I googled “Adopt Muslim Family Member” today out of curiosity. There’s really not much out there on this topic. The State Department even goes so far as to say that it’s simply never done. But my experience is different. I have often seen a Muslim couple turn to their family for help when they have been unable to have a child of their own. Adoptive parents will often seek to adopt a niece, nephew or cousin. It’s a cultural practice for which the US law does not have a cookie cutter procedure as far as visa issuance goes. Is it possible to bring these children into the United States?

The question is a tricky one. US immigration law, requires among other things, that an adopted child is “an orphan” in order for visa issues to occur. A child can be considered an orphan if his or her biological parents cannot care for their baby or if the child is the child of a single parent. So, for example, if one parent dies and the other is a sole and surviving parent who cannot care for the child, then the child will likely be considered an orphan and can come to the United States. If one parent abandons the family home, their children may be considered to be orphans, even if one parent remains and continues to care for them. If a parent suffers from severe medical or emotional difficulties, their biological offspring may qualify for an orphan visa. If the baby is a “surprise” or unplanned baby, the child may qualify for orphan status. I’ve seen babies successfully get orphan visas in all of these scenarios.

Couples often approach me and ask if they can just live with the child for two years and then file a regular family petition? The answer is generally no. And here’s why: to file a family petition, one must prove:

1. A full and final adoption has occurred.
2. The adoptive parent has had custody for two years.
3. The adoptive parent has lived with the child for two years.
4. The child is under age 16.

Most Muslim couples will fall at the first hurdle because Muslim counties, by and large, do not issue final decrees of adoption, only guardianship orders.

So what do we do if a biological child has two apparently healthy functioning biological parents who are placing for adoption simply because their relative cannot conceive? All is not lost! These babies can and do come home under certain circumstance if an application is well prepared and certain criteria are met by the adoptive parents. Adoptive parents may be able to avail of special humanitarian rules and other immigration processes which apply only to juveniles. These routes do not require compliance with the orphan status requirement. Remember also that the Universal Accreditation Act and the obligations of adoption agencies and primary providers are different for cases that involve relative adoptions. A competent immigration attorney who routinely handles adoption cases from Muslim countries can advise you of your options.