China Adoption Paper Chase

For more than a decade parents in the U.S. have been jumping through hoops of paper work and requirements to adopt a baby girl child from China. Most of these parents are hard working middle-class people who have a place in their hearts and in their homes for a parentless little girl from China.

As you know parents in China can only legally have one child if they live in a city, and all prefer a male child so that when the parents get too old to work the male child will support them. (A Chinese Custom) It is like their social security. So when you can only have one child, girls are not wanted and now are sent to orphanages. It is expensive to adopt a baby girl from China. China has many fees and it can cost you up to $20,000 for all the fees and the trip to China and the required tour of the country. Most government offices you deal with i n China will require fees, and all fees must be paid in “new, unfolded,” U.S. 20-dollar bills. When my brother went to China to adopt his little girl, Morgan, he had to pack the “new, unfolded” U.S. currency in sandwich bags and put them in carry-on luggage. It looked like he was headed for a dope deal.

Each family must jump through hoops of paperwork from the INS and the Chinese. The INS ( U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service) require a home study report, fingerprints at a state office given at just one date and time no other, certified birth certificates, criminal background checks, and other paper work plus you pay $400 to the INS to process the documents. There has been an 18-month cut off deadline for the INS document (1-171H Notice of Action) needed by the parents. You must do everything in the 18-months period or start over.

The problem is the INS is taking 6 to 8 months to process the paper work. That does not leave enough time to file with the Chinese, go to China, tour the country as required, and get back to the US before the 18-month deadline runs out. Parents say it sometimes takes two-years. Many parents have done everything necessary and are ready to go to China to get their new daughter, but the Chinese say your 18-month document may run out before you can get back to the U.S, so the Chinese have told the parents they should get an extension to be safe. But the INS will not issue an extension, and have told the parents they must start all over again for another document that has an 18-month deadline. They are told they have to pay a second time, but this time the fee has been raised to $750 from the $400. They must get new fingerprints, a new home study report, and do all the paper work again and then wait another 6 to 8 months for the INS to process the documents. One parent was forced to wear cornhusker’s lotion for three days to meet a requirement. It sounds like a rip off to me!


If you were listening to my Troubleshooter Talk Show last Saturday (3/2/02) on KRLA 870 am in Los Angeles or on the Internet about the problems with the Chinese Adoptions I told you a representative of the INS Media Office in Washington would be on the show to talk with adoptive parents from across the country. He was on the show for the last :30 seconds because he called at the very end of the show. His name is Bill Strassberger and he apologized saying he was confused by the difference in time on the West Coast vs. Washington, DC. Mr. Strassberger told the worried parents there was nothing to worry about and the problem was with the slowness of the Chinese in processing the paperwork, and not with the INS.

He said the Chinese Adoption Program was working well and was a jewel of all the adoption programs around the world that INS had connections with. He said “the INS had no plans for extensions” to the 18-Month deadline. He said the INS had nothing to do with the increases in costs for such things as home study programs, fingerprints and criminal background checks. Mr. Strassberger said the INS had only increased its feel by about $60. He said no family has been stranded in China with a newly adopted child who could not get a visa to return to the USA. Mr. Strassberger said the parents should do their paperwork with the Chinese first because it was the Chinese who were slow, and then start their paperwork with the INS that has the 18-month deadline.

All the parents said he did not know what he was talking about since you cannot start any paperwork with the Chinese until you have your INS forms approved. The parents said it was the INS that was taking 6 to 8 months to do the paperwork. Most parents told me they do not trust the INS so they are going to have to start all over again because their INS paperwork will run out before they get to China or when they are there. Also parents point out that if it appears you will not meet the INS 18-month deadline the Chinese will not give you the OK to travel to China.

Bottom Line the INS’ official word out of Washington, DC is “we see no problem.”

I asked parents who are involved to e-mail me about the problems they are having. Remember these are hard working loving parents who are just trying to adopt a Chinese little girl who happens to be a throwaway in her country.

Here are the letters; some of the letters have been edited for space. These e-mails came in the Week of February 25, 2002.

I am writing to you at the request about many prospective adoptive parents’ efforts to gain an extension from the INS for the validity of the I-171H form. I sincerely hope you can help us!

A quick overview:
The I-171H Notice of Action is issued after the approval of the I-600A form (Application for Advanced Processing of an Orphan Petition). This takes a few months. These INS forms ensure we will be able to get a US visa for our daughter in China at the US Embassy so we can bring her home. The I-171H is good for 18 months. At the moment, China is very backlogged with dossiers, as China has become an increasingly popular country from which to adopt.

