Adoption Information: Ethiopia
Annual adoptions from Ethiopia by U.S. families grew steadily in the last few years until 2011, when the number fell by about 30% over the previous year. In Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, the Department of State (DOS) issued 1,732 adoption-related immigrant visas to Ethiopian children, compared to 2,511 in FY 2010.
In 2011, the Government of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs announced its intention to dramatically reduce the number of adoption cases that it would process. Ethiopia slowed down processing for a number of months after the announcement, but USCIS understands that Ethiopia has since resumed a rate of adoption case processing, similar to before the slow-down. The slow-down appears to have generated the decline in annual adoptions from Ethiopia by U.S. families in FY 2011.
Also in 2011, Ethiopian officials closed several orphanages in the Southern Nations State. A number of U.S. prospective adoptive parents were in the process of adopting children from these orphanages. Those families should communicate with their adoption service providers (ASPs) to learn about the status of their cases. The DOS will post updated information about these closures and any other developments in Ethiopia as the new information is confirmed at www.adoption.state.gov.
USCIS and Department of State Roles
Prospective adoptive parents adopting from Ethiopia have the option to file their Form I-600, Petition to Classify an Orphan as an Immediate Relative, in:
Ethiopia with DOS at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, or
In the United States at the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC).
While USCIS is responsible for the adjudication of all Form I-600 adoption petitions, USCIS has delegated limited responsibility to the DOS to process these petitions at locations, such as Ethiopia, where USCIS does not have an international field office.
As part of the adjudication, DOS completes an orphan investigation (Form I-604, Determination on Child for Adoption) and then adjudicates the Form I-600 petition. DOS has the authority to approve “clearly approvable” Form I-600 petitions, but must forward any “not clearly approvable” petitions to the USCIS international office with jurisdiction for decision.
If the DOS determines at the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa that a Form I-600 adoption petition is “not clearly approvable,” the DOS Consular Officer will forward the petition to the USCIS Field Office in Nairobi, Kenya, and notify the prospective adoptive parents that the case has been forwarded. USCIS Nairobi will notify the prospective adoptive parents when it receives the forwarded case and then again when they adjudicate the petition.
If additional evidence or information is needed during the adjudication, USCIS Nairobi will issue a Request for Evidence explaining the deficiencies and what is needed to overcome them. If the petition is ultimately approved, USCIS Nairobi will return the case to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa for immigrant visa processing. If a case cannot be approved, USCIS Nairobi will issue a Notice of Intent to Deny. If a Notice of Intent to Deny is issued, the petitioners may respond with evidence in support of their petition.
As mentioned above, prospective adoptive parents may also file their Form I-600 petition domestically at a USCIS lockbox facility which will send the application to the National Benefits Center (NBC).
If approved, the NBC will forward the petition to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa for completion of the Form I-604, orphan investigation and subsequent immigrant visa processing. If a Consular Officer uncovers information during the orphan investigation or visa interview that suggests the Form I-600 petition should not have been approved, the Consular Officer will initiate a consular return by returning that petition, case file, and explanation to the NBC. USCIS will then review the file in light of the new information and determine whether the approved Form I-600 petition should be revoked. (For questions regarding the consular return process, contact the NBC at 1-877-424-8374 or firstname.lastname@example.org .)
During FY 2011, the Consular Section in Embassy Addis Ababa began identifying an increased number of Form I-600 petitions filed in Ethiopia as “not clearly approvable,” leading prospective adoptive parents and stakeholders to question whether the DOS had changed its adjudication policies. DOS officials report that they have not changed their policy regarding processing of Form I-600 petitions; rather, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa has made a practical change to ensure that its procedures more closely adhere with DOS policy.
Before the changes, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa had sent multiple requests for additional information to the ASPs locally in Addis Ababa, giving them several chances to correct deficiencies in the cases filed. This often delayed cases awaiting responses and additional documentation from the ASPs. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa no longer affords ASPs the opportunity to correct deficiencies in cases and conforms strictly to DOS procedures worldwide: if a case has material deficiencies, rather than issuing extensive requests for more information, DOS classifies that case as “not clearly approvable” and refers it to USCIS.
USCIS Nairobi gives priority attention to intercountry adoption cases referred from DOS in Ethiopia as “not clearly approvable” and makes every effort to review the cases and inform prospective adoptive parents of their case status as quickly as possible.
In addition to sending all correspondence through regular hard-copy mail, USCIS Nairobi also seeks to communicate with prospective adoptive families by e-mail. Prospective adoptive parents seeking information about an Ethiopian adoption case that has been referred to USCIS Nairobi can contact that office by e-mail at email@example.com. USCIS requests that families allow USCIS Nairobi at least two full business weeks after receiving notice that USCIS Nairobi has received the case before requesting a status update.