Entering the U.S. With Your Adopted Child

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Your child‘s immigrant visa is a very valuable document – it’s her key to getting into the United States. Once you receive your child’s visa, be sure to keep it in a safe place – know where it physically is at all times. And for goodness sake do not put it in your checked baggage! You will need to have your child’s visa available for inspection by airline authorities when you check in at the airport. (The flight attendants on the plane may ask to see it, too.) The airline people aren’t trying to be annoying. They just need to verify that your child has the proper documentation to enter the United States, and they are also trying to prevent child abduction. That said, airline personnel must not tamper with the visa in any way and they must return it to you intact and unopened – insist on it!

The same rule goes for you, too: Do not open the visa or detach the cover page! (Immigration officials in the U.S. will be more than a little cranky if you do this – and who needs that after a flight home that goes halfway around the world and seems to last for several days!)

The visa package must be presented, completely intact, to the USCIS when you enter America. You must take your child through immigration procedures at the first airport you arrive at in the United States, even if that airport is not your final destination.

To go through immigration in the U.S. with your new child, you can use either the line for U.S. citizens or the line for non-U.S. citizens. Once you reach the front of the line, an immigration inspector will ask to see your passport, your child’s passport, and your child’s visa. The inspector will take the visa packet and return your child’s passport with a stamp in it indicating that your child has been admitted to the U.S. as an immigrant. The visa packet will not be returned to you. (It’s okay – you can let go of it now!)

You’ll be asked to go to the USCIS office in the airport (it’s usually just a few steps from where you pass through immigration control). Don’t worry, this is painless – one of the easiest steps in the whole adoption saga. In the USCIS office you may have to wait a bit, but eventually your child’s name will be called. (Here’s a handy tip: listen for your child’s birth name, not the new name you’re giving him). The USCIS officer will ask you a few questions and take a photo of your child for his “green card.” (The USCIS officer will probably congratulate you on your adoption and compliment your child, too). And that’s it – you’re on your way and one step closer to home!

Your child’s Alien Registration Card, popularly known as the “green card,” will be mailed to you automatically in a few weeks from a central USCIS processing facility. The green card (which is not green at all -- it’s actually beige), has your child’s photograph on it and formally establishes that your child has legal permanent residence status in the U.S. And because of the U.S. Child Citizenship Act (which became law in February 2001), any orphan adopted by an American citizen who enters the U.S. holding an IR-3 visa automatically becomes a U.S. citizen and no longer needs to file for naturalization with the USCIS. (However, you may still want to re-adopt your child in the U.S. or apply for a Certificate of Citizenship for your child.

Credits: Excerpted from "International Adoption Guidebook," Mary M. Strickert, 2004

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