This backlog has created a lengthier wait time for referrals–currently, the wait time is about 13 months. Once a prospective parent receives the referral, the wait time from referral to travel is 4 to 8 weeks. We will spend about 2 weeks in China adopting our daughter. Many parents are facing the expiration of their I-171H this spring.

The big problem with this is that if the I-171H expires, we have to redo all the paperwork and repay all the fees, even if nothing has changed with our original situation. Fees that must be repaid:

  • 1. The ordering of new marriage licenses, divorce decrees (if applicable), birth certificates,
  • 2. INS fee of 405.00 (fee to be increased soon–even though the amount of workers who handle adoption paperwork has been decreased. For example, here in IL, we used to have two INS workers handling adoptions, now there is only one)
  • 3. FBI fingerprinting–25.00 per person in household over 18
  • 4. Home study update/redo–fees vary. My Social Worker is very kind and won’t charge us for this service. However, some people are paying anywhere from 300.00 to 1300.00 to redo the home study, even if nothing has changed since their last home study was done. All of this must be done before travel to China.

Along with others, I have been involved in letter writing to senators and the INS to no avail. I have written to my two senators here in IL–received a form letter from one, and no reply from the other. I have written every senator on the Congressional Coalition for Adoption, including Diane Feinstein (member) and Ted Kennedy (chair). I sent my letters to their home offices to ensure receipt (anthrax problems at D.C. offices) There have been no replies. The INS did reply, but don’t appear to be willing to extend the time frame.

If the INS will not extend the time frame, I wish they would at LEAST develop an efficient extension process to eliminate the cumbersome and time consuming redoing-paper chase, and to reduce/eliminate the fees that we have already paid once and should not have to pay again. —- Sincerely, Therese

Dear Mr. McIlvain,
Following is the story of my experiences with the Charlotte, North Carolina Immigration and Naturalization Office.

In obtaining a visa for an adoption from China, my husband and I federal expressed the required I-600-A form to the Charlotte, NC INS in early May of 2000. We waited a month to hear by mail that our application had been received, and instead a month after it’s receipt, we were notified that a translation of my husband’s Austrian birth certificate was required. We immediately Fed-Exed the translation, and waited several more weeks.

Our application was finally acknowledged as received on June 28, 2000 by the Charlotte INS. We were sent a letter instructing us to show up for a fingerprinting on July 12, 2000 in the City-County Bureau of Identification (CCBI) in Raleigh. In order to make that appointment we had to jump through several hoops. According to the letter we’d received from the INS, it was either show up on our designated day, or request to be rescheduled by checking a box on the letter and returning the fingerprinting letter.

There is no way for an adoptive parent to phone or otherwise contact the Charlotte INS office in order to check on the status of, or the arrival of their application. So you wait by the mailbox.

My husband, a tenured professor of economics at Duke University, was teaching at a weeklong conference in Philadelphia at the time. We went through the effort of scheduling a quick round trip flight for him to come home for the fingerprinting, then return to his already in progress conference.

The next step with the INS is to mail in your home study. Then you just wait again by the mailbox until the INS notifies you that your application has been approved.

Given our projections, and the fact that it took us 5 months to complete the INS process the first time, my husband and I decided to send in the application for our new I-171-H in September. It was acknowledged as received by the INS on October 2, 2001, and we received fingerprinting dates for November 14, 2001. We were again printed in Raleigh on November 14, 2001. A new home study was required, so we set up the appointments to meet with our social worker. We were also required to do the following for the home study all over again: new criminal background checks at the county courthouse, new complete medical examinations and letters of recommendation for adoption from our physician, new employment statements, and new copies of the past three years of our tax returns. That completed for the second time. We federal expressed our updated home study to the INS on Dec. 16, 2001. Then we waited

Our agent emailed the contact in the Charlotte INS office, and was told my fingerprints had been unreadable, and I would need to be re-fingerprinted. It had been 4 months since my fingerprinting, and 2 months since they’d received our home study, and I had not been notified.

The letter arrived on Feb. 19. I am still shocked and grateful to God, the senator’s aid, and my agent that it did. I have forgotten to mention that I had been instructed by my agent to wear Cornhuskers Lotion for 72 hours previous to the printing. I have probably omitted it because I am blocking out the experience–the stuff is gross and I was instructed to not wash my hands. The Cornhuskers Lotion was recommended for re-fingerprinting to my agent during the Charlotte INS meeting.

