Tonga

Last Updated: February 2009

Hague Adoption Convention Country?

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Hague Convention Information

Tonga is not party to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption ( Hague Adoption Convention ). Therefore, when the Hague Adoption Convention entered into force for the United States on April 1, 2008, intercountry adoption processing for Tonga did not change.

Tongan law states that prospective adopting parents must reside with the child for period of at least six months prior to the application for adoption of that child. In addition, under Tongan law, only illegitimate children may be adopted.

The Tongan Government is proposing to pass a Dual Nationality Law in the near future. It is unclear, however, what this law may contain or how it may affect adoptions of Tongan children. The Department of State and the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji (which handles Tongan immigration issues on behalf of the U.S. Government) will monitor the progress of any such legislation and update this flyer accordingly.

Who Can Adopt

To bring an adopted child to United States from Tonga, you must be found eligible to adopt by the U.S. Government. The U.S. Government agency responsible for making this determination is the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Learn more.

In addition to these U.S. requirements for prospective adoptive parents, Tonga also has the following requirements for prospective adoptive parents:

  • RESIDENCY REQUIREMENTS: Prospective adoptive parents must reside with the child for six months prior to the application for adoption of that child. The Supreme Court occasionally waives the residency requirements in exceptional cases.<
  • AGE REQUIREMENTS: There is no specific minimum or maximum age requirement for adoptive parents.
  • MARRIAGE REQUIREMENTS: Tongan law permits both single and married foreigners to adopt Tongan children.
  • INCOME REQUIREMENTS: Income should be above average and prospective adoptive parents should live in a suitable environment. Proof of income will have to be submitted to the central adoption authority.
  • OTHER REQUIREMENTS: Prospective parents must show themselves able to provide adequate emotional and financial support for the child. Under no circumstances are proxy adoptions allowed.
Who Can Be Adopted

Tonga has specific requirements that a child must meet in order to be eligible for adoption. You cannot adopt a child in Tonga unless he or she meets the requirements outlined below.

In addition to these requirements, a child must meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law for you to bring him or her back to the United States. Learn more about these U.S. requirements.

ELIGIBILITY REQUIREMENTS:

  • Relinquishment Requirements: Almost all Tongan adoptions involve direct relinquishments of children by their birth mothers to the adoptive parents, and almost all are arranged either between relatives, by close friends, or through religious institutions.

    Please note that in some instances, such direct relinquishments, while appropriate under Tongan law, may complicate the U.S. immigration process. American prospective adoptive parents considering a Tongan adoption in which the child will be directly relinquished should contact the U.S. Embassy in Suva (Fiji) early in the process to confirm whether the circumstances of their specific case will or will not preclude the child's immigration to the United States.
  • Age Requirements: Ilegitimate children under the age of 21 years of age.
  • Sibling Requirements: >None
  • Waiting Period: Prospective adoptive parents must reside with and provide for the needs of the prospective adoptive child before letters of adoption can be approved by the chief justice of the supreme court
  • Other: Under Tongan law, only illegitimate children may be adopted.

    The Tongan Legal Guardianship Act of 2004 makes it possible for Tongan authorities to grant legal guardianship of legitimate children under age 18. However, Tongan law is silent about (neither prohibits nor approves) whether such children may be removed from Tonga to be adopted in another country. American citizens interested in pursuing legal guardianship of a Tongan child should consult a Tongan attorney for the latest information.
How To Adopt

Tongan Adoption Authority

The Supreme Court of the Kingdom of Tonga is the adoption authority.

The Process

The process for adopting a child from Tonga generally includes the following steps:

  1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider
  2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt
  3. Be Matched with a Child
  4. Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in Tonga
  5. Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption
  6. Bring Your Child Home
  1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider

    The first step in adopting a child from Tonga is usually to select a licensed agency in the United States that can help with your adoption. Adoption service providers must be licensed by the U.S. state in which they operate. Learn more about choosing the right adoption service provider.

  2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt

    To bring an adopted child from Tonga to the United States, you must apply to be found eligible to adopt (Form I-600A) by the U.S. Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Learn how.

    In addition to meeting the U.S. requirements for adoptive parents, you need to meet the requirements of Tonga as described in the Who Can Adopt section.

  3. Be Matched with a Child

    Prospective adoptive parents have the responsibility of identifying the child themselves and then lodge an application for adoption letters with the central authority. The central authority does not assist in identifying a child for adoption.

    Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of a particular child and provide a permanent family placement for the referred child. .

    The child must be eligible to be adopted according to Tonga requirements, as described in the Who Can be Adopted section. The child must also meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. law. Learn more.

  4. Adopt the Child (or Gain Legal Custody) in Tonga

    The process for finalizing the adoption (or gaining legal custody) in Tonga generally includes the following:

    • ROLE OF THE ADOPTION AUTHORITY: Prospective adoptive parents must first identify a child whom they wish to adopt. They then file an application for letters of adoption with the office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court. After reviewing the application to ensure that it is in order, the Supreme Court appoints a Guardian Ad Litem (usually a representative from Crown Law) to compile a report with recommendations on whether or not the applicants should be granted letters of adoption.

