Non-Convention Adoption and Visa Process

Last Updated: August 11, 2014

U.S. citizens planning to adopt from countries not party to the Hague Convention of 29 May 1993 on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (Convention) will use U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Forms I-600A (Application of Advance Processing of Orphan Petition) and I-600 (Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative).  In addition, you will need to review the country information sheet for the country from which you plan to adopt to learn about the specific steps that you will need to take to adopt, or gain custody of, a child from that country.

Children adopted from non-Convention countries must meet the Immigration and Nationality Act’s (INA) definition of an orphan in order to qualify for a U.S. visa.  The determination on permanent residence or U.S. citizenship acquisition is then made by USCIS following the family’s arrival at the U.S. port of entry.  These determinations are different from the child’s country of origin’s decision on whether the child is adoptable under their laws.

In most instances, you will need to adopt or obtain legal custody of the child in his or her country of residence before filing the immigrant visa petition (Form I-600) with USCIS.  Review the basic steps to the non-Convention visa process below.

Steps in the Non-Convention Adoption and Visa Process

Follow these steps in a non-Convention adoption before applying for a child's visa (for more information, see our How to Adopt page and the USCIS pages on non-Convention cases):

Note:  If you are adopting from a country that participates in a Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) program, there is a specific order to the adoption process that you must follow.  Currently, Ethiopia and Taiwan participate in PAIR programs with the United States.  Please review the country information sheet for instructions on procedures in these locations.

  1. Choose a U.S. Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider.  The first step is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited or approved to provide services to U.S. citizens.  The Intercountry Adoption Universal Accreditation Act of 2012 (UAA), effective July 14, 2014, extends the accreditation and approval requirements for adoption service providers (ASPs) in the Intercountry Adoption Act of 2000 to non-Convention intercountry adoptions.  Under UAA, a primary provider must be identified in each case and only accredited or approved adoption service providers may act as the primary provider in your case.  The primary adoption service provider is responsible for ensuring that all six adoption services defined at 22 CFR 96.2 are provided consistent with applicable laws and regulations.
  2. Apply to be Found Suitable and Eligible to Adopt under U.S. Immigration Requirements.  USCIS must determine your suitability and eligibility as an adoptive parent; you may file Form I-600A in advance of the adoption to establish this.  You will need to submit a home study, your fingerprints, and other documents as part of this application.  Filing the Form I-600A before you adopt abroad can help you get a head start on the intercountry adoption process.  If you do not file the Form I-600A before you complete an adoption abroad, you will still need to establish your suitability as an adoptive parent at the time you file the Form I-600 petition and provide fingerprints.  See the USCIS website for special fingerprint instructions for Forms I-600A and I-600.
  3. Adopt or Obtain Legal Custody of the Child.  Adopt or obtain legal custody of the child in his or her country of residence.  Review our country information sheets to determine the process for adoption in the country from which you are adopting.
  4. Submit a Petition for a Determination on your Child’s Eligibility for U.S. Immigration through Form I-600 with USCIS.  You will need to file Form I-600 and supporting documents with USCIS to establish that the child qualifies as an orphan under the INA.  If you did not already file Form I-600A you may submit proof of your suitability to adopt, including a home study, at this time through a concurrent filing. 
  5. If you reside in the United States, you should file with the USCIS National Benefits Center in the United States.  If you reside abroad, you may file the I-600 with a USCIS field office with responsibility for your country of residence.  Please review USCIS’ filing instructions for the Form I-600 to find the appropriate location for filing. 

    Note:  For countries with no USCIS presence, consular officers at U.S. Embassies and Consulates may only accept Form I-600s if you have an approved Form I-600A.

    REQUIRED DOCUMENTS - You must present the following documents with Form I-600:

    1. Child's original birth certificate or, if unavailable, a written explanation together with secondary evidence of identity and age (e.g. a re-issued birth certificate listing the adoptive parents);
    2. Evidence that the child either has no parents or a sole/surviving parent unable to provide proper care who has irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption;
    3. Evidence of adoption or intent to adopt.
    4. NOTE:  Any foreign language documents submitted with the Form I-600 petition must be accompanied by a full English translation, which the translator has certified as complete and correct, along with the translator's certification that he or she is competent to translate the foreign language into English.  If you file Form I-600 at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate, you must submit originals of the required documents along with the petition.  If filing in the United States, USCIS permits petitioners to submit copies of some documents; please refer to the Form I-600 instructions for rules regarding the submission of original documents.

  6. USCIS or Consular Officer in Child's Country of Residence Completes Form I-604.  The National Visa Center will notify you by letter when your case has been assigned to a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad.  The Embassy or Consulate will provide instructions on the next steps.  A USCIS or consular officer in the child's country of residence then completes Form I-604 (Determination on Child for Adoption) to ensure the child has been properly classified as an orphan as defined by INA.
  7. Schedule the Visa Interview and Submit Visa Application.  Once your Form I-600 has been approved, the Embassy or Consulate will schedule the child's visa interview.  You will need to submit the immigrant visa application (Form DS-260) online before the interview.  (Certain cases require the nonimmigrant visa application, Form DS-156, instead; check with your adoption service provider or the Embassy or Consulate.)  The Embassy or Consulate will inform you of the documents needed for the interview, which include evidence of the adoption or grant of legal custody and the results of the child's medical exam.
  8. REQUIRED FEES - Pay visa processing fees at this time.

  9. Receive your Child’s Immigrant Visa.  If no ineligibilities are found, you will receive an IR-3 or IR-4 category visa for your child.
    1. IR-3 visas are generally issued after a full and final adoption is completed abroad by both adopting parents; at least one parent physically sees the child prior to or during local adoption proceedings; and the country in which the child resides does not require re-adoption in the United States.  Children who are under 18 generally automatically acquire U.S. citizenship upon entry to the United States on IR-3 visas.  In such cases, USCIS automatically sends Certificates of Citizenship without requiring additional forms or fees.
    2. IR-4 visas are generally issued to children for whom a full and final adoption will be completed in the United States.  This classification is used when a foreign country only permits prospective adoptive parents to obtain guardianship of a child, rather than allowing a full and final adoption; and/or the prospective adoptive parent(s) have not seen and observed the child prior to the adoption process.  Children admitted to the United States on IR-4 visas become lawful permanent residents and are automatically processed to receive an Alien Registration Card ("green card").  You will need to file the N-600 Application for a Certificate of Citizenship in order to document your child as a U.S. citizen.  See our web page on the Child Citizenship Act for more information.

The INA identifies ineligibilities, or reasons that disqualify a foreign national from receiving a visa.  In some cases, a visa applicant may apply to USCIS for a waiver of ineligibility.  See the USCIS website for more information on waivers and filing Form I-601 (Application for Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility).

U.S. Law and the Definition of Orphan

USCIS and the consular officer must determine whether a child qualifies as an orphan according to U.S. law - not the law of a child's country of residence.  The INA definition includes four key elements:

  • The child must have no parents, or a sole or surviving parent who is unable to care for the child and has, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration and adoption.
  • The child must be under the age of 16 at the time a Form I-600 petition is filed on his or her behalf with USCIS or a consular officer.  A child adopted at age 16 or 17 will also qualify, provided he or she is a birth sibling of a child adopted, or who will be adopted, under the age of 16 by the same adopting parents.
  • The adopting parents must have completed a full and final adoption of the child or must have legal custody of the child for purposes of emigration and adoption in the United States.
  • The child has been or will be adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse jointly, or by an unmarried U.S. citizen at least 25 years of age, with the intent of forming a bona fide parent/child relationship.