Fortunately for me, I didn't really realize just how confusing it all was until it was all behind us. Although it is behind us now, it bears explanation for those of you that haven't yet been through it or for those of you that wish to gain some sense of what we (and many other families) have been through (or are still going through).
The first thing you need to know about Readoption is that it's not entirely clear what it is or how to go about it. The second thing you should know is that you may (or may not) be required by law to do it. Readoption happens here in the US and it happens at the state level, so procedures (although hopefully not results!) vary from state to state. Your agency should help to guide you through.
The basics of Readoption are that it involves more paperwork, of course, and culminates in an actual court appearance (for many of us the first and only of the entire multi-year adventure). In a nutshell, Readoption is the process of a US Court confirming that any decisions made in a foreign court were valid and appropriate. Shockingly, there are some states that do not recognize foreign adoptions so your child could be denied legal rights without the readoption. What kind of legal rights? These range from inheritance issues to "you don't want to know".
Here's the problem: although the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 was supposed to clear everything up and streamline the process of how and when your child becomes a US Citizen, it does not seem to have done a very thorough job (on the other hand, prior to the CCA, things must have been even uglier, so I'm sure it was a great improvement). If you read through the information here (copied from the US Department of State website) it all seems very helpful:
On February 27, 2001, the Child Citizenship Act of 2000 becomes effective. The aim of this law, which, among other things, amends Section 320 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), is to facilitate the automatic acquisition of U.S. citizenship for both biological and adopted children of U.S. citizens who are born abroad and who do not acquire U.S. citizenship at birth. We are pleased to note that, because of this law, U.S. citizenship will be conferred automatically upon thousands of children currently in the United States.
The following are the Act's requirements:
- At least one parent of the child is a U.S. citizen, either by birth or naturalization.
- The child is under the age of 18.
- The child must be residing in the United States in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent after having been lawfully admitted into this country as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence.
- If the child has been adopted, the adoption must be final."
"Does my child qualify for automatic citizenship under the CCA?
Under the CCA, your child will automatically acquire U.S. citizenship on the date that all of the following requirements are satisfied:
- At least one parent is a U.S. citizen,
- The child is under 18 years of age,
- If the child is adopted, a full and final adoption of the child, and
- The child is admitted to the United States as an immigrant."
The problem lies with that bit about the adoption being "final". Unfortunately, a consistent definition of "final" regarding the adoption process is left up to the interpretation of the reader. So is the adoption "final" when a foreign court decides it is or when a US Court puts its blessing on the procedure via the process of Readoption? It depends on who you ask - even the people that really should know don't provide consistent answers. The US Department of State seems to acknowledge that an Adoption Decree is all that's needed for the adoption to be final and they don't seem to be picky about whether that comes from a court here or there yet not every government employee agrees on that.
If all of that isn't unsettling enough, you may be surprised to learn that once the Readoption is completed and the question of citizenship should no longer be an issue (if it ever were to begin with), your child is still listed as holding an immigrant Visa with USCIS. Awesome!
Even after the Readoption is complete you have no proof of your child's citizenship other than a state-issued court document until you either order an optional Certificate of Citizenship (by filling out yet another form and shelling out $420, learn more about that here) or until a birth certificate arrives (and that that can take another year or more!!) or until you get a US Passport for your child - probably the fastest and easiest option. Only one of these options - the most expensive one, natch, actually results in USCIS changing the status of your child's citizenship in their databases. I'll be posting more on all of this shortly...
There is one shining light in this entire process: the court appearance. Surprising, I know, but if you're fortunate enough to require this particular court appearance, know that unlike many court appearances that you can imagine or may experience in your lifetime, this one is truly special. Our judge was warm and kind and truly seemed to enjoy his work. It was a joyful experience for our family and one that we will always treasure. For us, it was the perfect end to a wonderful beginning.