Currently in the United States, there are many U.S. citizens who have gotten their citizenship rights through international adoption. International adoption is the process whereby a U.S. citizen petitions on behalf of a foster child in another country to come to the United States and live here lawfully with their adopted parents. Looking at international adoption, it is a much less common procedure for parents versus domestic U.S. based adoption, and the numbers show.

The Pew Research Center estimates that in 2016, Americans adopted around 5,370 children from other countries (the peak year in the 21st century was 2004, when Americans adopted nearly 23,000 foreign adoptees). However, this number is actually small compared to U.S. based domestic adoptions. For example, in 2015, U.S. citizens adopted 53,000 U.S. born children through public agencies.[1]

Given the disparity in these statistics, it definitely shows that international adoption is generally a more complicated procedure given the fact that you have to go through immigration. It also implies that international adoption might be more risky because if you are adopting a foreign child from another country, you might be wondering if they will confer permanent residence once reaching the United States or if they will ever become a U.S. citizen.

In this blog, we will break down some of the issues of international adoptees applying for U.S. citizenship as well as permanent residence in the U.S.

Green Card Status

Only certain classes of international adoptees become green card holders (lawful permanent residents). Children who come to the United States and have their adoptions finalized in the United States as either members of the Hague Convention or not will become green card holders as long as they are admitted before their 18th birthday.[2]

However, some children will automatically confer U.S. citizenship if the child was brought to the United States under the age of 14 and was admitted with an IR-3 or IH-3 visa. The IR-3 and IH-3 visas refer to visas granted to children whose adoption process was completed abroad, before they entered the United States.[3]

One of the main issues with international adoption is that parents generally have an easier time completing the adoption process once their child is in the United States, meaning the child will become a U.S. green card holder, but not a U.S. citizen.

Why Does This Matter?

The laws for international adoption, as mentioned above with the different classifications of visas, essentially confer citizenship status to some but only green card status to others. If children who become green card holders aren’t familiar with the USCIS or U.S. immigration, they might forgo becoming citizens much of their adult lives. In other words they will continue to live in the U.S. as non-citizens.

The situation is also complicated if international adoptees who are brought to the U.S. after their 18th birthday, which is a cutoff date that was enacted by the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.[4]

The issue means that years later a college student could apply for financial aid only to be denied, or could get a DUI and be barred from ever becoming a U.S. citizen, or wouldn’t be allowed to vote in a decisive election. It is also risky if children are not educated about immigration matters and continue to live in the U.S. with an expired green card. Overall, international adoptees should have significant resources dedicated to them to make sure they will be remain eligible for naturalization through the N-400 application.

U.S. CitizenN-400 application