      When the Court receives the Guardian Ad Litem report, it will set a date to hear the application, which is usually done in chambers in the presence of the applicants. At that hearing, the judge will make a decision and notify the applicants (if they aren't present).

      It is customary for Tongans who wish to adopt a child to contribute to the child's maintenance between the time of the request to the biological mother and the issuance of letters of adoption. All other payments are prohibited. An affidavit of declarations about the applicants must specifically declare any payments. The sworn affidavit of declaration from prospective adoptive parents must declare any payments made towards the welfare of the child. Tongan authorities take child buying very seriously and they would like to rule out is any circumstance/instance in which the child's biological mother is paid to give her consent to the adoption of the child.
    • ROLE OF THE COURT: The Supreme court is the central authority for adoptions in Tonga. The supreme court finalizes the adoption, hands over legal custody of child to adoptive parents, issues amended birth certificate for adopted child listing adoptive parents as legal parents and issue letters of adoption signed by the chief Justice of Tonga.
    • ROLE OF ADOPTION AGENCIES: Adoption agencies and intermediaries specializing in adoption do not exist in Tonga. Many prospective adoptive parents work through church organizations in Tonga to request assistance in identifying children who might be available for adoption. In practice, most Tongan adoptions occur within the child's birth family.

      Although Tonga does not have adoption agencies, American prospective adoptive parents may still choose to work with a U.S. adoption agency to assist with the U.S. portions of the adoption process. If they do so, they should fully research any such adoption agency or facilitator. For U.S.-based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and/or the licensing office of the appropriate state government agency in the U.S. state where the agency is located or licensed.
    • TIME FRAME: Currently, the typical time frame from physically meeting the child to having an adoption order is six to eight months.
    • ADOPTION FEES: The Tongan government fee is around US$17 per child, up to a maximum of less than US$25 if adopting more than one child. Tongan attorney fees generally range between US$300 and US$400 per child.

      It is customary for Tongans who wish to adopt a child to contribute to the child's maintenance between the time of the request to the biological mother and the issuance of letters of adoption. All other payments are prohibited. An affidavit of declarations about the applicants must specifically declare any payments. The sworn affidavit of declaration from prospective adoptive parents must declare any payments made towards the welfare of the child. Tongan authorities take child buying very seriously and they would like to rule out is any circumstance/instance in which the child's biological mother is paid to give her consent to the adoption of the child.
    • DOCUMENTS REQUIRED: Prospective adopting parents must provide the following documents when submitting an application for adoption to the Tonga Supreme Court:
      • An independent home study report must be submitted by all overseas applicants for adoptions. The home study report should be conducted by their local Social Welfare agency, which must be addressed and sent directly to the Chief Justice in Tonga. It is important to note that Tongan officials are not generally familiar with the U.S. home study, which is a pre-adoption requirement of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and therefore a separate home study will be necessary to satisfy Tongan requirements. Prospective adoptive parents may, however, choose to submit a copy of their U.S. home study to the Tongan Chief Justice as supplementary information.
      • Application for adoption.
      • Evidence that the adoption is in the best interest of the child. (For example, a statement of the prospective adoptive parents' motives for adoption, proof of financial capabilities, etc.
      • Child's original birth certificate.
      • Prospective adoptive parents' marriage license (if married).
      • Prospective adoptive parents' birth certificates.
      • Prospective adoptive parents' financial information, such as bank statements, job letters, etc.
      • Death certificate(s) of birth parents of child (if deceased).
      • Consent to adoption from biological mother.
      • Sworn affidavits of applicants for letters of adoption and sworn affidavits of the child's biological parents. Prospective adoptive parents may write up their own Affidavits and get it sworn in the presence of a Commissioner of Oath or an attorney for a fee of US$3.
      • Two letters of support/recommendations from the prospective adoptive parents neighbors or friends stating the suitability of applicants for adopting.
      • Fee of US $5.00 for the application for adoption
      • Once the application is approved, the applicants have to pay a second fee of US$12.00 for the Letter of Adoption.

      NOTE: Additional documents may be requested. If you are asked to provide proof that a document from the United States is authentic, we can help. Learn how.

  5. Apply for the Child to be Found Eligible for Adoption

    After you finalize the adoption (or gain legal custody) in Tonga, the U.S Government, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) MUST determine whether the child is eligible under U.S. law to be adopted (Form I-600). Learn how.

  6. Bring Your Child Home Now that your adoption is complete (or you have obtained legal custody of the child), there are a few more steps to take before you can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for several documents for your child before he or she can travel to the United States:
    • Birth Certificate
      You will first need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child, so that you can later apply for a passport. Your name will be added to the new birth certificate.

