An official website of the United States government

June 2, 2015

Children adopted by U.S. Citizen(s) from Malawi must obtain a U.S. visa before traveling or moving to the United States. Visas are normally granted at the U.S. Embassy in the country where a child has been living. Since a child being adopted abroad by a U.S. citizen parent(s) will usually be brought to live in the United States, that child will need an immigrant visa.

Child’s Eligibility

Children being adopted abroad must be found eligible for adoption under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to immigrate. Because adoption laws vary from country to country, it is sometimes possible to adopt a child abroad who does not qualify for immigration under U.S. law; such children cannot immigrate to the United States.

Under the INA, a child who is adopted abroad under the age of 16 and who has been in the legal custody, and has resided with, his or her adoptive parent(s) for at least two years may immigrate to the United States just like the biological child of a U.S. citizen: he or she may be the beneficiary of a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) I-130 petition (Petition for Alien Relative) and receive an immigrant visa in the IR-2 category. Most adoptive parents, however, are unable to meet the two year requirement.

Most children are adopted under the immigration law (INA) provision which provides for adoption of orphans who have been or will be adopted by U.S. citizens, meeting the requirements. For most adoptive parents cases, children being adopted must obtain an immigrant visa in one of two ways: one process applies to children in Hague Adoption Convention countries, and a separate process applies to children in countries that are not party to the Hague Adoption Convention. To learn which process to follow, check the State Department’s list of Convention countries. (Malawi is not currently a signatory to the Hague Adoption convention.)

Overview of Adoption Steps

To initiate the adoption process, adoptive parents must submit initial paperwork with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if the parents are not residing in Malawi. Once USCIS has approved the adoption, the case will be assigned to the U.S. Embassy where the adoption will take place. To learn more about the required steps before applying for a visa, review our “How to Adopt webpages.”

All children adopted abroad require an immigrant visa interview at the U.S. Embassy before coming to reside permanently in the United States. The Embassy schedules the final visa interview once all required documents have been provided. The Department of State is committed to processing immigrant visas for adopted children expeditiously.  Keep in mind, however, that the time required to issue your child’s visa will depend on the specific requirements and circumstances.