People who are unable to have children, or who wish to adopt for other reasons, face great difficulties in finding U.S. born children to adopt. U.S. adoption agencies have experienced a steady decline in the number of children available for adoption. Americans are increasingly turning to international adoptions, from countries such as China, Russia, Romania, Korea and Ecuador.

However, there are also difficulties and uncertainties in adopting children from abroad. Adoptive parents may find international adoptions to be time-consuming and difficult in dealing with foreign bureaucracies and legal systems. Additionally, children adopted overseas are much more likely to carry tuberculosis than children born in the U.S. Many children adopted from Russia suffer from fetal alcohol syndrome. Adopted children from China are generally much healthier than those from other countries.

Law and government policies on adoption vary from country to country. For example, in 1992, China enacted an adoption law which centralized foreign adoptions and eliminated a lot of the confusion and corruption which existed at the local level. China effected a national adoption policy which treated all foreigners, regardless of their ethnic background or connection to China, the same as its own nationals. All U.S. citizens, single or married, who are more than 35 years old and childless are eligible to adopt a child with no pre-existing medical conditions.

In Korea, the adoption law acts to protect the interests of the child. To adopt a child from Korea, a couple must have been married for at least three years, and be between the ages of 25 and 44, although there are certain exceptions. Under Korean law, an abandoned child can only be adopted six months after a child has been registered with the Korean Children’s Fund (KCF), which maintains a list of all abandoned and missing children in order to help parents who are trying to find them. Adoption of children over 18 months old must be delayed for 12 months after registration with KCF.

Adoptions of children from Russia have increased in the past three years. The Ministry of Education has general oversight of foreign adoptions. The local court with jurisdiction over the child’s residence has authority to approve the individual adoption.

Certain other countries, however, have very restrictive laws on adoption or do not provide for adoption at all. Some countries which follow Islamic law, such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, do not permit adoptions. In Israel, adoptions are strictly controlled by the Ministry of Social Welfare and the District Courts, and few children are available for adoption by foreigners.

In 1993, the Hague Conference on Private International Law proposed a multilateral treaty to protect the rights of internationally adopted children, called the Convention on Protection of Children and Cooperation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption. It received unanimous approval from all national delegations, including the United States. It aimed to do the following: 1) ensure that an international adoption occurs only if it is in the child’s best interest; 2) establish a system of cooperation among nations to ensure their agreements are upheld, as well as to end the sale of children; and 3) ensure the recognition of intercountry adoptions which conform to the requirements of the Hague Convention. The United States became a signatory to the Hague Convention on July 4, 1993. However, the treaty has not been introduced into the Senate for ratification.

Under United States immigration law, in order to obtain immigration benefits for an adopted child, the petitioning parent must be a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident. However, only U.S. citizen parents can petition for an orphan.

Parents petitioning for an adopted child must show that they adopted the child while the child was under the age of 16. They must also show that they have had legal custody of the adopted child for two years and that the child has been residing with them for two years. 

The advantage of an orphan petition is that a U.S. citizen can bring a child into the U.S. immediately. There is no requirement that the child have lived with the parent for two years, and there is no requirement of two years of legal custody. However, in an orphan adoption, once the child is brought into the United States, the adoptive parents must comply with local state adoption rules and submit a home study before the orphan petition can be approved.