Intercountry Adoption:

Procedures Are Reasonable, but Sometimes Inefficiently Administered

NSIAD-93-83: Published: Apr 26, 1993. Publicly Released: May 12, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the requirements and procedures that prospective U.S. adoptive parents must follow to adopt a foreign child, focusing on whether: (1) the Immigration and Naturalization Service's (INS) and the Department of State's procedures were reasonable and fulfilled legislative requirements; (2) INS and State administered the procedures efficiently; and (3) adoptive parents and adoption agencies were satisfied with the quality of service they received during the adoption process.

GAO found that: (1) although the intercountry adoption process was complex and involved many state, federal, and foreign country requirements and procedures, adoptive parents were generally satisfied with intercountry adoption procedures; (2) INS and State intercountry adoption procedures were consistent with U.S. immigration law requirements and sufficiently flexible for efficient and timely adoption processing; (3) adoption processing delays resulted from procedural, administration, and communication problems; (4) federal agencies did not sufficiently coordinate or routinely provide adoption information services to parents at the beginning of the adoption process; (5) adoptive parents' difficulties in the intercountry adoption process included getting accurate information about U.S. rules and regulations, working with foreign contacts, securing visas for children, meeting eligibility requirements, and INS administrative procedures; (6) adoption agencies found problems in the quality of U.S. agency service including an inaccessibility of personnel by telephone, a lack of courtesy and sensitivity, a lack of knowledge concerning intercountry adoption laws, and untimely responses to intercountry adoption inquiries; (7) in addition to meeting U.S. adoption requirements, adoptive parents must meet varying and often inconsistent foreign country adoption requirements; and (8) U.S. ratification of the proposed international agreement establishing intercountry adoption procedures or standards would not significantly affect U.S. intercountry adoption policies.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Whereas, INS has limited control over the quality of fingerprint cards that are taken of prospective adoptive parents and forwarded to FBI for processing, it has improved its procedures for determining suitability and submission.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, INS, should establish procedures for ensuring that the adoptive parents' fingerprint cards forwarded by INS field offices to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for records check are suitable for FBI processing.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Pending its efforts to establish a direct electronic communications link with the Department of State as an only means to ensure prompt and accurate notification of orphan approvals, INS is more closely monitoring the reasons for processing delays abroad and seeking to respond more informatively to parent inquiries.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, INS, should establish administrative controls to ensure that orphan petition approval notifications are promptly and accurately transmitted to the appropriate overseas consular offices, and that petitioners are advised of processing delays.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: INS balked at assuming an expanded ombudsman role for prospective adoptive parents pursuant to establishment of a central authority under a Hague convention initiative, but it agreed to improve the content and distribution of its publications and forms as well as help the parents to better identify other sources of information.

    Recommendation: The Commissioner, INS, should coordinate federal agency development and early distribution to prospective parents of a comprehensive information package on intercountry adoption requirements, procedures, and issues that parents may face in seeking to adopt a foreign child, including laws or regulations and referral data for parents arranging for an adoption in a specific country.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of State instructed its consuls to begin processing visa applications based on the information in approval notification cables and, as required in those cases where it may adjudicate responsibility, provide INS with written notification of the reason for any withholding action.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs to instruct consular offices to rely on information in approval notification cables from INS to begin processing visa applications and scheduling parent interviews, and not require that the original orphan petition and supporting documentation be produced for visual inspection, unless the cable presents information that would call into question the validity of the approval. In those exceptional cases in which consular officers withhold issuance of immigrant visas to adoptive foreign children after receipt of orphan petition approval by INS, the consular officer should immediately notify the petitioners or agents of the withholding action and reasons for the officers' concerns.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: INS has streamlined customer access and provided other enhancements to its automated telephone system as part of an ongoing effort to improve this method of handling public inquiries on adoption.

    Recommendation: In light of the results of the surveys of adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the Commissioner, INS, should improve the automated telephone information system's responsiveness to callers with questions about intercountry adoptions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  6. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: INS has taken steps to expand its training programs for adoption regulations and issues, improve communications and coordination between INS field examiners and information officers, and remind supervisors and staff of the agency's high-level commitment to be more sensitive, courteous, and service-oriented.

    Recommendation: In light of the results of the surveys of adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the Commissioner, INS, should develop and implement programs for improving the quality of services INS personnel provide adoptive parents, including increased emphasis on courtesy, responsiveness to inquiries, and knowledge of intercountry adoption laws and procedures.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  7. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: While INS did not agree to institute a specific monitoring process to ensure courtesy and responsiveness in foreign adoption cases, the Commissioner indicated a formal commitment to these principles.

    Recommendation: In light of the results of the surveys of adoptive parents and adoption agencies, the Commissioner, INS, should institute a monitoring process to ensure that courteous, responsive, and knowledgeable service is consistently provided to adoptive parents or those who may inquire about foreign adoptions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Justice: Immigration and Naturalization Service

  8. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In a series of messages to consular officers at posts abroad and in diplomatic management seminars, the Bureau of Consular Affairs has stressed the need for quick, courteous, and responsive service to U.S. citizens seeking to adopt a foreign child.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should direct the Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs to develop and implement programs to improve overseas consular office staffs' responsiveness and courtesy in serving the needs of American adoptive parents abroad and monitor these programs to ensure that satisfactory service is provided to them.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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