The manner in which children may enter or gain status in the United States through adoption varies widely. Adoption is very complex, since the adoption must comply both with the law of the child’s country, and the laws of the United States.
Since 2008, most international adoptions are governed by the Hague Convention. The United States is a party to the Hague Convention, and it entered into force in the United States on August 1, 2008. Every adoption finalized after that date must comply with the Hague Convention, provided the child is from a country which is also a party to the Convention. The Convention provides a number of safeguards to ensure that the child to be adopted is not a victim of trafficking or other illegal practices. Over 80 countries are parties to the Hague Convention.
If a child is not from a country that is a party to the Hague Convention, then there are two different options for adoption:
(1) the child has lived with the adoptive parent for two years, and two years have passed since the adoption decree was entered, or
(2) the Immigration Service determines that the child is an orphan, and the adoptive parents meet certain requirements.
If a U.S. citizen marries a foreign national, and that foreign national already has children, the U.S. citizen may be able to petition for both the spouse and the children – no adoption necessary. If the U.S. citizen and the child’s parents were married prior to the child’s 18th birthday, the child is considered a step-child of the U.S. citizen, under immigration law. The U.S. citizen will not usually have to adopt the child to establish a step-relationship.