You have a passion for El Salvador and visit the country frequently. Lately, you have been considering adopting a child from the country that has a special place in your heart. However, you are unsure of how to adopt from El Salvador.
With regards to international adoption, El Salvador is a party to the Hague Adoption Convention. This means that you need to follow this process in order to adopt:
- Choose a U.S. accredited/approved adoption service provider.
- Be found suitable and eligible to adopt
- Apply to the El Salvadoran authorities and have a child referred to you
- Apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services for your child to be considered eligible to immigrate
- Adopt the child
- Get a U.S. immigration visa for your child.
The entire process can cost you anywhere between $20,000 – $50,000 so be sure that you have enough funds set aside to pay for the adoption. Also, you will be required to travel to El Salvador.
El Salvador places a priority on the adoption of children who have special needs (for example, heart murmurs, missing limbs, cleft palate or HIV/AIDs) therefore you need to be aware that any child referred to you will most probably be one who needs specific medical attention and care. Also, the authorities in El Salvador prefer to keep siblings together if possible.
Bear that in mind when you are contemplating intercountry adoption from El Salvador.
Let’s look at the adoption process in more detail.
International Adoption Process from EL Salvador
With El Salvador being a party to the Hague Adoption Convention, the adoption process has to follow particular steps. It is important that these are followed in order so as not to cause a delay in the process or a failure to have your adoptee classified as an immigrant.
Here are the steps broken down for you.
1. Choose a U.S. accredited/approved adoption service provider
The first part in the process is to hire an adoption service provider that is accredited/approved within the U.S. as well as being legally recognised by El Salvador’s Central Authority to operate within El Salvador. This service will act as your primary provider and will be responsible for the following:
- Making sure that these services are provided with the appropriate law and regulations:
- Identifying a child for adoption and arranging an adoption;
- Securing the necessary consent to termination of parental rights and to adoption;
- Performing a background study on a child or a home study on a prospective adoptive parent(s), and reporting on such a study;
- Making non-judicial determinations of the best interests of a child and the appropriateness of an adoptive placement for the child;
- Monitoring a case after a child has been placed with prospective adoptive parent(s) until final adoption; or
- When necessary because of a disruption before final adoption, assuming custody and providing (including facilitating the provision of) childcare or any other social service pending an alternative placement.
- Supervising and having responsibility for those providers under its supervision and ensuring that these providers adhere to all legal requirements.
- Creating and carrying out a service plan consistent with the Code of Federal Regulation (CFR) See 22 CFR 96.44 for more information.
Under the Hague Adoption Convention, you must use a primary provider for your adoption.
Once you have chosen an appropriate service provider, it’s time to move to the next stage in the process.
2. Adoption suitability and eligibility.
The second part in the international adoption process, after selecting a primary provider, is for you to apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to be found suitable and eligible to adopt. You will have to meet the legal requirements of both the US and El Salvador.
To apply for eligibility you have to complete an “Application for Determination of Suitability to Adopt a Child from a Convention Country” (Form I-800A).
You will also have to provide fingerprints and go through a background check. In addition, a home study will be done to make sure that the environment the adoptee is going to live in is suitable. The main focus with any adoption is that of the child’s rights and his/her best interests.
Though the U.S. does not discriminate against persons, there are three laws that a prospective parent needs to comply with if they want to adopt:
- U.S. Federal Law
- The laws of the country that the child is being adopted from
- The laws of your state in the U.S.
Even though the U.S. does not prohibit adoptions based on one’s age, sex, race, or religion, you have to be aware that some countries do have laws that will not allow adoptions to certain individuals. For example, those who are in a same-sex relationship. It pays to do your research and ask questions to your adoption service provider if you have any eligibility or suitability concerns.
Once you have the green light from the USCIS and you have been classified as eligible to adopt, it’s time to move forward to the next square in this game!
3. Apply to the authorities in El Salvador and have a child referred to you
Your primary provider, as part of their responsibility, will provide the El Salvadorian authorities with notice of your U.S. adoption eligibility, the results of your home study and anything else that is legally required. The El Salvador adoption authority will look at your case and make a decision as to whether you are suitable and eligible to adopt under El Salvador’s laws.
If you are found to be eligible to adopt under both U.S. and El Salvador laws, then the El Salvador Central Authority for Convention adoptions will refer a child to you based on the information you have provided and the child’s needs. You will be supplied with background information on the child and you can make a decision to adopt the child or not.
There are strict criteria under the Hague Convention regarding a child’s eligibility for adoption. All the following has to be true in the child’s case for him or her to be classified as an adoptee:
- At the time of filing Form I-800 on behalf of the child, he or she is under the age of 16 or is under 18-years old and is a sibling of a child (under 16-years of age) who has been or will be adopted by the prospective parents.
