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Ethiopia PAIR Filing Guidance for Prospective Adoptive Parents

How to Begin the PAIR Process

To help prospective parents comply with Ethiopia’s new requirement, USCIS issued a policy memorandum, effective May 31, 2013, which allows prospective adoptive parents to begin the PAIR process and file a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative. This process allows USCIS to assess the child’s eligibility for U.S. immigration benefits and make a preliminary determination before Ethiopian courts finalize the adoption ruling.

To begin the PAIR process, petitioners adopting children from Ethiopia should file the Form I-600 petition and supporting documents through the appropriate lockbox before filing an adoption case with the Ethiopian courts. Please see Filing Instructions for Form I-600 for specific filing locations.

USCIS offices overseas and the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, will continue to accept Form I-600 petitions. While prospective adoptive parents can file the Form I-600 petition abroad, there will be no benefit to doing so. Effective May 31, 2013, the U.S. government will forward petitions filed overseas to the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC), located in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, for PAIR review. The NBC conducts the PAIR review for all Form I-600 petitions filed on behalf of a child from Ethiopia.

After USCIS issues a preliminary determination of the child’s immigration eligibility (PAIR letter), prospective adoptive parents, through their Adoption Service Providers (ASPs), must include the PAIR letter when filing a case with the FFIC.

What to Include in a Form I-600 Ethiopian Adoption Petition

Prospective adoptive parents should include all available required documentation when filing a Form I-600 petition except the adoption decree or grant of legal custody, according to the Form I-600 instructions.

The following documentation must be submitted to USCIS under the PAIR process when the child’s country of origin is Ethiopia:

  1. Evidence of the match between petitioner and child such as:
  • Adoption Contract between the prospective adoptive parent and the orphanage, with a power of attorney appointing the ASP to represent the prospective parent, in cases where the contract is signed by the ASP; or
  • Adoption Contract between the prospective parent and relinquishing birth relative, in cases of a child being adopted by extended family.
  1. Evidence of child’s availability for intercountry adoption, such as:
  • Court order from a Regional, Zonal or Woreda (district) court;
  • Referral of a child to an orphanage indicating availability for adoption by Regional Bureau of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs, or a Zonal Office of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs;
  • Police report from local authorities, placing the child in the care of a licensed orphanage (in abandonment cases); or
  • Adoption Contract between prospective parent and relinquishing birth relative, in cases of a child being adopted by extended family.

In addition to the documents described above, the filing must include civil documents to support the eligibility of prospective adoptive parents, including civil documents of birth, marriage and divorce if applicable, as well as all available evidence regarding the child's orphan status.

Documents regarding the child's orphan status include:

  • Life history documents,
  • Woreda (district) and kebele (ward) documents,
  • Adoption contract, and
  • Accompanying translations.

You can also review the U.S. Embassy’s list of suggested documents for other information that can be helpful to establishing the child’s orphan status.

How to Complete Form I-600 without the Final Adoption Decree

If your final adoption decree or custody order is not yet available when you are filing your Form I-600 for PAIR review, question 11 regarding the child’s present name will generally be the same as the child’s name at birth. After the adoption decree has been entered, the office issuing final approval of the Form I-600 may annotate question 11 to reflect any changes to the child’s name. Similarly, question 18 regarding the adoption of the orphan beneficiary can be left blank and annotated by the approving office at the time of final approval of the Form I-600. 

How Parents Can Avoid Delays

Parents should read the Form I-600 petition instructions carefully and submit all required documentation with their filing, except for the adoption decree. The instructions are available on the Forms section of the website. One of the most common reasons USCIS issues a Request for Evidence (RFE), which can cause delays, is that a Form I-600 filing does not include U.S. civil documents such as proof of U.S. citizenship, marriage or divorce. By ensuring that all appropriate civil documents and other supporting documentation are included in the initial filings, you can reduce the likelihood of delays in processing.

In addition, it is very important that parents include all documents relating to the child’s orphan status as part of the initial Form I-600 filing with USCIS.

This will help avoid USCIS needing to issue an RFE for such information, which can significantly delay the process.

Limits on Submitting DVDs or Other Media in Support of Form I-600

All evidence in support of a Form I-600 petition and all responses to RFEs or Notices of Intent to Deny must be submitted to the NBC, since the NBC will be conducting the PAIR review. The NBC will electronically send relevant evidence to Embassy Addis for conducting the I-604 investigation. The ability of the NBC to receive DVDs or tapes through the lockbox and to play such media is limited.

If you have a DVD or other form of media which you would like to submit as evidence of a child’s eligibility, you may submit a transcript of the video or audio recording with your Form I-600 petition and note that the DVD or audio tape is available upon request. The Embassy may reach out to the in-country ASP to request a copy if they decide they need to review the original material during the Form I-604 investigation.

