United States Citizenship and Immigration Services recognizes adopted children as those who have been adopted according to the laws of his or her home country, or the U.S. state of the adopting U.S. citizen parents. If you are a married couple, only one parent must be a U.S. citizen in order for your adopted child to qualify as an immediate relative. If you are a single parent, you must be at least 25 years old. For immigration reasons, the adoption must have been finalized before the child reached the age of 16. Some exceptions apply; for example, you may adopt a child between the ages of 16 and 18 if you are in the process of adopting or have already adopted the child’s younger natural sibling (meaning they share at least one biological parent). As a full-fledged U.S. citizen, your adopted child still falls under the category of immediate relative. This means that once your visa petition is approved, there will be no waiting period since Congress has placed no limitations on the amount of immediate relatives who may enter the country each year. However, you must meet two strict circumstances before your child is eligible for a green card.
First, you must have had legal custody of your adopted child for at least two years before you may file an immigrant petition as that child’s sponsor. Second, your adopted child must have lived with you for at least two years before you file the petition. Both of these conditions must be met, whether simultaneously or not. Your adopted child may have lived with you for a while before the adoption was finalized, but you must still wait a full two years after receiving full legal custody. This means that one or both of the adopting parents will probably need to live in the foreign country with the child in order to fulfill these requirements.
There is a possibility that the child you want to adopt is already living in the United States, and if this is the case, you will probably need to seek the advice of an immigration lawyer. USCIS still has the authority to deport a child who is staying in the U.S. without a visa or other permission. Luckily, a child under 18 cannot accrue “unlawful presence,” so you will not have to worry about the child being barred from reentry if you take them for a visa interview at a U.S. consulate overseas. If the child’s presence is indeed illegal, you have the ability to request legal custody. However, the child’s presence is still illegal, and after you meet the aforementioned conditions for adopted children you will need to take the child to a U.S. consulate abroad. On the other hand, if the child entered the U.S. legally but has stayed too long, you can file your visa petition and adjustment of status without having to visit a U.S. consulate office abroad. Be careful though—this doesn’t give you free license to adopt a child in another country and then gain some type of temporary visa with the intent of completing the process in the United States. USCIS could view this as visa fraud and ruin any chance of the child ever immigrating.
If you filed Forms I-800A and I-800 in order to adopt, then your child is from a country that follows the Hague Adoption Convention. In this case, the child’s birth parent(s) or legal guardian must give written consent to end their legal relationship with the child and gives permission for the child to be adopted and immigrate. This means your child will enter the United States either with an IH-3 immigrant visa (if you adopted your child in their country of origin) or IH-4 immigrant visa (if you finalize the adoption in the U.S.). If you filed Forms I-600A or I-600, then your child’s home country does not follow the Hague Adoption Convention. Your child will enter the United States either with an IR-3 immigrant visa (adoption finalized in a non-Hague country and you saw your child prior to or during the adoption process) or an IR-4 immigrant visa (if you finalize the adoption in the U.S.) Be completely familiar with the adoption laws of your child’s country of origin. Some restrictions may prevent your child from immigrating, so you need to be aware of this before you begin the process.
If neither of the above are true, then your first step is to submit form I-130 (Petition for Alien Relative.). This document establishes the relationship between you and your adopted child and confirms that you have legal custody. Along with your visa petition you need to include Form G-325, which is the child’s biographical information. The child will need to sign this form. As is the case with any document that requires the child’s signature, if they are too young, you can sign the forms for them (write “by [your name], the child’s [mother/father]”). You will also need documents proving your U.S. citizenship, the adoption decree that shows you adopted the child before they turned 16, documents proving you have had legal custody for two years, documents that prove the child has lived with you for at least two years, the child’s birth certificate (which should show you, the adoptive parent, as mother or father by reason of adoption decree), documents that show your marital status, and finally the filing fee, which is currently $420. You will need photocopies of all of these items—never send a USCIS office your original copies or you run the risk of losing them forever.
If your adopted child is living overseas, the next step will be for you to aid the child in applying for their immigrant visa at the U.S. consulate serving the country where they currently reside. They will then go through consular processing and soon be living legally with you in the United States. If your adopted child is currently living in the U.S., your child will need to file for adjustment of status if they are eligible. In this case you would file for adjustment of status at the same time you file your I-130. If the child has been living in the U.S. illegally, they are not eligible to file adjustment of status and you will need to speak with an immigration attorney.
Once your adopted child receives their green card and is living in legal custody with you in the U.S., they may qualify for automatic citizenship. To qualify, one of the parents must be a full-fledged U.S. citizen, the adoption must have been finalized, the child must be in possession of a green card, and all these conditions must be met while the child is still under the age of 18. If these requirements are fulfilled, USCIS should send your child a certificate of citizenship within six weeks after they obtain their green card. As long as you are able to prove that your adoption is legal and finalized and that you meet the requirements for them to immigrate, you will want to begin your I-130 as soon as possible. Be sure to explore our website to discover the benefits of our services to help you complete form I-130.
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