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How to Adopt from Ethiopia

Ethiopian farmers children in the fields near Guzara Castle, Gondar region, Northern .
Source: flickr.com.

Adoption Authority

Ethiopia’s Adoption Authority

The Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO) operating under the Ministry of Women's, Children’s, and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA) is the primary adoption authority in Ethiopia.


The Process

The process for adopting a child from Ethiopia generally includes the following steps:

  1. Choose an adoption service provider
  2. Apply to be found eligible to adopt
  3. Be matched with a child
  4. File the Form I-600 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to initiate the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review prior to filing an adoption case with the courts
  5. Adopt the child in Ethiopia
  6. Receive final approval of Form I-600
  7. Obtain a Visa and bring your child home

1. Choose an Adoption Service Provider

The recommended first step in adopting a child from Ethiopia is to decide whether or not to use a licensed adoption service provider in the United States that can help you with your adoption. Please note that U.S. citizens adopting from Ethiopia are required by the Ethiopian government to use a U.S. adoption service provider that has been authorized by the Ethiopian Government to provide adoption services. Adoption service providers must be licensed by the U.S. state in which they operate. The Department of State provides information on selecting an adoption service provider on its website.


Intercountry adoptions from Ethiopia are handled by the Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO), a part of the Ministry of Women's, Children’s, and Youth Affairs (MOWCYA). There are currently more than 20 U.S.-based adoption agencies authorized by the Ethiopian Government to provide adoption services for American adoptive parents. For a current list, contact MOWCYA (see Contacts section below) or the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C.


2. Apply to be Found Eligible to Adopt

In order to adopt a child from Ethiopia you will need to meet the requirements of the Government of Ethiopia and U.S. immigration law. You must submit an application to be found eligible to adopt to the Ministry of Women, Children, and Youth Affairs, MOWCYA of Ethiopia. This is also called the dossier. U.S. prospective adoptive parents resident outside Ethiopia may request pre-approval to adopt prior to receiving a match. If not done prior to the match, the determination on the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) eligibility to adopt under Ethiopian law will be made by the MOWCYA at the time of the best interests review during the court process (see step 5 for more details). U.S. prospective adoptive parents resident in Ethiopia seeking a private adoption are required to go through the pre-approval process before receiving a match. The Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. provides a list of required documents for the application to adopt an Ethiopian child on their website.


Prospective adoptive parents must take or send all of the required documents, certified and authenticated, to the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington, D.C. for additional authentication. Once it has completed its authentication, the Ethiopian Embassy returns the documents to the parents and the parents forward them to MOWCYA, Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO). You can find their address in the Contacts section of this information sheet.


MOWCYA reviews the documents for completeness and creates a dossier on the adoptive parent(s). The Claims and Authentication Section of the Protocol Office at the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa authenticates the dossier and returns it to the Children and Youth Affairs Office (CYAO) for approval.


Note on relative adoptions: Ethiopian-Americans who are adopting orphaned relatives do not have to come to Ethiopia to process their adoptions. They can have a representative with a power of attorney represent them in court. Married adoptive parents need to make sure that both parents have given the representative a power of attorney so that both parents' names appear on the adoption decree.


3. Be Matched with a Child

If you are eligible to adopt, and a child is available for intercountry adoption, the central adoption authority or other authorized entity in Ethiopia will provide you with a referral. Each family must decide for itself whether or not it will be able to meet the needs of and provide a permanent home for a particular child. The child must be eligible to be adopted according to Ethiopia’s requirements, as described in the Who Can Be Adopted section. The child must also meet the definition of orphan under U.S. immigration law.


At this time Ethiopian authorities publish in the local press a notice seeking any other claimants to the child, stating the child's name and the name of the prospective adoptive parents. The notice advises that any parties opposed to the adoption must appear at MOWCYA by a certain date and time.


Prospective adoptive parents have the option to either accept or refuse the referral. Upon acceptance of the referral, a Contract of Adoption is signed by the child's legal guardian, usually the orphanage, and the adoptive parents or the agency representative. The contract is taken to the Inland Revenue Administration office to be stamped. A nominal fee of 5 Ethiopian birr is charged.


4. File the Form I-600 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services to initiate the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review prior to filing an adoption case with the courts


Under the Pre-Adoption Immigration Review (PAIR) program, the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) files a Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, with the National Benefits Center (NBC) prior to obtaining a final adoption decree from the relevant court authority in Ethiopia. After review of the Form I-600 petition and completion of the Form I-604 investigation, NBC will make a preliminary determination on whether the child meets the definition of orphan under U.S. immigration law. If the determination is favorable, NBC will issue a preliminary determination of immigration eligibility to the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s) in the form of a USCIS PAIR letter. If an unfavorable determination is made, NBC may issue a request for additional evidence or denial letter to the U.S. prospective adoptive parent(s).