- The child will be adopted by a married U.S. citizen and spouse or an unmarried U.S. citizen who is at least 25-years old. In either situation, the prospective parent(s) have to have been found eligible and suitable to adopt by the USCIS.
- The child is considered eligible to adopt under the laws of the child’s country of origin and has been matched with prospective adoptive parents, yet the adoption is still yet to take place and the prospective parents haven’t adopted or gained custody of the child.
- Written and irrevocable consent has been given by the child’s natural parent(s), legal guardians (which can be an individual or an entity) in which any legal relationship between the parents or guardians is officially ended and allowing the child to leave the country.
- If the consent was signed by the child’s biological parents, they have to provide evidence supporting their claim of being unable to care for the child
Don’t forget that every decision is based on the child’s best interests. If you feel that you can not provide the child with the care and love that they need, then don’t hesitate in declining a referral. When it comes to adoption, El Salvador places a priority on children with special needs. Prospective adoptive parents must satisfy the El Salvadorian authorities that they are able to care for such children.
Another focus for El Salvador, when it comes to adoptions, is a desire to keep biological siblings together if possible.
When you accept a referral, your adoption service provider will let the El Salvador Central Authority know of your decision. Then it’s time to proceed to the next step in the international adoption process.
4. Apply to the USCIS for your adoptee to be considered eligible to immigrate
You have been matched with a child and everyone is happy. Yet the process isn’t over yet! Now you need to apply to the USCIS to have your adoptee considered provisionally eligible to immigrate to the U.S.
Complete Form I-800 which is the Petition to Classify Convention Adoptee as an Immediate Relative. The USCIS will look at your case and consider whether the child you have can be classed as a Convention adoptee and therefore eligible to enter the U.S.
Once you have provisional approval of Form I-800, your primary provider will contact the consular section of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador which is in charge of issuing immigrant visas to children from El Salvador.
You will be sent a letter from the National Visa Center acknowledging they have received your Form I-800 petition and you will be issued a case number as well as an invoice ID number. You can use these numbers to log into the Consular Electronic Application Center and submit an Electronic Immigrant Visa Application (Form DS-260) for your adoptee.
Consular staff will review your provisionally approved Form I-800 and your visa application. If there is any reason your child is considered ineligible for a visa, the consular officer can inform you of any waiver options available.
The consular officer will then send and Article 5 Letter to El Salvador’s Central Authority in any intercountry adoption situation between U.S. adoptive parents and an adoptee from El Salvador. This letter informs El Salvador’s central authority that the U.S. has found that the prospective parent(s) eligible to adopt, the adoptee is permitted to enter the U.S. and live there and that the U.S. Central Authority has allowed the adoption to continue.
With four steps now under your belt, the excitement is almost palpable! But it’s not party time yet. There are still two more stages in the process to go.
5. Adopt the child
Now it’s time to officially adopt the child in El Salvador. There are three parties that are involved in this process:
- El Salvador’s Central Authority
- The Court
- The Adoption Service Provider
Let’s look at how each one is involved in finalizing your adoption.
El Salvador’s Central Authority
The Central Authority in El Salvador is the Oficina Para Adopciones (OPA). who will assess your adoption application and all documents related to the case making sure that everything meets El Salvador’s legal requirements.
The OPA will also look at the home study that was carried out by your adoption service provider in the U.S. Once the OPA is satisfied with everything they will declare that the parents are fit to adopt.
Another role of the OPA is that of matching the child with prospective parents. This part of the process can take the longest time and it’s advised to stay in contact with the OPA either through email, phone or visiting their office.
Once the prospective parents have received approval from the OPA they must present the request to the Salvadoran Family Court. The Judge will issue a decree that can be used by the adoptive parents to obtain a new birth certificate and passport for the adoptee under the new surname. This process can take anywhere between 72 hours to 14 days.
The Family Court is also responsible for legally ensuring that any parental rights are renounced, yet this usually cannot occur until the child has been successfully matched with prospective parents.
It’s important to understand that the adoption is not finalized until it has been approved by the Family Court.
The Adoption Service Provider
The adoption service provider is responsible for making sure that a home study is done and that the appropriate documentation supporting the adoption is provided to the El Salvadoran authorities.
Also, as the primary provider, they need to have a legal representative in El Salvador who is in regular communication with the U.S.Embassy’s Consular Section to ensure that the process adhering to the Hague Adoption Convention.
So now, with the first five steps of the process tucked neatly away it’s time to complete the adoption with the final stage. This is the most exciting part and the one you and your adoptee have been waiting for!
