Adopting a Relative for Incoming Cases

March 2014

Children adopted from abroad by U.S. citizens benefit from the same safeguards whether or not they are related to the prospective adoptive parents prior to adoption.  The same immigration requirements and procedures that apply in non-relative adoptions apply in relative adoptions. The only exception is that the bar to prior contact with the child’s parents or caretaker in Hague Adoption Convention cases does not apply in Hague Adoption Convention cases involving relative adoptions.  Before you adopt a relative who is not a U.S. citizen, you should familiarize yourself with the child’s immigration options. Adoption service providers in the United States and qualified attorneys with experience in both immigration and adoptions may be able to advise you based on your personal circumstances.

Convention Adoptions

An adoption of a child from a Hague Adoption Convention country must proceed under U.S. law in the same way that non-relative adoptions from Convention countries proceed. U.S. citizen prospective adoptive parents must still file Form I-800A, Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), followed at the appropriate time by the filing of Form I-800, Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. See our web page on the Hague adoption process for more information.  Prospective adoptive parents should note that a child who is being adopted from a Convention country by a relative must still meet the definition of “child” under section 101(b)(1)(G) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

NOTE: Under most circumstances, prospective adoptive parents are not permitted to identify a child in a Convention country for adoption; the foreign country’s adoption authorities refer prospective adoptive parents to a child (sometimes called "matching"). The Convention provides an exception to the prohibition on prior contact between prospective adoptive parents and a child’s parents or legal guardian for adoption within families.

Non-Convention (“Orphan”)  Adoptions

Child relatives being adopted from non-Convention countries may be eligible for immigration benefits if the child qualifies as an “orphan” under U.S. law. If a child does not meet this definition, the child cannot immigrate to the United States as an orphan - even if the child is related to you. For non-Hague adoptions, the United States requires that the Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, be filed before the orphan turns 16 (or 18 if the child is being adopted with one or more siblings, at least one of whom is under 16). To adopt a relative who is living in a non-Convention country, U.S. citizen prospective adoptive parents generally must file Forms I-600A and I-600. Refer to our web page about the non-Hague adoption process for more information.

Stepchild Immigration

U.S. citizen stepparents who wish to bring a stepchild to the United States are not required to follow the Convention or orphan adoption immigration procedures in cases where the U.S. citizen married the child’s parent before the child’s 18th birthday.

A stepparent may file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative for a stepchild (spouse’s child) to qualify for an immediate relative visa (http://www.uscis.gov/i-130).

For more information, see the USCIS online brochure titled “I Am a U.S. Citizen . . .  How Do I Help My Relative Become a U.S. Permanent Resident?”.

Foreign Domestic Adoption

For a child relative who does not fit into one of the above categories, it may be possible for an adoptive parent to file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, with USCIS for a foreign-born adopted child.  This process requires the petitioner to show that a final adoption has been completed before the child’s 16th birthday (or 18th birthday for qualifying siblings), and that the child has been in the legal custody of and shared residency with at least one adoptive parent for at least two years before the petition is filed.  The qualifying two years must generally be satisfied outside the United States in the case of a child deemed habitually resident in a Convention country.

For further information about adoptions under the Immediate Relative Process, see the USCIS website. Questions about this process should be addressed to USCIS.