Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US? Really?

Children can be brought to the United States by US citizens for purposes of adoption, and the US government (who has to approve all these adoptions) does not provide automatic citizenship to thousands, past and present.

Adult adoptees have been deported. Others are in line to be deported.  Some have committed a crime inadvertently by voting. They have been denied scholarships and lost jobs due to the inability to pass background checks/prove US citizenship.

Citizenship prior to February 2001 was not automatic. And that is a huge injustice to these children (many of whom are now adults), an undermining of the integrity of adoption, and a slap in the face to adoptees.

How did this happen? Adoptive parents failed to follow through on citizenship. Adoption agencies did not impress families sufficiently about why proof of citizenship matters. People got bad legal advice.

Whatever the reason, the bottom line remains: the US government does not provide automatic citizenship to thousands of children brought here legally for purposes of international adoption.

Some sobering statistics: Between 1999 and 2011, approximately 220,000 children arrived to the US from other countries to be adopted. Of those, about 157,000 arrived on IR-3 visas, and about 65,000 on IR-4 visas.

That’s 65,000 internationally adopted children who do not have automatic citizenship, and that’s only since 1999.

Of the 65,000 above, who arrived here on an IR-4 visa, about 40% are from two of the main countries of origin for adopted children. About 8,600 came from Ethiopia and over 18,000 from South Korea. South Korea has been sending children to the US for 50 years: hundreds of thousands of children.

Adoptive parents: If your child came here on an IR-4 visa, s/he must be readopted before s/he turns 18. US citizenship is not automatically granted to them.

If your child came here on an IR-3, after the Child Citizenship Act of 2000, protect that Certificate of Citizenship. It’s incredibly important and valuable, and not to be taken for granted at all.

Hold on carefully and protectively to all adoption-related documents.

The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 provides US citizenship to children who arrive here in the US with IR-3 visas after February 2001, with various paperwork and fees. Children who arrive here (as international adoptees) on an IR-4 visa have different hoops to go through. Information is available here. I wrote about this in additional detail here.

14 thoughts on “Citizenship Isn’t Automatic for Internationally Adopted Children to the US? Really?

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  4. I am delighted (but saddened) to find your site. We have two boys. The youngest was adopted in 2004 and was given citizenship papers at the immigration desk at the airport.
    The older one was adopted in August of 2001. The law had passed that made him a citizen upon adoption. At the immigration desk at the airport he was NOT given a citizenship certificate because, though the law had passed, there were not yet procedures to process him. He was given a green card.
    His green card has expired. I spoke with agents at ICE before it expired. We kept being sent to a supervisor. In the end, I was told to let it expire since he is a citizen.
    Now what? Lawyers have quoted us $6000 to get him his papers. We don’t have it. He is 16. Will he be able to vote? Join the service? Is he deportable?
    Any thoughts, suggestions or advice would be welcome.

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    • i wrote about my son who is both legally a citizen and also has an expired green card. that was 6 years ago. We have never resolved the issue. He keeps his passport current as proof of citizenship and he has chosen not to vote, just in case.

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  11. Yes, it is, Jeff, but it’s gotten caught up in the larger immigration legislative tumult. I’m not sure it’s exactly retroactive amnesty so much as retroactive citizenship, which would essentially create the same effect. There are some petitions, and working groups of adoptees and adoptive parents. It’s very frustrating to me (and others) that the process has taken so much time and energy: US citizenship for internationally adopted children should be a slam dunk.

    Thanks for your comment and question. I’ll be posting again on this, and certainly will do so when we have some news.

  12. I was fortunate that my mother had me naturalized when I was about fifteen years old, I came from Vietnam when I was two. Thanks for sharing this important information. Is retroactive amnesty being considered for international adoptees?

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