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International Adoption - Bosnia and Herzegovina

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DISCLAIMER: The information in this circular relating to the legal requirements of specific foreign countries is provided for general information only. Questions involving interpretation of specific foreign laws should be addressed to foreign legal counsel.

PLEASE NOTE: At this time, the American Embassy in Sarajevo, does not process immigrant visas. The American Embassy in Zagreb, Croatia handles immigrant visa processing for citizens of Bosnia and Herzegovina.

Current law permits foreign adoption in "special circumstances," which are judged on a case-by-case basis. According to Embassy of Sarajevo, authorities have also approved foreign adoption when one or the other of the adoptive parents was of Bosnian origin. Adoptions have also been permitted when compelling medical issues are involved, such as a mentally retarded child who could be better cared-for abroad.

Prospective adoptive parents are advised to fully research any adoption agency or facilitator they plan to use for adoption services. For U.S. based agencies, it is suggested that prospective adoptive parents contact the Better Business Bureau and licensing office of the Department of Health and Family Services in the state where the agency is located.

GENERAL: The following is a guide for U.S. citizens who are interested in adopting a child in Bosnia and Herzegovina and applying for an immigrant visa for the child to come to the United States. Bosnia and Herzegovina (the Bosnian abbreviation is "BIH") are divided into two entities - the Republika Srpska (RS) and The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. Both the RS and the Federation have inherited the old family law of the former Yugoslav, which among other things, regulates adoptions. While there is nothing in Bosnian law that specifically prohibits foreigners from applying to adopt a Bosnian child, the law stresses that there have to be overwhelming justification and exceptionally compelling reasons for a foreigner to be permitted to adopt a Bosnian child. Just what an "overwhelming justification" might be is judged on a case-by-case basis. Foreign adoption is a particularly sensitive subject to Bosnian authorities and to the people of Bosnia. Having lost so many lives in the recent war, Bosnians have strong feelings against permitting Bosnian children to be removed from their homeland. Therefore, Bosnian law gives absolute priority to adoptions by Bosnian citizens. There are no indications that either the Federation or the Republika Srpska is considering liberalizing their adoption laws to make foreign adoptions easier.

The Ministry of Social Policy must approve adoptions by foreigners, which is not the case for adoptions by local Bosnian citizens. In practice, it is extremely difficult or almost impossible to obtain this approval. The main reason is that neither the government of the Federation nor that of the RS considers it beneficial for native-born children to be uprooted, to lose contact with other relatives, or to lose their identity through losing their citizenship. Furthermore, in a country that is still recovering from a long and brutal conflict, it can be extremely difficult to determine if the whereabouts of a parent are simply unknown or if the child is truly an orphan.

AVAILABILITY OF CHILDREN FOR ADOPTION: The number of prospective adoptive parents in BIH is significantly higher than the number of children who are available for adoption. There are relatively few adoptable children among the total number of children who are without parental care on a temporary or permanent basis. Most children without parental care have been taken in by relatives, as is customary in Bosnia. According to a recent statistics, almost 3,000 children without parental care were living with relatives or in foster homes. Fewer than 500 were residing in orphanages. In last four years, only one immigrant visa (IR-3) was issued to a child from Bosnia.

BOSNIAN ADOPTION AUTHORITY: In BIH, adoptions are the responsibility of the two entities, the Federation and the Republika Srpska. Their laws and practices are basically the same. The application for adoption must be submitted to the custodial body in the municipality where the child resides. In most cases, the responsible body is the Center for Social Work, the Bosnian equivalent of the county or municipal social services department in the United States. The Center for Social Work prepares an adoption case for submission to the ultimate authority to approve adoptions by foreigners - the Ministry of Social Policy of the entity in question.

BOSNIAN ADOPTION PROCEDURES: Persons who want to apply to adopt a particular child can do so by contacting the Center for Social Work of the municipality/district of which the child is a resident and submitting all the documents listed below. If the prospective adoptive parent does not have a particular child in mind, s/he can contact the Center for Social Work for any designated area, asking if an adoptable child is available. If the Center affirms that a child is available for foreign adoption, the Center will ask that the documents listed below be submitted so the eligibility of the adoptive parent(s) can be determined. It should be noted that it is entirely possible that a Center will not respond at all to an inquiry from a foreigner, since the Center will be aware that a foreigner's chances of adopting a Bosnian child are very slim or non-existent.

ADOPTION AGENCIES AND ATTORNEYS: There are no adoption agencies in Bosnia. The Embassy maintains lists of attorneys.

