Monday, March 31, 2008

Why China and Kazakhstan?

Heather near Beijing in 1993

Chris in St. Petersburg in 1990

“Oh who would have guessed, who could have seen, who could have possibly known, All the roads we have traveled, the places we've been, would have finally taken us home…” John McCutean, Happy Adoption Day

Why China?

We are often asked why we chose to adopt from China. The short answer – that is where our daughter is! Also, I studied Mandarin Chinese throughout college, and spent three months studying in Beijing. I loved being in Beijing (despite the occasional “bad China days”) and fell in love with the language, culture, and people. I always hoped to go back. After deciding to adopt internationally we researched a variety of countries. At that time, the China adoption program was the most stable and predictable and it generally lacked corruption (or corruption was dealt with quickly). Plus, everyone is in line strictly by the date their dossier arrives, there is a low incidence of fetal alcohol syndrome, the wait was short, the program was affordable, and we were told that there were few incidences of significant attachment or post institutionalized issues among the children (don’t worry I’ve done plenty of real research over the past two years). Many of the reasons we chose China still exist, despite the slow down.

Why Kazakhstan?

The short answer, of course, is – that is where our son is! Like China, we have an affinity to the culture and language of the region as Chris studied Russian in high school and college, and focused on the former Soviet Union for his undergraduate and graduate degrees. The Kazakhstan adoption program appealed to us more than Russia and the other former Soviet republics. The care that babies get in the orphanages, or “baby houses,” is supposed to be among the best as far as institutionalized care goes. The adoption program has a long history and is relatively stable. We like the idea of bonding with our child on their turf for two weeks before we take them away from everything they know; hopefully this will help ease the transition. We are likely to adopt an ethnically Kazakh (Asian) child, and therefore our children will have similar experiences growing up. Finally, the wait is short enough for us to complete this adoption and still have at least a year before we go to China.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Fun Day at Work

I found something whole!

What a great field crew!

As anyone who knows me knows, I hate being cold. Working in the winter can be miserable. There is nothing worse than excavating perfectly good dirt only to have it freeze solid before it can be screened. This year, however, we had a client provide us with tents - fully equiped with lights and a heater run on a generator! Plus the site yieleded a lot of great artifacts, including toy tea sets, doll parts, and lots of buttons and beads. We also found a Lincoln campaign button - especially cool because the people who owned the house were former slaves freed after the Civil War.

Monday, March 24, 2008

All About USCIS

This (really long) post is really for others adopting. Our experience is specific to northern VA and DC, but perhaps it can give others some guidance as well. Since we have two adoptions pending, including one that is taking much longer than 18 months and is now suddenly subject to Hague, we have had a variety of experiences with the immigration process.

First 171H
Getting our first I-171H was relatively straight forward. We filled out the I600A form, submitted the required back-up documents (copies of our passports, marriage license, and birth certificates as far as I recall) and the fee for the I600A processing and fingerprints. Once our home study was complete, our social worker submitted the home study to USCIS to be added to our file. We got a letter about a week later telling us where and when to report to be fingerprinted. And we received our 171H about 6 weeks after the fingerprint appointment.

Fingerprint and Home Study Renewal
In VA, the home study is only good for 12 months. It was clear a year later that our China adoption was not going to be completed any time soon. So we stalled the social worker in completing our home study update as long as we could and got it done in June of 2007.

Fingerprints are good for 15 months, and the 171H is good for 18 months. So in spring of 2007 we sent a letter before our fingerprints expired along with the required fee (just before the free renewal) requesting a new fingerprint appointment. We got a new appointment about a month later, which stated that if we missed our appointment our application would be terminated! In the past, VA allowed you to show up any Wednesday if you could not make your assigned appointment. Luckily we were both in town and got fingerprinted again. Not surprisingly, our fingerprints had not changed in the past 15 months and we got a new 171H showing a new fingerprint expiration date of December 2008 and the same 171H expiration date of December 2007. We planned to submit our home study update in October to USCIS to file for an extension to the 171H since that way the new expiration date would be later.

