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International Adoption and Immigration Remains Popular, but May Hide the Risk of Abuse and Fraud

'Blue Nile Falls Ethiopia' by Jialiang Gao (Original Photograph) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (], via Wikimedia CommonsAlthough allegations of fraud and abuse have caused a decline in international adoptions worldwide, they remain popular for prospective adopters in the United States. While some countries have taken steps to prevent fraud and have seen the number of international adoptions decrease, other countries have apparently risen in popularity because they present fewer restrictions. This can lead, in some cases, to corruption and fraud, and the risk that a false statement made by someone filing paperwork abroad could eventually hurt the adopted child in some future immigration application or petition.

The United States became subject to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the “Hague Convention”) in 2008. It establishes transparency procedures and safeguards to protect children in adoptions between countries. The U.S. State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) deal with petitions for international adoptions. In addition to the family court procedures in a prospective adopter’s state of residence, USCIS requires a series of steps in order to obtain approval for an international adoption. It has one procedure for adoptions conducted under the Hague Convention, and another for non-Hague “orphan” adoptions. The State Department handles petitions for visas, filed at an embassy or consulate abroad, to legally bring the child to the U.S. Once the child has a visa and arrives in the U.S., the adoptive parents may adjust the child’s status to permanent residence, and the child may eventually be eligible for citizenship.

The total number of international adoptions has plummeted worldwide, according to the Associated Press, from a 2004 high of 45,000 to around 25,000 last year. The United States tends to account for about one half of the world’s international adoptions. Countries that have ratified the Hague Convention have instituted policies and procedures to ensure that Hague rules are followed, and that children’s best interests are protected. For many of these countries, prospective adopters may face a waiting period of years before receiving approval to adopt a child.

The Wall Street Journal recently ran a report on irregularities in adoptions of children from Ethiopia, which has not ratified the Hague Convention. Although the Ethiopian government is reportedly now taking steps to prevent fraud, reports indicate that many adoptions to the United States feature fraud and misrepresentations. In some cases, a child’s one remaining parent would give the child up for adoption, often simply to give the child an opportunity for a better life, but sometimes in exchange for compensation by intermediaries employed by adoption agencies or orphanages. Some parents allegedly did not know that they were permanently relinquishing rights to their children. Paperwork for some children failed to disclose serious health problems. Ethiopia has closed down several highly problematic orphanages in recent years, according to the Wall Street Journal, but problems continue to affect many adoptions. A major concern, particularly for the adopted children themselves, is that a false statement or error made by someone abroad, such as failure to disclose a health condition, could adversely impact the child, even years in the future.

The New York immigration lawyers at Samuel C. Berger, P.C. help immigrants seeking visas to come to, or remain in, the United States. Contact us today online or at (212) 380-8117 to schedule a consultation with one of our skilled attorneys.

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Photo credit: ‘Blue Nile Falls, Ethiopia’ By Jialiang Gao (Original Photograph) [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons.