In the Philippines, it is not uncommon for people to raise children who are not biologically their own. They may be the children of a relative or a family friend and may have lived their entire lives with their adoptive parents. The formal adoption process in the Philippines can be a long and complicated one, so sometimes people choose to adopt children informally instead.
It is important to understand how these informal adoptions can affect your immigrant visa petitions and applications. While it is wonderful for any family to raise a child, U.S. immigration law only recognizes biological children, step children, or children who have been formally adopted. This means that if you are petitioning for your child or if your child is a derivative beneficiary of your petition, this child will not qualify for immigration benefits if he/she was informally adopted.
We have seen many sad cases at our visa windows in which children are not able to qualify for an immigrant visa because they were never formally adopted, even if they have lived their entire lives with their adoptive parents. In order to avoid this situation, it is important to go through the legal channels to adopt all children whom you would like to take to the United States with you on your immigrant petition. To qualify as an adopted child, U.S. law requires that a child be legally adopted before the age of sixteen (16) and have been in the legal and physical custody of one or both of the adoptive parents for at least two (2) years. Legal and physical custody can be accrued at one stretch of time or cumulatively over several periods. They can also be accrued before, during, and after the adoption.
These laws are in place both for a child who is the principal beneficiary of an immigrant petition (IR2 or F2A) and for a child who is the derivative beneficiary of an immigrant petition filed on behalf of his/her parent.
Note: There are different rules that govern American citizens adopting children through the Hague Process. Please see the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website for more information.