Beginning on September 1, 2013, the Ethiopian government will require a USCIS PAIR letter in all U.S. adoption cases filed with the Ethiopian Federal First Instance Court (FFIC). Therefore, beginning on May 1, 2013, all new adoption cases filed with NBC must undergo a pre-adoption immigration review.


To initiate the PAIR process, prospective adoptive parents should submit a completed Form I‑600 together with all available documentation listed in the Form I-600 Instructions, minus an adoption decree or grant of legal custody to the USCIS National Benefits Center through the Dallas Lockbox. All documents originally produced in a foreign language must be accompanied by a certified English translation. In addition, the following PAIR-specific documentation must be submitted when the child’s country of origin is Ethiopia:


1. Evidence of the match between petitioner and child such as: Adoption Contract between the Prospective Adoptive Parent (PAP) and the orphanage, together with a power of attorney appointing the Adoption Service Provider (ASP) to represent the PAP, in cases where the contract is signed by the ASP on behalf of the PAP; or Adoption Contract between the PAP and relinquishing birth relative.


2. Evidence of child’s availability for intercountry adoption, such as: Court order from Regional, Zonal or Woreda authorities; Police report from local authorities, placing the child in the care of a licensed orphanage; or Adoption Contract between PAP and relinquishing birth relative, in cases of intra-family adoption only.


In addition to the documentation required in the Form I-600 instructions pertaining to evidence that the child is an orphan as defined in section 101(b)(1)(F) and 8 CFR 204.3(b), there may be Ethiopia specific documentation that can help establish the child’s orphan status. Such documentation may include, but is not limited to:


1. Child’s life history report;
2. Police report documenting finding of abandoned child;
3. Police reports documenting disappearance of birth parent(s), if applicable;
4. Medical or Court order documenting birth parent(s)’ incapacitation or illness;
5. Copies of birth parent(s) death certificate(s).


USCIS will forward its preliminary favorable determination, together with the prospective adoptive parent’s file, to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. USCIS will also forward the original preliminary determination letter to the prospective adoptive parents for their records. Upon issuance of the PAIR letter, USCIS NBC will forward your petition to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa for final adjudication following the completion of the Ethiopian court process.


5. Adopt or Gain Legal Custody of Child in Ethiopia

The process for finalizing the adoption in Ethiopia generally includes the following:


After September 1, 2013, under PAIR, prospective adoptive parents will file a dossier with Ethiopia’s Federal First Instance Court (FFIC) to initiate the legal adoption process in Ethiopia. This dossier will include documents related to the child’s background, such as the Life History document created by the orphanage, along with the PAIR letter, the signed adoption contract, and information about the adoptive parents’ suitability to adopt. As of February 2013, the court requires a filing fee of 25 Ethiopian birr to open a case. The FFIC will forward the case to the Ministry of Women’s, Children’s, and Youth Affairs for its review, and will usually set a specific date by which the review must be completed. MOWCYA will review the dossier, along with the approved home study, and make a determination on whether the adoption is in the best interests of the child. If it determines that the prospective adoptive parents are eligible under Ethiopian law and the adoption should move forward, the dossier will be sent back to the FFIC for a hearing. Usually, if a child has been relinquished by living relatives, the court will hold a first hearing in order to obtain the relatives’ legal consent to the adoption. One to two weeks later, the court will schedule a hearing with the adoptive parents. In most cases, if the court approves the adoption, full legal custody is transferred to the adoptive parents on the same day. The adoptive parents receive an adoption decree from the court, which they can take back to MOWCYA for certification. Possession of the certified adoption decree permits adoptive parents or their agency’s representative to begin the process of applying for a new passport and birth certificate for the child. Please see below for more information on these processes.


  • Role of Adoption Authority: The MOWCYA approves the dossier of the prospective adoptive parents and conducts a review of the best interests of the child, including whether a preliminary determination on the immigration eligibility of the child is favorable. It makes a recommendation to the FFIC on whether the adoption should proceed. The MOWCYA also certifies the final adoption decree and provides letters of request for the issuance of amended birth certificates and passports for the adopted child.


  • Role of the Court: The FFIC accepts all petitions for intercountry adoption and forwards the dossier to the MOWCYA for the best interests review. They review the adoptability of the child, ensure the process at the local level adhered to Ethiopian law, and make the final determination on the adoption decree. The FFIC issues the final adoption decree.