Responding to Requests for Evidence

As an applicant or petitioner, you may be represented by an attorney before USCIS; however, you are not required to retain a lawyer to respond to a RFE. USCIS anticipates that in a majority of these Ethiopian cases, the issues cited in the RFE can be corrected:

  • Through further investigation,
  • Clarification or correction of evidence, or
  • Gathering of additional evidence.

In most cases, your orphanage representatives or your ASP in Ethiopia and in the United States should be able to help you to resolve these issues.

USCIS Cannot Submit the PAIR Letter Directly to Department of State for Authentication

Unfortunately, USCIS is unable to request authentication of the PAIR letter on behalf of prospective adoptive parents. Authentication requires submission of the appropriate form and fee as detailed on the Office of Authentications website. The Department of State cannot proceed with authentication without these items. 

The PAIR letter does not need to be authenticated at the state level; as a result, authentication should not take as long as it does for documents generated by local and state authorities.    

USCIS Will Only Use USPS to Mail PAIR Letters

At this time, the USCIS National Benefits Center (NBC) will only mail PAIR letters or the results of a PAIR review via U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to prospective adoptive parents or adoption service providers (with the appropriate Privacy Act Waivers in place). The NBC follows strict protocols to ensure the individual’s privacy is protected, and email is not a secure way for us to transmit your personal or private information.

After Ethiopia’s FFIC Receives Adoption Dossier

The FFIC and MOWCYA will make their own determinations of the child’s suitability for adoption. Once that determination is made, and after receiving the adoption decree from the FFIC, U.S. adoptive parents will submit their adoption decree and all necessary documents to Embassy Addis Ababa for a final review of their Form I-600 petition and immigrant visa processing.

You may refer to for additional information about adopting from Ethiopia.

Cases Filed with the Ethiopian Federal First Instance Court (FFIC) Before Its Summer Closure

The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa is consulting with the Ethiopian MOWCYA and the FFIC to better understand how they intend to implement the new PAIR requirement, which will go into effect Sept.1, 2013. The U.S. Embassy is seeking to learn whether cases filed before the FFIC’s closing will require a PAIR letter when the FFIC reconvenes in early October. The FFIC will be closed Aug. 6, 2013, until early October 2013.

MOWCYA will be open and conducting reviews of best interest during the FFIC closure. If your case was filed with the FFIC prior to the August 6th recess, but the first FFIC hearing, which is when MOWCYA’s best interest determination is presented, is scheduled for after September 1st, MOWCYA may require a PAIR letter to issue a favorable best interest determination in such a case.

If your case is currently ready to be filed with the FFIC, you can file your case with USCIS under PAIR before filing with the FFIC. This would remove any uncertainty about whether MOWCYA will require a PAIR letter for your case. More information about in-process cases will be posted on the Department of State’s and USCIS’s websites as soon as such information is available from MOWCYA and the FFIC.

How PAIR Will Affect the Number of Trips Prospective Adoptive Parents Must Take to Ethiopia for an Adoption

PAIR should not change the number of trips required for prospective adoptive parents to complete an adoption. Prospective adoptive parents are required to appear in-person at the court hearing and immigrant visa interview. The PAIR review can be completed while the parents are in the United States, before traveling to Ethiopia. Because the Form I-604 investigation and PAIR review will be completed prior to adoption, processing of the case by Embassy Addis for final Form I-600 Petition approval and visa issuance after the adoption hearing should take less time as families will not need to wait at this stage for the Form I-604 investigation to be completed.

Length of PAIR Process

If prospective adoptive parents file the Form I-600 with all necessary documentation except the adoption decree, USCIS estimates that the PAIR review will take approximately 8-10 weeks, which includes the 3-6 weeks that it generally takes the Embassy Addis to conduct the investigation for Form I-604, Determination on Child for Adoption. According to Embassy Addis, the time it takes to conduct the investigation under PAIR does not represent an increase in current processing times. We expect that cases submitted to the NBC under PAIR will take an additional 30-45 days to process compared with cases submitted to Embassy Addis prior to the implementation of PAIR.

The U.S. and Ethiopian governments believe the benefit of ensuring that a child appears to meet the definition of an orphan under U.S. immigration law before parents finalize an adoption justifies adding a few weeks to the beginning of the process. Irregularities uncovered after the adoption or grant of legal custody is finalized can significantly delay or even prevent the immigration of a child to the U.S. In some cases, this has required parents to spend significant periods in Ethiopia, or make multiple trips while they wait to bring their adopted child to the United States.
Under the current process, adjudication of the Form I-600 petition could be significantly delayed if parents do not file all necessary documentation with the petition that shows that the child is an orphan. If the NBC requests additional evidence, parents will have 45 days to respond to such a request.

Changing the Country from which You Intend to Adopt

If you have already filed or if you still have a valid approval of a Form I-600A, Application for Advance Processing of an Orphan Petition, that specifies Ethiopia as the country from which you intend to adopt, you can request one no-fee change of country. Please visit our Change of Country page for more information.


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