

G.  Submit the child's legal documentation to the USCIS for child specific approval. In the case of China, Colombia and South Africa, an application (Form I-800), the child's documents, a report from the country's central adoption authority and documents prepared by La Vida will be submitted to the National Benefits Center.  The office will examine the child's paperwork and make a determination that the child meets all federal eligibility requirements for intercountry adoption and that parents have complied with all requirements leading up to the anticipated adoption.  Upon review and approval of the documentation, a provisional approval for adoption of a specific child(ren) will be granted. 

H.  Travel to the country to receive the child and, in most cases, complete the adoption. Only a few countries permit a child to be escorted to the United States and do not require travel by the applicants. Most countries require travel for one or more trips with in-country stays that vary in length. Some countries place the child under the physical guardianship of the adopting family while the country adoption officials or the child-placing agency retains legal custody of the child. In such cases, the country and/or the child-placing agency must consent to the adoption after a period of satisfactory post placement supervision. Most countries allow legal completion of the adoption under the laws of the country during the trip itself.  This the case for adoptions from China, Colombia and South Africa. This adoption is fully recognized here in the United States upon your return home. There are only a few countries that allow completion of the adoption by proxy without the adopting parents being present. 

I.  Obtain an immigrant visa for the child and return home to the United States. In all cases where parents travel to the country to complete the adoption or take placement of the child, the U.S. Embassy or U.S. Consulate in the foreign country generally reviews all adoption documentation, the child's medical examination and other relevant paperwork. The purpose of this review is to ascertain that the adoption was properly and legally completed, verify that the child is eligible to enter the U.S., and make a determination that the child's health is sufficient and all information and paperwork is in order. Upon a satisfactory review, the child will be issued an immigrant visa (permission to enter the United States).

J.  Complete post placement supervisory requirements. After placement of the child, post adoption supervisory visits are almost always required whether the adoption has already been completed or a guardianship has been established. Post adoption supervision is a requirement of the child placing agency and the foreign government. The numbers of visits vary by the requirements of the home study agency, child placing agency, state, and country, as well as by the legal status of the adoption at the time of child placement. They generally involve home visits completed by a representative of the home study agency or independent social worker, an interview with the family, gathering of pictures and medical information, and ultimately the generation of a report which is forwarded to adoption officials in the child's birth country.

The post placement supervisory process also provides an opportunity for the family to receive support and guidance should there be any adjustment issues for either the child, the parents, or others in the house.  Please visit the country pages of Colombia, China, and South Africa for specific country requirements.

K.  Legalization of the adoption in the United States - There are certain intercountry adoption cases in which legalization of the adoption in a U.S. court is required (to complete the adoption and make the child eligible for citizenship). There are also cases when legalization may be required (because the adoption has not yet been completed) or desirable (due to the benefits the process affords).

1. Required U.S. legalization - Legalization in the U.S. is required in cases where an intercountry adoption is not completed overseas.   Legalization in the U.S. is also required for non-Hague Convention cases where only one spouse of a married couple traveled to the country to complete the adoption overseas (where the child is issued an IR-4 visa) before the child can become a U.S. citizen. This is because, for non-Hague Convention cases, application for U.S. citizenship for an internationally adopted child may be made only when the adopting parents have personally seen and observed the child prior to the adoption.

2. Optional U.S. legalization - In non-Hague Convention cases where the adoption was completed and legalized overseas and where a single parent adopts or, in the case of married couples, where both parents traveled and personally saw and observed the child prior to the completed adoption the child should be issued an IR-3 visa.  Children adopted from countries participating in the Hague Convention and which are completed overseas should travel on an IH-3 visa, regardless of whether one or both spouses traveled.  In these cases a re-adoption in the U.S. will be optional, however there are still many benefits of re-adoption even when the child is issued an IR-3 or an IH-3 visa. 

L.  Citizenship for Your Child - The Child Citizenship Act (CCA) was implemented on February 27, 2001. Under the law,   all  foreign-born children adopted by U.S. citizens will automatically acquire U.S. citizenship by operation of law as soon as the following conditions are satisfied: At least one adoptive parent is a U.S. Citizen; the child is under 18 years of age; there is a full & final adoption of the child (that is recognized by the U.S. Government); both parents personally see and observe the child prior to the adoption (in the case of married parents); and the child is lawfully admitted to the United States as an immigrant.

If the child is a citizen by operation of this law, there are two documents that you might wish to receive for your child: (1) a Certificate of Citizenship; and (2) a U.S. Passport. The Certificate of Citizenship is a document indicating that your child is a lawful citizen of the U.S. The U.S. Department of State issues the U.S. passport, and it is desirable or necessary if the child travels outside of the U.S.

Families wishing to apply for a Certificate of Citizenship currently may continue to file the form N-643 (Application for Certificate of Citizenship on behalf of an Adopted Child), the same form that has been previously used for the naturalization of an adopted child. This form should be completed and submitted to the USCIS along with the proper documentation and application fee. The N-643 form can be obtained at your local USCIS office or downloaded from the USCIS web site: 

Non-Hague Convention cases - Beginning January 1, 2004, for families whose children traveled on an IR-3 (both parents personally saw and observed the child prior to adoption and the adoption was legally finalized in-country), the USCIS began automatically issuing a certificate of citizenship for adopted children within approximately 45 days.  There is currently no need to apply for a certificate of citizenship.  

Hague Convention cases - Your child will automatically obtain citizenship.

A passport can be obtained for your child by contacting the "Passport Office", generally located in the local County Courthouse where you reside, and completing an application for the child.

*NOTE: For non-Hague Convention cases, if a married couple adopted a child and both spouses did not travel to complete the adoption or if the adoption was completed by proxy, the child probably entered the U.S. on an "IR-4" Immigrant Visa. There are other cases where a final adoption does not occur overseas at all and a final adoption decree is entered later in the United States. In each of these cases, the child will not obtain citizenship automatically upon entrance into the U.S. Rather, a re-adoption or an original adoption in the United States will be required. Once this re-adoption or original adoption has been completed the conditions required by The Child Citizenship Act will have been met and citizenship can then be conferred by operation of law.

While working through the steps of an international adoption may seem daunting, the most important thing to remember is that you don't need to know everything to begin! We will gladly walk you through each step until you bring your child into your family and after you return home.

La Vida International 
101 Lindenwood Drive, Suite 225, Malvern, PA  19355
Phone: 484-318-8543 Fax: 484-318-8562
e-mail:
info@lavida.org web: www.lavida.org