Change of Country and 171H Renewal
In October we decided to begin the Kazakhstan adoption. We once again had a home study update done – this time indicating approval for the new country. A lot had changed at USCIS since we first applied. For example: VA/DC now states that fingerprint appointments are given about 1 month after receipt of the I600A and home study; 171H approvals come 3 months after fingerprints clear (note 4 months total for new approval!); the home study must accompany the I600A and can only be sent by the social worker, etc. Because of the length of time to get a new 171H, we decided to change our existing one from China to Kaz and reapply for China later.

After e-mailing the orphan petition officer at USCIS several times with questions, we submitted a letter requesting a one time free renewal, a one time free change of country, and a change from one or two girls to one boy. Since the change in gender was considered a material change we also submitted I290B (petition to reopen case) and the associated fee. We attached our existing 171H, which had our new fingerprint expiration date. Our social worker attached our home study update and sent everything to USCIS. We got our new 171H for Kazakhstan about a month later, and they sent us a refund for the I290B!!! The orphan petition officer told us she had made an error on our original approval and it had included a boy or girl. Hopefully we will complete the Kazakh adoption prior to either our fingerprints or 171H expiring again.

Final 171H Approval
Currently, we do not have immigration approval for China. This is not a big deal at the moment as we have so long to wait. Our social worker will complete a new home study update a few months after we are home with our Kazakh child. This way she can make sure everyone is adjusting well. We will then submit a new application for immigration approval. Although our dossier will have been in China for about 3 years by that time, as far as USCIS is concerned it will be treated as a new application. Since the US has just ratified the Hague treaty on inter-country adoption and China is a Hague country, our China adoption will be subject to Hague. Therefore, we will submit the new 16-page I800A instead of the 2-page I600A form. Also, we are required to have 10 hours of training and our agency must be Hague accredited (which they are – thank goodness). IF YOUR PLACING AGENCY IS NOT HAGUE ACCREDITED, DO NOT LET YOUR I7IH EXPIRE if you are adopting from a Hague country such as China.

Our Current Problems
Our new 171H is fine, but when we tried to confirm with the US Embassy in Almaty that they had received the cable from USCIS acknowledging our approval, we found they had not received anything. So they have not received the cable nor the required paper file. In talking with others on Rumor Queen who are working on interim adoptions, this seems to be a common problem whether the change was to Korea, Vietnam, Kazakhstan, etc. Unbeknown to us, our state USCIS asks the National Visa center to send the cable, who sends it to the Embassy in Guangzhou, who is then supposed to forward the cable and file to the new country. Apparently this forwarding is not a high priority for them. We are continuing to follow up, but if we get closer and still have no progress, we may get help from our congressional representative as others have had a lot of success that way.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Happy Easter

It is a beautiful spring day here today, and the flowers are starting to come out. I still wore a wool sweater to church, though. I cannot remember Easter ever being this early.

Due to schedules we are not having Easter dinner with either of our parents or family; it is just the two of us. We went to our favorite Peking duck restaurant, which was wonderful. The restaurant owners are really friendly and the food is great. I suppose I should learn how to cook eventually, though.

Will we be celebrating Easter with a little one next year? I assume so! I hate to fall into a trap with this kind of thinking, though. I have seen how sad other waiting parents have been to celebrate their second "last" Christmas/ Easter/ etc. without their kids home.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Estimating Timing/ Kazakhstan Process

As the staff with our Kazakh agency has told us, it is difficult to predict your exact timing and we should not use other people’s timing for reference since each case is unique. That makes sense, but how are we seriously supposed to keep from speculating? The process for adopting from Kazakhstan has many steps, and the time to complete each step varies. We have finished the first big step after dossier submittal – translation and are now at the Consulate in NY. From there our dossier (which is kind of like a paper version of us) will go to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Astana, then the Ministry of Education (MOE) in Astana, and the Department of Education (DOE) in our assigned region.

