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Click here for current U. S. Department of State requirements for adoption from South Korea.
The adoption of Korean children by American, Canadian, western European, and Australian parents started with a tragedy - the tragedy of the Korean War. The war left behind thousands of children without families, some born of American fathers, some entirely Korean. In the Confucian tradition which governs so much of Korean life, enormous importance is placed upon an individual's family line, which derives completely from the birthfather. To adopt a child from another family was simply not accepted, leaving these children without families and little hope of ever having one.
With the Korean war 50 years behind us, finding families for orphans of war is no longer the primary objective of Korean adoption practice.  Although Korean children are still placed because they have been orphaned, it is far more common for birth parents to place their children in adoption because they are unmarried, or due to financial need or family hardship.  This is causing the Korean adoption community to seriously review acceptable circumstances for intercountry adoption by non-Korean parents, and to place more emphasis on increasing domestic adoption in Korea.  Hopefully, Korean government officials will also work toward improving the social services that would eliminate the need for parents to place children solely out of financial need.
Korean adoption is also experiencing the general progression toward more openness in relationships between adoptees and their birth families.  Successful reunions are taking place more frequently, including reunions of children and their adoptive families with birth families.  This is leading to open relationships between adoptees, their birth parents and siblings, extended families, along with their adoptive families.
Legal Requirements
In 1953 the Refugee Relief Act, which granted 4,000 visas for the the purpose of adopting children from foreign countries, especially Korea, was passed. Other governments responded similarly, and soon Korean children were arriving to new families in the United States, Canada, western Europe and Australia. The Refugee Relief Act limited families to the adoption of two foreign-born children, but in spite of this restriction only 600 visas remained in 1956. As the visas ran out, many sought other means to adopt Korean children. Harry and Bertha Holt, the founders of Holt International, successfully adopted eight Korean children under a personal bill signed in 1955 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. With the adoption of their children, the Holts began a mission which continues throughout the world today and which has largely defined the Korean adoption process.
By January 1957 the Refugee Relief Act and its extensions had expired. The international adoption process remained cumbersome, with legislative intervention often required. Finally, in the late 1950s the Orphan Eligibility Clause of the Immigration and Nationality Act was enacted. It defined a child's eligibility to enter the United States for adoption by an American family and remains in effect today.
Today in the United States, the adoption of children from foreign countries must conform to the laws of three jurisdictions: the country of the child's birth; United States Federal code; and the laws of the State of residence of the adoptive parents. United States law is governed by the Immigration and Nationality Act and its amendments. Children must meet INS's definition of orphan eligibility, and adoptive parents must meet INS requirements as well.
The Child Citizenship Act of 2000 grants automatic U.S. citizenship to for children adopted from other countries who meet the following circumstances:
  • Have at least one American citizen parent by birth or naturalization;
  • Be under 18 years of age;
  • Live in the legal and physical custody of the American citizen parent;
  • Be admitted as an immigrant for lawful permanent residence; and
  • If the child is adopted, the adoption must be full and final.

It is extremely important for adoptive parents to ensure that their children's U.S. citizenship is finalized as soon as possible to avoid situations that could lead to deportation in later years.  Details about adoptive parent responsibilities in this area can be found at the U.S. State Department website for the Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

An adoption must also meet the requirements of the laws of the placing country. These may include age and marital restrictions, residency requirements, and requirements to finalize the adoption in the foreign country. The laws of the state of residence of the adoptive parents must also be met for the adoption to be finalized. These usually include completion an approved homestudy and post-placement interviews by a licensed clinical social worker.

For an overview of the process of adopting from Korea, see the U.S. Department of State Intercountry Adoption Site for South Korea. It includes an overview of U.S. and Korean laws, and the names and addresses of the U.S. agencies which place children from Korea and the four Korean agencies with which they are affiliated.


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