6. Get a U.S. immigration visa for the child
Your adoptee cannot lawfully enter the U.S. yet. For this you need three documents:
The adoptee’s birth certificate
When you have received the final decree from the Family Court that finalizes the adoption, you need to obtain a birth certificate for the child. This is done by the Public Registry of the city or village that the child resides in.
The Public Registry will cancel the original birth certificate and issue a new one that contains the child’s new name. Applications need to be directed to Alcaldia Municipal de Registro Civil (name of city or village).
When you have the new birth certificate, you need to present it to the OPA for post-adoption follow up purposes.
The adoptee’s passport
The authority responsible for issuing your adoptee a passport is the Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria (DGME). Adoptive parents need to supply the DGME with the final adoption decree and the child’s new birth certificate in order to obtain a passport.
You can do this at the appropriate DGME office
Obtain a U.S. immigrant visa.
Now you have a new birth certificate and a passport for your adoptee, you can apply for a U.S. immigrant visa. This is done through the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador. You can email the Embassy to ask about how to set up a visa application appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org
Visit the embassy for a final review of the adoption case, issuance of either a Hague Adoption Certificate or Hague Custody Certificate (if necessary), final approval of your Form I-800 and to receive the immigration visa for your child. Once you have this, your child is legally allowed to enter the U.S. As part of the visa application process you have to supply the consular officer with the Panel Physician’s medical report concerning the child if you did not submit during the Form I-800 provisional approval stage.
Before going to the embassy for your adoptee’s visa interview you need to complete an Electronic Immigrant Visa Application (DS-260) through the CEAC. To log in to this site use the case number and invoice ID supplied to you from the letter you received from the NAC in your Form I-800 petition. Fill out the forms in your child’s name. Write N/A in any area that is not applicable to your situation, then print out the completed form and confirmation page to bring with you when you attend the visa interview.
Once you have immigrant visa approval for your child, then it’s time for you to arrange to bring the child home. Party time!!
How much does this entire process cost?
The Cost of International Adoption from El Salvador
When it comes to international adoption the cost typically ranges between $20,000 – $50,000 and is dependent on the service provider you choose, whether you have to travel to the adoptee’s country as part of the adoption process requirements and if you have to stay in that country for a period of time. Here are some of the costs involved in adopting from El Salvador:
- Salvadoran Attorney’s Fee – Typically $3,000–$10,000
- Medical Exam for the Child – Costs generally may run between $450–$600 (includes vaccinations for all children; includes x-rays for children between 14–16)
- U.S. Immigrant Visa – $325.00
- Birth Certificate – Typically between $3.50–$5.00
- Salvadoran passport fee – $25.00
- Photos for U.S. Immigrant Visa – $5.00 (for two photos)
(Source: U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs)
The Salvadoran Central Authority doesn’t charge for its administration services.
Please ask your adoption service provider for an itemized list of the costs and fees involved in your adoption.
Are there any restrictions on who can adopt from El Salvador?
When adopting from El Salvador there are certain requirements concerning who is legally permitted to adopt. These are:
- Prospective adoptive parents currently living in El Salvador must reside with the adoptee for at least one year before the finalization of the adoption. The adoptive parents have to be legally recognised by the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Children and Adolescents as the child’s foster parent(s) or guardian(s) before the start of the cohabitation. Prospective parents that reside outside of El Salvador are exempted from this one-year living arrangement.
- Adoptive parents need to be older than 25-years old or, if they have been married for at least three years prior to the adoption, then they need to be older than 18-years of age. Prospective parents need to be at least 15 years older than the adoptee but no more than 45 years older.
- Adoptive parents need to have been either married or in a recognised civil union for at least three years.
- Individual or joint adoptions are allowed. However, in regards to joint adoptions, these can only be approved if the couple consists of a man and woman who have maintained their birth gender (i.e. have not undergone “gender reassignment”)
Prior to starting your international adoption journey in El Salvador, make sure that you meet the above requirements. We don’t want any heart-aches due to you not meeting the basic conditions on who can adopt.
How long does the adoption process take?
With international adoption from El Salvador, it can take the Family Court three to six months to finalize the adoption. Then there is the time it takes to process the new birth certificate as well as the initial home study.
As mentioned, for those prospective parents currently residing in El Salvador there is a con-habitation requirement in which the parents and child live together for one year (this requirement is waived for adoptive parents living outside of El Salvador).
The time frame for the finalization of the adoption can vary from case to case but it usually can take between two to four years for the entire process to be completed.
So, hang in there and take comfort in knowing that, eventually, you’ll be taking your adoptee home.