At consulate Average of 2 months
At ministries 1-3 months
Receive Letter of Invitation (LOI), which is our approval to travel Average of 2 months
Travel prior to final adoption 2 months

So based on this, the most likely time we would begin travel is July or August, but not much happens during the hottest summer months in Kazakhstan, so we really do not know anything. I have agreed to do at least one long-term out-of-town project based on these projections, so hopefully I will get caught off guard and have to come home early!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008


We heard more from our agency today, and it sounds like everything (for us) is proceeding like normal - or at least will when the Consul is back from vacation in two weeks. Our agency stated that the suspension only affects people whose dossiers are sent to the DC Embassy. In addition, a representative from JCICS was featured on a radio show and confirmed that this only applies to the DC dossiers (so why did they post that adoptions were closed and that no processing was taking place at both the embassy and consulate? - who knows). We are very sorry for everyone stuck in this situation; hopefully everything will be resolved soon.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008


The JCICS posted yesterday morning that Kazakhstan was closed to adoptions from the US!! Luckily I did not see that post before I heard from our agency, who stated that the information could not be confirmed by any of their contacts at the consulate or in Kazakhstan. Apparently the Kazakh Ambassador to the US has made this statement to the US State Department, and has stopped accepting and processing dossiers submitted to the the embassy for review. According to our agency, the NY consulate does not know about this. So maybe NY is continuing to accept and process dossiers despite the JCICS statement? The JCICS website now lists adoptions as "temporarily suspended" rather than "closed", so that is an improvement, although supposedly the State Department will add this to their website soon as well.

The posts from our agency have been so encouraging that I did not worry too much about this at first, and even posted several times on Rumor Queen that I thought the info was wrong. Then I made the mistake of going to the JCICS website, and seeing it for myself in print made me sort of panic.

Our dossier is at the NY consulate, and has been for three weeks. Is it continuing to be processed? I don't know. I am NOT worried at all that adoptions will really stop and I am sure that the consulate and embassy will begin processing dossiers again. Still this could cause a delay. Either way, according to our agency the Kaz Consul is on vacation for two weeks, so it is likely that nothing is happening with our dossier for at least the next two weeks.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Where We Are

We began the adoption process initially with the hopes of bringing home a baby girl from China. We chose our China agency in October of 2005 on the advice of family friends, who had brought their daughter home about 4 months prior (thanks Jen and Dominic!). We got all of the initial paperwork done (including going to court to get Chris’s birth date on our marriage license corrected) by March of 2006 and submitted our home study to USCIS. It took until June before we received our very important 171H, which is basically approval from US immigration to bring a child into the US as a new citizen. When we sent in our application, we were told the wait was 6 months, by the time we submitted our dossier, we thought the wait would be about 10 months to referral. As everyone involved with China adoptions knows, things have slowed considerably and we are likely to wait a total of about 3.5 years.

After watching the referrals slow to a crawl in 2007 (only 51 days of log-in-days were covered in the last nine months of 2007), we decided to research other options. We remain in line for our daughter from China, but our first child will be from Kazakhstan! The wait for China is horrible and our hearts break for the thousands of waiting families around the world each month that referrals come out for only a few LIDs. But it is hard not to think that God has allowed us this chance to give a little boy from Kazakhstan a home who we would not otherwise have known about. We are overwhelmed with excitement to get both of our children home!

So we chose an agency for Kazakhstan in October of 2007. We are very happy so far with all of our agencies, so please check out their web pages listed on the left if you are looking for agencies. Since our home study just had to be updated and we had experience paper chasing, getting the dossier together went much quicker than the first time. We sent our dossier to our agency on January 2, 2008. Unlike the clear-cut LID line of China, the Kaz process has lots of steps. The time to complete each step varies, which is why I am so grateful to everyone who has posted their timelines on their blogs. Currently, our dossier is at the Kazakh consulate in NY.

Our First Post

We have decided to start this blog to chronicle our journey to expand our family through international adoption. This way our family and friends can check in and see what we are up to. Also, I have gained so much from reading others’ experiences I felt I should provide our information in case it can benefit someone.