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Pre-Adoption Approval

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If everything goes the way it is supposed to, you will have to deal with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service – the USCIS – (the agency that used to be called the INS and was then called the BCIS has changed its name yet again!) on only a few occasions during your international adoption odyssey. If you are unlucky or if something goes wrong with your USCIS paperwork process, you may have to deal with the USCIS more than this.
If you are very unlucky, or if something goes very wrong, you may have to call the office of your Congressional Representative for help getting your child’s paperwork processed correctly. So say your prayers, cross your fingers, knock on wood, and hope for the best when dealing with the USCIS.

The I-600A – "Application for Advancing Processing of Orphan Petition"

The I-600A is the first contact you will have with the USCIS. Here are some guidelines for completing the I-600A:
  • The person with the largest income should be the prospective petitioner.
  • Use the same person as prospective petitioner on all future USCIS documents.
  • Rules change constantly. Always check with your adoption agency about the most recent USCIS information.
  • Send your completed application by traceable means (through the U.S. post office via certified mail with return receipt requested and delivery confirmation, or via UPS or Fed Ex).
  • Get the I-600A completed as quickly as you possibly can. If there are no problems, the USCIS takes an average of 60-90 days to process this application. Just imagine how long it will take if something goes awry!
Your adoption agency may either file the I-600A on your behalf or help you to file it. To file your I-600A, you must provide your approved homestudy along with your fingerprints on USCIS Form FD-258.


Married couples (and single adopters) must submit proof that:
  • if married, at least one applicant is a U.S. citizen;
  • if unmarried, at least 25 years of age or older;
  • if married, proof of their marriage; and
  • documentation of termination (through divorce or death) of any prior marriage(s).
USCIS will then determine if you can properly care for an adopted child. Here are the documents you will need to send in along with the I-600A application:
  • Two sets of fingerprints from each prospective adoptive parent and any adults over age 18 living in the household. Use form FD-258 for your fingerprints.
  • Proof that the Prospective Petitioner is a US citizen. A birth certificate, naturalization certificate, or valid US passport will do the job. It’s okay to send photocopies.
  • Marriage certificate. Again, it’s okay to send a photocopy.
  • Divorce decree or death certificate if previously married. Photocopies are okay.
  • Certified check (plus fingerprinting fees for each adult over 18 living in the household), payable to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Remember: never mail original legal documents to the USCIS! These documents will be gone forever if the USCIS loses them. Instead, sign and include with your I-600A the USCIS form stating that the photocopies of the documents are true and unaltered. (Contact your regional USCIS office for a copy of this form.)

The I-171H – “Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition”

When the USCIS approves your I-600A, they will send you form I-171H, “Notice of Favorable Determination Concerning Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition.” You should also request that notice of this approval be sent to the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country from which you plan to adopt. In a nutshell, the I-171H states that you are approved to adopt a child from the foreign country you specified way back when you completed your I-600A.

Your I-600A petition approval remains valid for 18 months from the date of approval. You must re-file your I-600A petition if it expires (there is an “expedited” re-filing procedure available). (It’s important to note that your fingerprints will only be valid for 15 months – you will have to have your fingerprints retaken if they expire.)

A Word of Caution

Just because the USCIS approves your I-600A petition does not automatically guarantee that your petition for a specific child will be approved. Approval for a specific child depends on that child’s orphan status, as outlined in the Immigration and Nationality Act, and to some extent upon the child’s medical status. This is just one more reason to choose an experienced, reputable international adoption agency.

And what exactly does the term “orphan” mean in the Immigration and Nationality Act? Good question! According to the law, one or more of the following conditions must apply and be supported by the proper documentation:
  • Death of parents (death certificates needed)
  • Abandonment: parents have forsaken all parental rights, obligations, and claims to the child, as well as possession and control over the child
  • Desertion by both parents: parents have willfully forsaken their child and refused to carry out their parental rights; the child is a ward of a competent authority
  • Disappearance of both parents: both parents have unaccountably and inexplicably passed out of the child’s life, their whereabouts are unknown, and there is no reasonable hope of their reappearance. A reasonable effort has been made to locate them, as determined by a competent authority, in accordance with the laws of the sending country
  • Loss from both parents: involuntary severance or detachment of the child from the parents in a permanent manner, such as by natural disaster, civil unrest, or other calamitous event beyond the control of the parents, as verified by a competent authority, in accordance with the laws of the foreign sending country.
  • Separation from both parents: involuntary severance from both parents by action of a competent authority for good cause and in accordance with the laws of the foreign-sending country. The parents must have been properly notified, granted an opportunity to contest such action, been properly notified and granted an opportunity to contest such action. The termination of all parental rights and obligations must be permanent and unconditional.
An even more detailed explanation of “orphan” can be found here.

The I-600 – “Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative”

Along with the I-171H, the USCIS will send you the blue I-600 “Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative” form. You will process the I-600 once you receive a referral for a child.

To process the I-600, you will have to submit:
  • your child’s legal documents (birth certificate, statement of abandonment from his/her birth country, and social history;
  • your birth certificates;
  • your marriage certificate;
  • death certificates (if applicable);
  • divorce decrees (if applicable);
  • a copy of Form I-171H; and ·
  • a photo of your child.
Remember, do not send your child’s original legal documents to the USCIS! These irreplaceable documents will be gone forever if the USCIS loses them. Instead, send photocopies and include the USCIS form stating that the photocopies you send are true and unaltered. (Ask your regional USCIS office for a copy of this form.)

You may file your I-600 petition either in the United States with your local USCIS office or at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country in which the child resides. No matter where you file the petition, you will need to present acceptable proof of the child’s identity, such as a birth certificate, national identity card, or passport.

Next, you must present proof of the child’s orphan status. In general, such proof can consist of:
  1. Evidence that both parents have died (such as their death certificates);
  2. Evidence that a court of competent authority declared the child abandoned or severed the biological parent(s) ties by declaring the child a ward of the State; or
  3. Evidence that the child has been irrevocably relinquished to an orphanage by biological parent(s).
You must also present proof that a court of competent authority has granted you guardianship of the child or that such a court finalized your adoption of the child.

The I-864 – “Affidavit of Support”

When it’s time to bring your child home, you will need to complete USCIS Form I-864 “Affidavit of Support.” In a nutshell, Form I-864 shows that you have adequate resources to support your new child.

Through Form I-864, you show that your household (including your new adopted child) has income at or exceeding 125 percent of the national poverty level. In other words, Form I-864 demonstrates that your child won’t come to America only to end up on public assistance. This also means that if the adoption dissolves or disrupts and the child is placed in the U.S. foster care system, you will be responsible for supporting the child.

By signing Form I-864, you promise to repay any government or private agency that provides your child with means-tested public benefit such as food stamps or welfare. Here’s a tip: The “sponsor” on Form I-864 must be the same person who is the “petitioner” on Form I-171H (which should be the same person who was the prospective petitioner on the I-600A).

Along with form I-864, you will need to submit the following documents:
  • Proof of current employment or self-employment: A letter, written on company letterhead with a recent date on it, stating that you are employed by the XYZ Company and earn $XYZ dollars per year. (Yes, you had to provide the same thing for your homestudy. Now you need the same thing but with a recent date.)
  • Copies of your Federal income tax returns: Copies of your Federal income tax returns for the most recent three years (or a written explanation if you provide fewer than three years worth of tax returns), including all forms and attachments.
  • Copies of your W-2 forms for each tax return are also required.

Form I-864A

If you use income from another household member to meet the income requirements of Form I-864, then that household member must complete USCIS Form I-864A.

Free Downloads of all forms

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

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