DOCTORS: The U.S. Embassy maintains current lists of doctors and sources for medicines, should either you or your child experience health problems while in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

BOSNIAN DOCUMENTARY REQUIREMENTS: There is no specific application form. A request for adoption should be in the form of a letter, written by the prospective adoptive parent. It should state the basic facts about the prospective adoptive parent(s) and must bear a personal signature(s). It can be submitted by mail or through an authorized representative. The application must be accompanied by the following documents about the adoptive parent(s):

Certified Birth certificate.
Certified Marriage certificates (if applicable).
Medical certificate of good health preferably provided by a hospital or general practice clinic, rather than a private physician.
Proof of citizenship (certified copy of a birth certificate, naturalization certificate or passport).
Police certificate (i.e., certificate that no criminal record exists) issued by local law enforcement authorities from every place of residence where the applicant has lived for more than a year since the age of 18.
Court certificate (i.e., certificate proving that the adoptive parent is not under any court investigation at the present time).
Certificate about capacity for gainful employment. This should take the form of a resume of previous employment records, and an original letter (on official stationery) signed by the current employer, stating the job title, if the position is full- or part-time, how long the person has been employed and the salary.
Certificate proving that the adoptive parent has never been charged with child neglect or abuse. This may take the form of an official letter from the local department of child welfare.
Documents testifying to the adoptive parent's income and property.
Home study (social worker's analysis) about the adoptive family, including his/her personal ability to care for a child. If the adoptive parent is a foreigner (not a resident citizen of Bosnia), the authorized social services department in the applicant's country must conduct the study.

All original documents and the application letter must be in English and each must be accompanied by a translation into Serbian or Croatian done by an official court translator. It is easier and less expensive to have the translations done in Bosnia. The U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo can provide a list of court translators. Any official documents (birth certificates, passports, social service reports, home studies, etc.) should be certified by an apostille from the designated authority in the United States. (For more information on apostilles, refer to the Bureau of Consular Affairs flyer Hague Convention Abolishing the Requirement of Legalization of Foreign Public Documents available on our Internet web site at http://www. travel.state.gov .) The law stipulates that the Center for Social Work should reach a decision about an application for adoption within two months. However, due to the complexity of the issues, it usually takes much longer for the Center to make a decision. The Center then forwards the application package to the Ministry of Social Policy with its recommendation. BIH law states that the Ministry should reach a decision about a request for adoption in two months. In practice, it almost always takes longer. Either the prospective adoptive parent(s) do not submit complete documentation, or the Ministry asks for additional documentation. Once the Ministry makes a decision, it is sent back to the Center that accepted the application. The Center then notifies the prospective adoptive parent(s) of the decision. If the decision is favorable, the prospective adoptive parent(s) must be personally present at the official ceremony (act) of adoption. This is an official act signed by the adoptive parents in person and representatives of the government. It takes place at the Center for Social Work. The court then issues an official decision or decree ratifying the proceedings conducted by the Center for Social Work. The Bosnian government does not charge a fee for its role in the adoption process.

U.S. IMMIGRATION REQUIREMENTS:

WHO IS AN "ORPHAN," AND WHAT IS "UNCONDITIONAL ABANDONMENT?"


Section 101(B)(1)(F) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is the legal provision under which Americans may bring children adopted overseas to the United States. The law states that (a) an eligible child must be under the age of sixteen at the time that the adopting parents file an immigrant visa petition on the child's behalf; and (b) the child must not have 1) living parents or 2) have only one living parent who is incapable of providing for the child under local living standards; and (c) the child must be irrevocably released for emigration and adoption. A child with two living parents can meet the definition of an orphan only through the disappearance of, abandonment or desertion by, or separation or loss from, both parents.

Abandonment of a child must be unconditional. Agreeing to give a child up for adoption by a specific person does not constitute unconditional abandonment, since the parents are relinquishing custody with the understanding that the child will be cared for and adopted by a particular individual. The Board of Immigration Appeals of the INS has ruled that a child with one surviving parent who has not been abandoned may qualify for orphan status only if the sole surviving parent is destitute by local standards or is otherwise physically or mentally unable to care for the child. This means that the child may not be classified as an orphan unless the sole or surviving parent cannot provide the child with the nourishment and shelter necessary for subsistence consistent with the local standards of the child's place of residence. The parent must also irrevocably release the child for emigration and adoption.

Prospective adoptive parents should take care to investigate the status of the child prior to planning an adoption and require that the orphanage or adoption agent provide legal evidence that the child is in its custody and that the child is indeed abandoned or orphaned. Despite a successfully completed Bosnian adoption, if further investigation finds that the child is not legally orphaned or abandoned, the child will not be eligible for a visa to immigrate to the United States.

U.S. IMMIGRATION PROCEDURES

Prospective adoptive parents should be aware that whether they identify a child prior to leaving he U.S., or locate a child in Bosnia, certain time consuming procedures must be completed before the U.S. Embassy can issue an immigrant visa.

Prospective parents must file Form I-600A, the application for advance processing of orphan petition or Form I-600 (adoption petition) with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) district office having jurisdiction over their place of residence.

The Form I-600A (the application for advance processing of an orphan petition) is filed when the prospective adoptive parents have not yet identified a child for adoption. The Form I-600 (adoption petition) is filed if a specific child has been identified for adoption.

I-600A APPLICATION FOR ADVANCE PROCESSING OF ORPHAN PETITION

Form I-600A is used when the prospective parents are seeking to adopt a child, but has not identified the child they want to adopt. Filing an I-600A form at an INS office in the United States and receiving approval from an INS officer in the U.S prior to traveling to Croatia is often a means of expediting the overall process. .

When filing Form I-600A, the prospective parents must show that they have complied with the pre-adoption requirements of their home state. The INS office (usually the district office in which Form I-600A was filed) must determine whether federal and state pre-adoption legal requirements have been met.

If the adopting parents have an approved I-600 only, they will need to file form I-600 at the American Embassy in Croatia. (The American Embassy in Sarajevo does not process immigrant visas at this time.) Both adopting parents must sign this form; at least one parent must sign the form in front of the consular officer. Note: there are no provisions in INS regulations allowing consular officers to accept I-600 petitions signed by agents with powers of attorney. Consequently, even if an agent is physically accompanying the child to the U.S., the adoptive parents must sign the I-600 petition after the child has been identified.

The I-600A and I-600 forms are usually accompanied by:

a home study of the adopting parents by a recognized social agency in their state of residence;
evidence of compliance with any state pre-adoption conditions;
a fingerprint check by the INS of the adopting parents;
certified copies of the prospective adoptive parents' birth certificates in the U.S. or other evidence of U.S. citizenship;
a certified copy of the adoptive parents' marriage certificate (if applicable);
proof of termination of any previous marriages in the form of certified copies of death certificates or divorce decrees (if applicable).

BOSNIAN EMBASSY AND CONSULATE IN THE UNITED STATES:
Embassy of Bosnia and Herzegovina
2109 E Street, NW
Washington, D.C. 20037
Telephone: (202) 337-1500 or (202) 833-3650

Bosnia and Herzegovina also have a consulate in New York.

U.S. EMBASSY IN BOSNIA AND HERZEGOVINA:
International address:
U.S. Embassy, Consular Section
Alipasina 43
71000 Sarajevo
Bosnia and Herzegovina

U.S. domestic mail address:
U.S. Embassy Sarajevo, Consular Section
Department of State
7130 Sarajevo Place
Washington, DC 20521-7130
Telephone: 011-387-33-445-700
Fax: 011-387-33-221-837

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Prospective adoptive parents are strongly encouraged to consult INS publication M-249, The Immigration of Adopted and Prospective Adoptive Children, as well as the Department of State publication, International Adoptions.

QUESTIONS: Specific questions regarding adoption in Bosnia and Herzegovina may be addressed to the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. You may also contact the Office of Children's Issues (CA/OCS/CI), 2201 C Street, N.W., SA-22, Room 2100, Washington, D.C. 20520-4818, (202) 736-7000 with specific questions.

Information is also available 24 hours a day from several sources:

Telephone - Office of Children's Issues - Recorded information regarding changes in adoption procedures and general information, (202) 736-7000.- State Department Visa Office - Recorded information concerning immigrant visas for adoptive children, (202) 663-1225.- Immigration and Naturalization Service - Recorded information for requesting immigrant visa application forms, 1-800-870-FORM (3676).

Automated fax - contains the full text of the office's international adoption information flyers and general information brochure, International Adoptions. From the telephone on your fax machine, call (202) 647-3000.

Internet - The Consular Affairs web site, at: http://travel.state.gov contains international adoption information flyers and the International Adoptions brochure.

INS web site- http://www.immigration.gov

Other information:

Consular Information Sheets - published by the State Department and available for every country in the world, providing information such as the location of the U.S. Embassy, health conditions, political situations, and crime reports. The information is available 24 hours a day by calling the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. The recordings are updated as new information becomes available, and are also accessible through the automated fax machine and the internet web site, as above.
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