As Angie and I have previously reported on the Ethiopia blog, an increasing number of parents adopting from Ethiopia have received notices that their children’s cases are “not clearly approvable”. In these cases, the US Embassy did not have enough evidence to determine these children met the US definition of orphan, as part of the investigation for the I-600, with 100 percent certainty. These cases were then forwarded to the USCIS office in Nairobi for futher investigation. This increase in case transfers was a the result in the change of processing. Previously, Embassy staff would request additional documentation if needed. Now, cases requiring additional evidence must be transferred to USCIS first.
With the sudden increase in these cases, USCIS recently sent a team of officers to Ethiopia to work on adjudicating them. The team was able to approve more than half of the “not clearly approvable” cases they had received. Only one case, so far, was denied. The rest required more evidence or are still under review. After the additional USCIS staff departed Ethiopia, USCIS has begun utilizing additional resources in the Rome district office to process some of the affected cases in a timely manner.
In the coming weeks, USCIS and the Department of State will announce an update on how they will process any new cases identified by the US Embassy as “not clearly approvable”.
To approve an I-600, USCIS officers must complete an investigation and Form I-604 to prove a child meets the US definition of orphan, which can be found on the USCIS website. The Form I-604 requires proof of age, identity, and orphanhood. According to Form I-604, proof of orphanhood means that the following criteria must be met for approval:
- Documents or a competant authority must confirm that the child has no parents and provide proof that the orphan was abandoned or deserted by, separated or lost from, or that both parents have disappeared; or
- ”The intended child has a sole/surviving parent who, in writing, irrevocably released the child for emigration to the United States and for adoption and the surviving parent is incapable of providing proper care for the child according to the standards of the foreign sending country.”
In developing countries like Ethiopia, obtaining documents that prove identity, age, and orphanhood can often require an extensive investigation. When transportation and communication channels are unpredictable, conducting these additional investigations proves time-consuming. While they are necessary, the children waiting to be adopted remain in orphanages longer.