A child under 16 may obtain a green card as an orphan only if he or she is being adopted by a U.S. citizen. In the case of orphans, it is not sufficient that the adopting parents hold green cards. A child is an orphan if both natural parents are either deceased, have disappeared or have permanently and legally deserted or abandoned the child.

A child can also be an orphan if only one parent is deceased but the other parent has not remarried and is incapable of providing childcare that meets the standard of living in their country. Be careful: some parents may put a child into an orphanage temporarily, without necessarily abandoning the child—however, the parents need to give up all of their parental rights for the child to be eligible to immigrate.

In the case of an illegitimate birth, if the law of the native country confers equal benefits to illegitimate children as it does to legitimate, both parents must relinquish their rights. In addition, to be classified as an orphan, the child must be living outside the U.S. and, if not already adopted by the U.S. parents, must either be in the U.S. parents’ custody or in the custody of an agent acting on their behalf in accordance with local law.

You cannot get a green card for a child you’ve adopted while the child was already in the U.S., whether the child is here on a visa or is undocumented. Finally, the child must be under 16 years of age when the petition is filed.
If the adopting parent is single, he or she must be at least 25 years of age in order to act as petitioner in an orphan green card application. There are no age restrictions if the petitioner is married.

Orphans may have green card petitions filed on their behalf either before or after the legal adoption by U.S. parents is completed. It is not essential that the adopting U.S. parents have met the orphan. In fact, it is not necessary that a particular child be identified before paperwork begins. There is a special procedure for those parents who know they will be adopting a child from a certain country but have not yet selected the particular child. To take advantage of this procedure, it is necessary that the adopting parents have satisfied any pre-adoption requirements existing in the laws of the U.S. state where they live, including a home study by the state government or an approved agency.

Your application to immigrate an orphan will be denied if the USCIS thinks you “bought” the child. Any sign that you paid money to the child’s parents or other guardian or agent, or that someone bargained them into giving the child up, may be looked upon as “child buying.” This has caused delays and denials in Central America and Cambodia, among other places.

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