Foreign Affairs:

Agencies Have Improved the Intercountry Adoption Process, but Further Enhancements Are Needed

GAO-06-133: Published: Oct 21, 2005. Publicly Released: Oct 21, 2005.

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U.S. intercountry adoptions nearly tripled from more than 8,000 to more than 22,000 between fiscal years 1994 and 2004. While the Department of State (State) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) manage the process, factors ranging from corruption to inadequate legal frameworks in foreign countries could lead to abuses such as the abduction of children. GAO (1) describes the U.S. intercountry adoption process, (2) assesses the U.S. government's efforts to manage the intercountry adoption process, (3) assesses U.S. efforts to strengthen safeguards and mitigate against the potential for fraudulent adoptions, and (4) describes the Hague Convention (Convention) and the statuses of U.S. and top sending countries' implementation of the Convention.

Adoptive parents must meet domestic and foreign government requirements to complete intercountry adoptions. However, factors such as foreign governments' procedures may contribute to varying time frames for adoptions. USCIS and State are the domestic agencies responsible for intercountry adoptions. USCIS and State made efforts to enhance the process by improving interagency coordination and communication with parents and developing additional guidance on adoptions. In addition, USCIS streamlined the intercountry adoption process by eliminating the application and fees for parents to obtain U.S. citizenship certificates for eligible children. While USCIS has taken measures to review the quality of the adoptions process, GAO found that the agency does not have a formal quality assurance program in place where results are summarized and reported to senior agency officials so that an assessment of the quality of the intercountry adoption process can be made over time. Factors in foreign countries' environments may allow for abuses in adoptions. To reduce the likelihood of such abuses, USCIS and State have taken such steps as holding diplomatic discussions with foreign governments and imposing additional U.S. procedural requirements. However, USCIS has not established a formal and systematic process for documenting specific incidents of problems in foreign countries. Such a process would allow for a systematic approach to analyze problematic trends and retain institutional knowledge. The Hague Convention governing intercountry adoptions establishes minimum standards designed to help alleviate some of the risk associated with the adoption process. The United States has signed the Convention and taken several steps toward implementing the Convention; however, key steps remain, including formal ratification of the Convention. Since its creation, 66 countries (which represented about 39 percent of all U.S. intercountry adoptions in fiscal year 2004) have ratified the Convention.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In October 2005, GAO reported (Foreign Affairs: Agencies Have Improved the Intercountry Adoption Process, but Further Enhancements Are Needed)that the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) did not have a formal quality assurance program in place where results were summarized and formally reported to senior agency officials. GAO recommended that in order for USCIS to improve the management of the intercountry adoption process, USCIS formalize its quality assurance mechanisms so it can assess the quality of the intercountry adoption process over time, ensure that senior officials from USCIS and State are aware of the outcomes of the process and identify opportunities where additional training or guidance may be needed. As result of the recommendation, in June 2006, USCIS developed a Quality Assurance System to track irregularities or errors in the orphan petition processing. During this process each application packet is reviewed and errors are documented. This process now allows USCIS to identify the case, the error found, and the office to which the issue must be addressed. A monthly report of the errors is developed and forwarded to officials at USCIS headquarters, International Operations Division to identify appropriate follow up action. USCIS officials reported in June 2007 that this process allows them to identify weak spots in the adoption process and provide training and guidance where necessary and reduce the overall rate of errors in the process.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the U.S. intercountry adoption process, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work with the Director of USCIS to formalize its quality assurance mechanisms so that the agency can assess the quality of the intercountry adoption process over time, ensure that senior officials from USCIS and State are aware of the outcomes of the quality assurance process, and identify opportunities where additional training or guidance may be warranted.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: USCIS notified us that it addressed the recommendation through the implementation of centralized adjudications under the Hague Adoption Convention process and the country-specific fraud summaries prepared by the Department of State. First, through the process of the Hague Adoption Convention, which the United States is party to, USCIS centralized all adjudications of intercountry adoptions under the Hague Convention as of April 1, 2008. All Hague Adoption Convention applications and petitions from U.S citizen prospective adoptive parents are now adjudicated at the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC). According to USCIS, the centralization of Hague adoption adjudication provides for central retention of information gathered during the adjudication process. Adjudicators at the NBC are able to develop expertise in certain regions of the world, including knowledge of local trends, documents and potential fraud issues pertaining to certain countries or individuals. The NBC and USCIS headquarters are working together to develop and compile country specific information, and have the capacity to catalog such country-specific and issue-specific information for on-going and future analysis. In addition, USCIS continues to receive fraud summaries from the Department of State. These summaries contain country specific information regarding fraud patterns discovered within the intercountry adoption process. This information is shared with appropriate USCIS offices adjudicating orphan petitions and will be forwarded to the NBC when relevant to the adoption process in a Hague Convention country.

    Recommendation: To improve the management of the U.S. intercountry adoption process, the Secretary of Homeland Security should work with the Director of USCIS to consider establishing a formal and systematic approach to document specific incidents of problems in intercountry adoptions that it has identified in foreign countries to retain institutional knowledge and analyze trends of individuals or organizations involved in improper activities.

    Agency Affected: Department of Homeland Security

 

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