  • Adoption Application: The adoption application, also referred to as the dossier, serves to evaluate the prospective adoptive parent(s)’ eligibility to adopt under Ethiopian law. This step takes place during the MOWCYA review of the best interests of the child.


  • Time Frame: The time to complete the adoption will include approximately 12-14 weeks for the PAIR processing by USCIS following the match and approximately 6 weeks for the adoption petition to be finalized by the Government of Ethiopia. Following the issuance of the adoption decree in Ethiopia, an additional 4-6 weeks will be necessary for the Ethiopian passport application.


  • Adoption Fees: As of February 2013, the fees for the Ethiopian government portions of the adoption process total approximately $35 U.S. dollars, but must be paid in the local currency. The fees charged are:
A. 5 Birr – Fee for Inland Revenue Authority stamp on adoption contract
B. 25 Birr – Fee for opening an adoption case with the Federal First Instance Court
C. 300 Birr – Fee for child’s Ethiopian birth certificate
D. 150-300 Birr – Fee for child’s Ethiopian passport

There may be additional fees charged by the U.S. adoption service provider (ASP) or Ethiopian legal counsel. Prospective adoptive parents should seek information in writing, upfront of all fees their ASP or legal representative will charge throughout the process. Many non-adoption related services, like lodging or transportation, for example, can be booked privately by prospective adoptive parents prior to traveling to Ethiopia. Prospective adoptive parents are encouraged to research all of the options available to them, which will give them an idea of the price of various goods and services on the local market. For prospective adoptive parents with legal questions, Embassy Addis Ababa can provide a list of local attorneys with experience working with American Citizens, including some that specialize in adoptions.


  • Documents Required: Please refer to the Embassy of Ethiopia in Washington, D.C. website for a list of requirements for the adoption dossier. NOTE: Additional documents may be requested.


  • Authentication of Documents: You may be asked to provide proof that a document from the United States is authentic. If so, the Department of State, Authentications Office may be able to assist.


6. Receive final approval of your Form I-600

Under the PAIR program, your Form I-600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Adopted Child is not adjudicated until after your adoption is complete. You need to submit the final adoption decree issued by the FFIC and certified by MOWCYA, as well as the child’s identity and travel documents, to the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa in order to complete the processing of the Form I-600 and receive a final determination on the immigration eligibility of your child. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa will approve Form I-600s that are clearly approvable.


You will need to apply for several documents before you submit your decree:


1. Birth Certificate

Once you have finalized the adoption in Ethiopia, you will need to apply for a new birth certificate for your child. The names of the adoptive parents will be listed on the new birth certificate. In general, your child’s legal name in Ethiopia will be the child’s given name followed by the first and last names of the adoptive father (e.g. Habtamu John Smith). When an adoptive mother is unmarried, the child’s name will follow the same pattern using the new mother’s name. Once the adoption is complete, MOWCYA prepares a request to the City of Addis Ababa for the issuance of a new birth certificate. This is best facilitated if the request is hand-carried to the relevant office. The fee for a new birth certificate, as of February 2013, is 300 birr per child.


2. Ethiopian Passport

Your child is not yet a U.S. citizen, so s/he will need a travel document or passport from Ethiopia. The MOWCYA prepares a request to the Office of Security, Immigration and Refugee Affairs for an Ethiopian passport for the child in his/her new name. This request is best facilitated if it is hand-carried to the relevant office. The fee for a new passport, as of February 2013, is 150 birr for children aged 7 and under, and 300 birr for children age 8 and above. It can sometimes take 4-6 weeks for the passport to be issued by the Ministry of Immigration following certification of the adoption decree.


7. Obtain a Visa and Bring Your Child Home

U.S. Immigrant Visa

If your Form I-600 is approved, you then need to apply for a U.S. immigrant visa for your child from the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa. 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.


You may submit your immigrant visa application and medical report when you submit the final, certified adoption decree, birth certificate, and Ethiopian passport for final adjudication of your Form I-600. You can find instructions for applying for an immigrant visa on the adoption page of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa’s website. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa will contact you, and your ASP or designated representative, once the Form I-600 is approved, to schedule the immigrant visa interview.


Visas for Other Countries

If the child will transit through the U.K. or Germany en route to the U.S., and will exit the airport, a German or U.K. visa will be required. A German or U.K. visa may be obtained by applying at the respective embassies in Addis Ababa. If the child does not exit the airport then no visa is required.


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

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