On Friday, Feb. 22, I walked into the Raleigh CCBI, following 72 hours of wearing the Cornhuskers Lotion, and was printed for the third time for the same adoption. My hands were shaking, and I felt like my feet were not even touching the ground. I was numb. I could not believe this was required of me. I have been saddened, angry, tired, frustrated, and desperately wanting to know why on Earth the United States of America would willingly throw so many road blocks in the way of truly good act. There is a little girl in China who desperately needs a home, and I desperately want to parent, and am willing to do whatever it takes to save that one child’s life, and make her my own.

I am sorry this is so long. I don’t know which facts you’ll need or use, but I want you to be well armed. Please email me if any of this is unclear or with questions. What date are you planning to air this topic? I know many people who will want to be listening. — Sincerely, Stacy

Hi —
If you’re looking for folks with adoption stories involving expiring INS papers…
We’re in the process of adopting. Our 171H expires Sept 16, 2002. We’ll probably go to China around the first of Sept. or so, but that’s no guarantee. So, our agency is telling us that to be precautionary and avoid potential delays we might should apply for another at $750! How much sense does that make? — jan r

Hi, Boy do we have a story. But I don’t want to take the time to write it out until I know you are really requesting the story. My husband and I reside in Durham, North Carolina, and we have had to go through the process twice, both times with intervention from our agency and Senator Edward’s office, and are STILL awaiting paperwork, all for ONE adoption. It is truly a nightmare. I am so glad you may have an interest in airing this to the world. — Stacy, Durham, North Carolina

Another letter:
For those of us getting nervous about the possibility of our 171 H forms expiring before our adoption is completed, I think that it is important to take proactive action regarding the expiration. I am in favor of writing letters to our Senators and Congressmen (heck, write President Bush too!) appealing to them to extend the time-line of these important forms. It took me 6 months to receive mine from the Memphis INS office, and I doubt it would be any faster a second time around. Bob Crawford has an example letter on his website ( and it has some great points.
Just thinking out loud, but being proactive is better than worrying and not doing anything about it. —– Marilyn

Another Letter:
The CHINA adoptions are taking much longer than had previously expected. The families are paying outrageous fees for everything, in order to bring these little girls home. We spend not only money, but time to file paperwork ONCE, much less TWICE, and the fee of over $400 is a LOT to start with, I cannot see asking the adoptive parents to pay this fee TWICE. Please support lengthening the time to at LEAST 24 months, if not longer. At the present time, referrals are coming 13 months from the time papers fly over to China (our common name is a DTC date), but most families take an average of 6 to 8 months to “collect” paperwork. The INS expiration starts when the INS approves the I-600, not when the DTC (papers fly over to China) and sit for 13 months. Please support these adoptive families! —- Kay

These are just a few of the dozens of e-mails I received from parents caught up in this paper chase mess as they tried to do what is right.

Date of this report 2/28/02

An e-mail commenting on the INS official who was on the show for the last :30-seconds because he said he was confused by the Pacific Standard Time and Washington, DC time. Judd 3/8/2002

Subj: Re: trouble with the INS/I171-H From: HI
Either explanation wouldn’t surprise me; the INS representative either lacked the courage to be on the show or really lives in his own world where the rest of the country doesn’t exist. There is so much more to this issue than he was letting on. I just picked up another email this morning by someone else who is having trouble with the INS. I see several of these a day! I copied it below for you.

She is referring to the procedure required if fingerprints are rejected twice. I was also told that I would have to go through this procedure if my fingerprints are rejected again. Makes you wonder how they catch criminals. Stacy in North Carolina
Subject: Fingerprints Denied – Question – NY
Hi all,
Today , I got the letter that my fingerprints taken at the INS field office in Westchester County NY were ‘unclassifiable’ by the FBI and I have to go back and have them taken again. Now I am sure I am not the first person to have to do this! Ahhh! 🙁

The confusing thing: On the letter it says that if fingerprints are denied two times (this is my first) follow ‘instruction’ and return this document with clearance from local police stations from where I lived for the past 5 years plus a notarized document of no arrests etc and return these to the INS district office in NYC. Does anyone know if this means I have to get this info *before* my fingerprints are rejected a second time or only *if* they are rejected a second time?? I really hope it is only *if* but I have no idea why they’d be enclosing these documents and instructions if I wasn’t supposed to do it now, before I even go back to try for number 2?

Anyone with any info? Please let me know.
Bummed out about this — as well as being upset like everyone
Laura BZ, *still* paperchasing in NY