Despite Its Popularity, Adoption and Immigration of Children from Abroad May Be Prone to Corruption and Abuse

Bet Giyorgis Church, Lalibela, Ethiopia

International adoptions have decreased in frequency recently amid allegations of fraud. Americans seeking to adopt a child have looked in increasing numbers to several nations in the “developing” world, particularly Ethiopia and China. People do so for any number of reasons, often involving a desire to give a child a better life in the United States. The immigration process for bringing a child here from abroad for the purpose of adopting the child is cumbersome but relatively straightforward. It operates in parallel with adoption procedures in family court, which happen at the state level where the adoptive parent or parents reside. With a demand for adoptions in a foreign country, according to reports, unfortunately come efforts to ensure a supply. This can lead to questionable actions on the part of foreign adoption agencies or orphanages, including outright fraud or criminal activity.

The total number of orphans adopted internationally has reportedly dropped from a 2004 global high of around 45,000 to about 25,000 in 2011, according to the Associated Press. While some countries, such as Vietnam, have seen a steep decline in the total number of foreign adoptions, other countries like Ethiopia have seen an increase. More than four thousand children left Ethiopia via adoption in 2010, according to an investigative report in the Wall Street Journal. The United States leads the world in international adoptions, accounting for one-half of the total in 2004. Many countries began imposing restrictions on adoptions to combat fraud, and the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the “Hague Convention”) guards against abuse of the system. Ethiopia is not a signatory to the Hague Convention, however, and it offered an alternative for prospective adopters who did not want to wait the multiple years required by many countries.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) prescribes two main processes for an international adoption, the Hague procedure and the non-Hague “orphan” process. USCIS defines an orphan as a child whose parents are deceased, or who has one parent who cannot support the child and has signed an irrevocable relinquishment or parental rights. The prospective parents must petition USCIS to approve adoption of an orphan. They must travel abroad to apply for a visa for the child at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If the adoption process itself is successful, they may bring the child to the U.S. and apply to adjust the child’s status. The child may also be eligible for U.S. citizenship.

As detailed by the Wall Street Journal, many of the steps outlined in USCIS’s orphan adoption procedure may be subject to manipulation or fraud by unscrupulous officials and orphanages. The Journal‘s report profiles one child whose father relinquished his rights to her, but was not informed that his relinquishment was permanent. Much of the required paperwork for Ethiopian adoption has contained irregularities, inconsistencies, and outright fabrications. Ethiopia’s government has reportedly taken steps to crack down on these problems. From the standpoint of an American adopter and their child, the concern may be that a fabrication or misrepresentation in a child’s paperwork made by someone abroad could interfere, even years later, with that child’s immigration status.

The United States immigration system can throw many roadblocks in the way of a family seeking to unite, or reunite, in America. To schedule a confidential consultation with a skilled and experienced Ohio immigration visa lawyer who can help you navigate the system, contact Gus Shihab online or at (800) 625-3404 today.

More Blog Posts

USCIS Suspends Adoptions of Children from Vietnam Without State Department Approval, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, February 14, 2012
Ohio Immigration Lawyer: New Procedure for Adoptions from Nepal, Immigration Visa Lawyer Blog, November 23, 2010
Photo credit: ‘Bet Giyorgis church, Lalibela, Ethiopia’ by Giustino [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons.