How to Adopt from El Salvador

Collage of San Salvador.

WARNING: El Salvador is party to the Hague Adoption Convention. Do not adopt or obtain legal custody of a child in El Salvador before a U.S. consular officer issues an “Article 5 Letter” in the case. Read on for more information.

Adoption Authority

Salvadoran Adoption Authority

El Salvador has officially designated two entities as its Central Adoption Authority: the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR or Public Defender’s Office) and the Instituto Salvadoreño para el Desarrollo Integral de la Niñez y Adolescencia (ISNA or Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Children and Adolescents). The Oficina Para Adopciones (Office of Adoptions, or OPA) is the office within the PGR that coordinates and oversees adoptions in El Salvador. Other Salvadoran governmental bodies are also involved in the adoption process. These include the Family Courts, the National Council for Children and Adolescents (CONNA) and the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA).

The Process

Because El Salvador is party to The Hague Adoption Convention, adopting from El Salvador must follow a specific process designed to meet the Convention’s requirements. A brief summary of the Convention adoption process is given below. You must complete these steps in the following order so that your adoption meets all necessary legal requirements. Adoptions completed out of order may not confer immigration benefits on the adopted child (i.e. it is possible the child would not qualify for an immigrant visa if adopted out of order).

  1. Choose a U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider
  2. Apply to USCIS to be found eligible to adopt
  3. Be matched with a child by authorities in El Salvador
  4. Apply to USCIS for the child to be found eligible for immigration to the United States and receive U.S. agreement to proceed with the adoption
  5. Adopt the child in El Salvador
  6. Obtain a U.S. immigrant visa for your child and bring your child home

1. Choose a U.S. Accredited or Approved Adoption Service Provider

The recommended first step in adopting a child from El Salvador is to select an adoption service provider in the United States that has been accredited or approved to provide services to U.S. citizens in Convention cases. Only accredited or approved adoption services providers may provide adoption services between the United States and El Salvador. The U.S. accredited or approved adoption service provider will act as the primary provider in your case. The primary adoption service provider is responsible for ensuring that all adoption services in the case are done in accordance with the Hague Adoption Convention and U.S. laws and regulations. Learn more about Agency Accreditation.

In addition, the adoption service provider must also be authorized by El Salvador’s designated Central Authority for Adoptions, OPA. Prospective adoptive parents interested in adopting from El Salvador should contact OPA for up-to-date information prior to initiating a new adoption process. The following U.S. Hague-accredited adoption service providers have been authorized to provide services in El Salvador: The Open Door Adoption Agency, America World Adoptions, All Blessings/Kentucky Adoption Services, Villa Hope, Inc., Christian Adoption Services, Inc., Adoption Hope International, Inc., Madison Adoption Associates, and Illien Adoptions International, Inc. Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services.

2. Apply to USCIS to be Found Eligible to Adopt

After you choose an accredited or approved adoption service provider, you must apply to be found eligible to adopt by the responsible U.S. government agency, the Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), by submitting Form I-800A. Read more about Eligibility Requirements.

Once USCIS determines that you are eligible and suited to adopt by approving the Form I-800A, your adoption service provider will provide your approval notice, home study, and any other required information to the adoption authority in El Salvador as part of your adoption dossier. El Salvador’s adoption authority will review your application to determine whether you are also eligible to adopt under El Salvador’s law.

3. Be Matched with a Child by in El Salvador

If both the United States and El Salvador determine that you are eligible to adopt, and the central authority for Convention adoptions has determined that a child is available for adoption and that intercountry adoption is in that child’s best interests, the central authority for Convention adoptions in El Salvador may provide you with a referral for a child. The referral is a proposed match between you and a specific child based on a review of your dossier and the needs of a specific child in El Salvador. The adoption authority in El Salvador will provide a background study and other information, if available, about the child to help you decide whether to accept the referral or not. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs and provide a permanent home for a particular child. If you accept the referral, the adoption service provider communicates that to the adoption authority in El Salvador. Learn more about this critical decision.

The Supreme Court of El Salvador prohibits granting of guardianships to prospective adoptive parents for the purpose of allowing children to leave El Salvador for subsequent adoption abroad. ISNA investigates the circumstances of an orphaned or neglected child’s family and seeks to find a close relative who may be willing to care for the child. Once satisfied that intercountry adoption is in the child’s best interest, ISNA determines which prospective adoptive parents are suitable matches for the child. OPA is responsible for coordinating with ISNA when a child is matched with prospective adoptive parents.

4.Apply to USCIS for the Child to be Found Eligible for Immigration to the United States and Receive U.S. Agreement to Proceed with the Adoption

After you accept a match with a child, you will apply to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for provisional approval for the child to immigrate to the United States (Form I-800). USCIS will make a provisional determination as to whether the child meets the definition of a Convention Adoptee and will be eligible to enter the United States and reside permanently as an immigrant.

After provisional approval of Form I-800, your adoption service provider or you will submit a visa application to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador that is responsible for issuing immigrant visas to children from El Salvador. A consular officer will review the Form I-800 and the visa application for possible visa ineligibilities and advise you of options for the waiver of any noted ineligibilities.

WARNING: The consular officer will send a letter (referred to as an “Article 5 Letter”) to the Salvadoran Central Authority in any intercountry adoption involving U.S. citizen parents and a child from El Salvador where all Convention requirements are met and the consular officer determines that the child appears eligible to immigrate to the United States. This letter will inform the Salvadoran’s Central Authority that the parents are eligible and suited to adopt, that all indications are that the child may enter and reside permanently in the United States, and that the U.S. Central Authority agrees that the adoption may proceed.

Do not attempt to adopt or obtain custody of a child in El Salvador before a U.S. consular officer issues the Article 5 Letter in any adoption case.

Remember: The consular officer will make a final decision about a child’s eligibility for an immigrant visa later in the adoption process.

5. Adopt a Child in El Salvador

The process for finalizing the adoption (or gaining legal custody) in El Salvador generally includes the following:

  • Role of Adoption Authority: OPA will review the adoption documents to ensure they are complete. Due to the complexity of the Salvadoran adoption process, the authority may not inform prospective adoptive parents in a timely manner that their case has missing, incomplete, or incorrect documentation. This can cause additional delays.

  • Role of the Court: The Salvadoran family court will issue a final adoption decree that adoptive parents will need to obtain the child’s new birth certificate and passport with the child’s new surname. The time to obtain new civil documents varies in different parts of the country and can take anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks depending on the judge. The court is also responsible for the legal relinquishment or revocation of parental rights; and in some cases, this does not occur until after the child has been matched with a family for adoption. This is one of the lengthiest and most complex steps in the Salvadoran adoption process.

  • Role of the Adoption Agencies: The adoption service provider is responsible for ensuring that home studies are completed and for assisting prospective adoptive parents with providing required documentation to the Salvadoran government, including the family court judges. The adoption service provider should also regularly communicate with the U.S. Embassy’s Consular Section to ensure consistency with the Hague process.

  • Time Frame: Salvadoran adoption procedures can take 18 to 36 months to complete, but have often taken much longer. This does not include the time necessary for the U.S. Embassy to complete its own investigation, as required by immigration regulations. Because adoption fraud in El Salvador has taken a variety of forms, an investigation of each adoption is necessary to ensure that the child is an orphan, as defined by U.S. immigration law, and that the birth mother is aware that the child is being adopted irrevocably and will be taken from the country.

  • Adoption Application: Filing an adoption application can be done by visiting OPA in San Salvador or by sending a legal representative to submit your documentation. The prospective adoptive parents should be prepared to travel to El Salvador regularly as personal appearances will be required throughout the adoption process.

  • Adoption Fees: The Salvadoran Central Authority currently does not charge any fees for their administrative services. Prospective adoptive parents may choose to retain a Salvadoran attorney to assist with an adoption and will be charged for those services by the attorney. We advise prospective adoptive parents to discuss options with their adoption service provider. In the adoption services contract that you sign at the beginning of the adoption process, your agency will itemize the fees and estimated expenses related to your adoption process. Some of the fees specifically associated with adopting from El Salvador include:

1. Salvadoran Attorney's Fee – Typically $3,000-$10,000
2. Medical Exam for the Child – Costs generally may run between $250-$600 (includes vaccinations for all children; includes x-rays for children between 14-16)
3. U.S. Immigrant Visa - $230
4. Salvadoran passport fee - $25
5. Photos for U.S. Immigrant Visa - $5 (for two photos)
6. Hotel stay for one night, two adults at the Hilton Princess, Sheraton Presidente, or Marriott Courtyard Hotel (please confirm prices if you book a room) - $130-170. The State Department discourages the payment of any fees that are not properly receipted. "Donations" or "expediting" fees, which may be requested from prospective adoptive parents, have the appearance of "buying" a child and put all future adoptions in El Salvador at risk.

  • Documents Required: Each of the U.S. documents listed here must be either authenticated at a Salvadoran Embassy, or a Salvadoran Consulate, or apostilled by the competent authority of the adopting parents’ country (see below). U.S. documents listed below must also be translated into Spanish by an individual appointed for that purpose by a Salvadoran notary public:
1. Certified birth certificate for the adopting parents;
2. Certified marriage certificate, if applicable;
3. Police clearance from the adopting parents’ municipality;
4. Financial statements;
5. Home study certification;
6. Health certificate for the adopting parents;
7. Certification stating that the adopting parents meet the legal requirements of their home State to adopt and that the State will monitor the welfare of the child after adoption;
8. Statement regarding who will care for the adopted child in the absence of the adoptive parents due to illness, disability or death;
9. Certified copies of the adopting parents’ passports;
10. Certified copies of birth and health certificates for any other biological or adopted children in the family;
11. Photographs of the exterior and interior of the adopting parents’ home;
12. Photocopy of the identity card and certified birth certificate of the Salvadoran attorney;
13. Health certificate for the child to be adopted;
14. Photographs of the adopting parents, adopted child, and attorney.

Power of attorney for a specified Salvadoran attorney to represent the adopting parents, which must be executed before a Salvadoran notary public or by Salvadoran Consul at a Salvadoran Embassy or Consulate. This power of attorney must specifically authorize the attorney to perform all necessary steps in the adoption process from beginning to end before the Public Defender’s Office (PGR) and the Salvadoran Institute for the Development of Children and Adolescents (ISNA).

6. Obtain an Immigrant Visa for your Child and Bring Your Child Home

Now that your adoption is complete, there are a few more steps to take before you can head home. Specifically, you need to apply for three documents before your child can travel to the United States:

1. Birth Certificate

If you have finalized the adoption in El Salvador, you will firstneed to apply for a birth certificate for your child so that you can later apply for a passport. Once the court issues a final adoption decree, municipal authorities will cancel the original birth certificate and issue a new birth certificate naming the adoptive parents as the child’s parents and showing the change to the child’s name. The new birth certificate becomes part of the record kept at the Alcaldia (City Hall). Birth certificates are issued by the Civil Registry (Registro Civil) of the city or village where the adoption was finalized. Requests should be addressed to "Alcaldia Municipal de Registro Civil (name of city or village)”. The average cost of registering a child and obtaining a birth certificate is $6.

2. Salvadoran Passport

Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so he/she will need a travel document or passport from El Salvador. Passports are issued by the Department of Migration (Direccion General de Migracion y Extranjeria - DGME). Adoptive parents can apply for their child’s passport by submitting the final adoption decree and newly issued birth certificate at the DGME office closest to where the adoption was finalized. The cost for this service is $25. For office locations, please visit this website.

3. U.S. Immigrant Visa

After you obtain the new birth certificate and passport for your child, you also need to finalize your application for a U.S. visa for your child from the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador. After the adoption is granted, visit the U.S Embassy for final review of the case, issuance of a U.S. Hague Adoption Certificate or Declaration of Grant of Custody, final approval of the child’s I-800 petition, and to obtain your child’s visa. This immigrant visa allows your child to travel home with you. As part of this process, the consular officer must be provided the “Panel Physician’s” medical report on the child if it was not provided during the provisional approval stage. Read more about the Medical Examination.

NOTE: Prior to making an immigrant visa appointment, adoptive parents must submit their completed packet for review by the U.S. Embassy. Upon receipt of the packet, the U.S. Embassy will provide a list of panel physicians who will conduct the necessary medical exam of the child or children in question. The Embassy will contact the adoptive parent(s) to schedule an interview date after receiving the medical results from the panel physician.

Since each case is different, it is possible that the Embassy will request additional documents after a preliminary review of the application and documents submitted by the prospective adoptive parent(s). For processing the child’s immigrant visa application, the following original documents are necessary:

1. Child’s original birth certificate with the name of the biological mother;
2. Child’s new birth certificate with the child’s new name and name of adoptive parents;
3. Final court decree of adoption and supporting documents;
4. Decree from OPA;
5. Decree from the PGR;
6. Decree from ISNA;
7. Article 23 Letter (issued by OPA);
8. Certified document in writing by all known parents irrevocably and unconditionally releasing the child for adoption and emigration;
9. Power of attorney designating the Salvadoran lawyer to represent the adoptive parents;
10. Form I-800;
11. Form DS-260 Part I and Part II;
12. Medical Exam Form DS-157;
13. Child’s Salvadoran passport with the adoptive parents’ last name;
14. Two front face photos, 2”x2”, against a white background;
15. Adoptive parents’ most recent income tax forms;
16. Visa fee: $404.

To learn about the Child Citizenship Act please read The Child Citizenship Act of 2000.

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