South Korea adoptions and the Hague Convention

OK. Get ready for a very insider-baseball long and rambling post here. If you aren't an active watcher of what's happening with the Korea adoption program, this probably won't be of interest to you.

So, last week there was a small news story. South Korea signed the Hague treaty. Here's a short news brief about it.

It's really quite a shock. There has been pressure from anti-adoption groups to ratify Hague in Korea, but there hadn't been much public discussion about it. So the sudden signing is quite surprising and leaves many wondering what other changes are in store.

Right now most agencies have no idea what this new change will mean or how it will be implemented. But I thought it would be good to learn a little more about Hague to see how it might impact the process for families.

An overview of the Hague Convention: 

From the State Dept. website:

  • It requires that countries who are party to the Convention establish a Central Authority to be the authoritative source of information and point of contact in that country. The Department of State is the U.S. Central Authority for the Convention.
  • It aims to prevent the abduction, sale of, or traffic in children, and it works to ensure that intercountry adoptions are in the best interests of children.
  • It recognizes intercountry adoption as a means of offering the advantage of a permanent home to a child when a suitable family has not been found in the child's country of origin. It enables intercountry adoption to take place when:
    1. The child has been deemed eligible for adoption by the child's country of birth; and
    2. Proper effort has been given to the child's adoption in its country of origin.
  • It provides a formal international and intergovernmental recognition of intercountry adoption, working to ensure that adoptions under the Convention will generally be recognized and given effect in other party countries.
There's nothing in there that is disagreeable. It's all really important stuff to keep kids safe.

Program differences

Major differences between Hague and non-Hague processes are based on how children are classified as orphans. The actual definition of what an orphan is and the child's eligibility to be adopted determines what type of visa they are eligible for, and whether the child will be adopted in the U.S. or in the child's birth country.


Currently Korean adoptees exit with an IR-4 visa. According to Adoption.com "With the IR-4 visa, the foreign adoption does not meet the federal U.S. equivalent requirements of severing biological parent(s) ties and/or ensuring that both the adoptive parents and child have the same rights, responsibilities, and privileges." This means that the adoption must be completed in the U.S. This visa is also issued for families who have not spent time with the child prior to exiting the country.

Under Hague, adoptees would be issued an IR-3 visa. This visa is issued when families have seen the child prior to the adoption, the relinquishment background of the child is thoroughly vetted, and the adoption is completed in the birth country. Children do not need to be re-adopted in the U.S., but they probably would have to go through a court procedure to change names, and many families opt to complete the certificate of citizenship.


This is where it can get a bit challenging on the paperwork end of things. Currently, for the Korea program adoptive parents file a I-600A and later an I-600. This isn't too tough. A fingerprint visit, and some paperwork. This paperwork can be filed concurrently, and is processed before the child is known to the adoptive parents. The I-600A is valid 18-months from the time of approval and can only be extended once.

The I-800A and I-800 must be approved in order. The I-800A is filed only after the child has been referred to the family, and they may not gain custody until the I-800 is conditionally approved. The I-800A is valid 15-months from date of approval with one free extension, with additional extensions costing $340.

Parent Education:

Hague countries require an additional 10 hours of parent education, over and above the education hours required for the home study.

Why the push for Hague:

The convention addresses some of the huge complaints that adoption revision groups in Korea have had about the international adoption program. Korea has been one of the top sending countries year after year and has had a reputation of running a very clean program. But there have been allegations of unclear record keeping or vague relinquishment approvals, or outright aggressive tactics by adoption centers.
 Allegedly the reason Korea has not joined the "Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption is because Korea holds reservations regarding paragraph (a) of article 21 of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child." This info is from a PBS story by documentary film maker Jane Jeong Trenka, who is an outspoken anti-international adoption advocate. She didn't cite where she got this info, so it's hard to weigh it's validity.

That paragraph reads:
"(a) Ensure that the adoption of a child is authorized only by competent authorities who determine, in accordance with applicable law and procedures and on the basis of all pertinent and reliable information, that the adoption is permissible in view of the child's status concerning parents, relatives and legal guardians and that, if required, the persons concerned have given their informed consent to the adoption on the basis of such counselling as may be necessary;"

Certainly, the recent approach in contacting birth mothers to verify their relinquishment of the child before the completion of an adoption seems to address this point.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child stated South Korea does not keep adequate record There have also been complaints about adoptee access to birth records, unclear relinquishments, orphanage kidnapping, poor record keeping, poor post-adoption services, and identity swaps. Because of the strict rules that Hague sets forth in identifying who is eligible to be adopted, many of these concerns would be given more careful scrutiny.

Hague also puts a much stronger emphasis on trying to place children in need, first with family members, next, within their country of origin, and thirdly, given the option of international adoption. This is Korea's general policy now, but it will be more formally approached.

What does this all mean for families in process now? 

Well, that's the million dollar question.

I had a long chat with my local social worker (who is freaking amazing!) and since she works with both Hague and non-Hague international adoptions, and has worked on programs who have ratified the treaty, she had a little insight.

In other programs, families who had their homestudies already in country were grandfathered in. If Korea operates as other countries have done (which is a big IF), this means the home studies that are already in Korea will not have to be reprocessed using Hague regulations.

If a I-600a is already on file and approved, then USCIS will not require an I-800 to be filed. The I-600s can be extended but when the limit of extensions has been used up, the I-600 will have to be converted to an I-800. According to our social worker, this is a terribly messy and time-consuming endeavor. A background check must be done on every person in the household who is over 18, in every state/city they have lived in. Ick.

This is all the information I've been able to gather about what the ratification might mean for those of us in process. If anyone else has more to add, please comment!

The positive:

I think there is a lot of positives about Korea signing Hague, for all parties involved. For sure, it's aim is to ensure that the international adoptions are ethical and are accountable. Of course, no system is foolproof, but it's always good to have these systems in place to protect the children.

There are a few other benefits:

*The convention requires sending countries to provide adopting parents with comprehensive information regarding medical records and translations of them. Korea has historically had some of the best medical records for IA, but this is another opportunity to ensure transparency.

*Sending countries must certify that birth parents made the choice to relinquish free of undue influence.

*Background and adoption records must now be kept for a minimum of 75 years. Allegedly, many adoptees have complained that Korea does not have adequate record keeping, or in some cases, has been outright unlawful. Adoptees can request their files after 13/15/18 years old (depending on agency) and many have been told they were lost, burned in a fire, or other stories. On occasion, stories like those are covering up deceit or illegal activities where the adoption was concerned. The more transparency, the better.

*The definition of what child is adoptable is different with Hague. A child with two known birth parents who are unable to care for the child, can now be considered eligible (vs. single surviving birth parent who cannot care for him). According to an Adoptive Families article, "One advantage to this new definition is that birth mothers relinquishing children for adoption into the U.S. may no longer feel they have to lie about the existence of a father, allowing adopting families access to more accurate information."

*Adopters will have access to national databases with information about their agencies and complaints about them. This gives us the power to make more informed decisions about who we are working with and what type of service we can anticipate. I'm not sure if this includes the Korean agencies or not.

So, as with everything in the Korea program, it's a watch and wait situation. Sending lots of love and support to families who are dealing with all this right now!


  1. If you want info on the 1-800/1-800A process, talk to Michelle W. She now knows all the ins and outs of this process - and who to talk to in other states to get those background checks moving!

    I'm hoping things smooth out in the Korean program - children and families are waiting!!

  2. Thanks for posting! I'm out of the game, but have been hearing snippets of info/frustrations/etc about the changes. Watching all the changes unfold since we brought our girl home 3 years ago has been amazing.


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