    • Tongan Passport
      Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or Passport from Tonga.

      Current Tongan law places restrictions on the issuance of Tongan passports to Tongan children adopted by foreigners. The children may obtain Tongan passports, but only in their birth (rather than adoptive) names. It is advisable that applicants for letters of adoption that their prospective adoptive child already has a Tongan passport before the adoption order has been granted. American prospective adoptive parents do not have legal standing to apply for a Tongan passport for a minor child. The biological parent or a Tongan legal guardian must consent to the passport application. Tongan law clearly states, "The adopted person shall bear the name of and be deemed to be of the same nationality as the person to whom Letters of Adoption have been granted by the Court."

    • U.S. Immigrant Visa
      After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to apply for an U.S. visa from the United States Embassy for your child. After the adoption (or custody for purpose of adoption) is granted, visit the U.S. Embassy for final review and approval of the child's I-600 petition and to obtain a visa for the child. This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you. As part of this process, the Consular Officer must be provided the "Panel Physician's" medical report on the child if it was not provided during the provisional approval stage. Learn more.

    Once the U.S. Embassy in Suva receives evidence that the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) division has approved the prospective adoptive parents' Form I-600 (or I-600A), the Embassy will contact the parents to initiate the child's visa application process. It is then the prospective adoptive parents' responsibility to keep in touch via one of the contact methods listed above (phone, fax, e-mail, etc.).

    NOTE: The U.S. Embassy in Suva cannot issue visas on the same day. The minimum turnaround time is two working days, depending on the completeness of the application package and accompanying documentation.

Child Citizenship Act

For adoptions finalized abroad: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when he or she enters the United States as lawful permanent residents.

For adoptions finalized in the United States: The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 allows your new child to acquire American citizenship automatically when the court in the United States issues the final adoption decree.

* Please be aware that if your child did not qualify to become a citizen upon entry to the United States, it is very important that you take the steps necessary so that your child does qualify as soon as possible. Failure to obtain citizenship for your child can impact many areas of his/her life including family travel, eligibility for education and education grants, and voting.

Learn more about the Child Citizenship Act.

Traveling Abroad

Applying for Your U.S. Passport
A valid U.S. passport is required to enter and leave Tonga. Only the U.S. Department of State has the authority to grant, issue, or verify U.S. passports.

Getting or renewing a passport is easy. The Passport Application Wizard will help you determine which passport form you need, help you to complete the form online, estimate your payment, and generate the form for you to print-all in one place.

Obtaining Your Visa

In addition to a U.S. passport, you also need to obtain a visa. A visa is an official document issued by a foreign country that formally allows you to visit. Where required, visas are attached to your passport and allow you to enter a foreign nation.

To find information about obtaining a visa for Tonga, see the Department of State's Country Specific Information.

Staying Safe on Your Trip

Before you travel, it's always a good practice to investigate the local conditions, laws, political landscape, and culture of the country. The State Department is a good place to start.

The Department of State provides Country Specific Information for every country of the world about various issues, including the health conditions, crime, unusual currency or entry requirements, and any areas of instability.

Staying in Touch on Your Trip

When traveling during the adoption process, we encourage you to register your trip with the Department of State. Travel registration makes it possible to contact you if necessary. Whether there's a family emergency in the United States, or a crisis in Tonga registration assists the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in reaching you.

Registration is free and can be done online.

After Adoption

What does Tonga require of the adoptive parents after the adoption?

We strongly urge you to comply with the wish of Tonga and complete all post-adoption requirements in a timely manner. Your adoption agency may be able to help you with this process. Your cooperation will contribute to that country's history of positive experiences with American parents.

What resources are available to assist families after the adoption?

Many adoptive parents find it important to find support after the adoption. Take advantage of all the resources available to your family -- whether it's another adoptive family, a support group, an advocacy organization, or your religious or community services.

Here are some good places to start your support group search:

Note: Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.

Contact Information

U.S. Embassy in Tonga

The U.S. Embassy that has jurisdiction over the Kingdom of Tonga is located in Suva, Fiji. The Consular Section is located at:
Embassy of the United States
31 Loftus Street
P.O. Box 21
Suva, Fiji
Tel: (679) 331-4466
Fax: (679) 330-2267
Recorded Information: (679) 330-3888
Email: consularsuva@state.gov
Internet: http://suva.usembassy.gov/index.html

Tongan Adoption Authority
P. O. Box 11
Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Tel: (676) 23599

Embassy of Tonga
Embassy of the Kingdom of Tonga
250 East 51st Street,
New York, NY 10022
Tel: (917) 369-1136
Fax: (917) 369-1024

Office of Children's Issues
U.S. Department of State  
CA/OCS/CI  
SA-17, 9th Floor  
Washington, DC 20522-1709
Tel:1-888-407-4747
E-mail: AskCI@state.gov
http://adoption.state.gov

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)
For questions about immigration procedures, call the National Customer Service Center (NCSC)

1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833)