For my blogging friends who are in their own process of adopting from China, you probably want to skip this post. But for my family and friends (and complete strangers, I guess) who are not familiar with this process, here's a quick tutorial.
First of all, my situation was more difficult because of my single status. You see, China has a quota for singles. Only 8% of an adoption agency's applicants for any given year can be single. This means that there can roughly be 1 single applicant for every 12 married couples.
Because of this, many agencies have loooooong waiting lists. Some lists are 2 years out before you can even start the paperwork to begin an adoption. Some agencies do a lottery type system where they accept applications a couple times a year for just a few days. They then pick from a pile, so to speak, so it's just the luck of the draw. Some do a first come-first served kind of thing in their twice a year lottery. For some agencies, it's just a matter of who happens to call at the right time when a single's spot becomes available. I got very lucky and found an open single's spot right away through this last method. More about my own story in another post, though, this is just to explain the general process.
*** Edited to add that in May 2007, the CCAA implemented new restrictions which no longer allow single applicants to adopt from China. Everyone who submitted a dossier logged in before May 1, 2007 is "grandfathered" in under the old regulations. So my adoption is not in jeopardy and will proceed. ***
Once your application is accepted you begin what's referred to as "the paperchase". This is a stressful, time consuming, type of torture where you are required to provide so much documentation that nothing in your life is private anymore.
To adopt, one must have a favorable homestudy done by a social worker. This requires that you meet with a social worker several times while they delve into every aspect of your personal life, childhood, reasons for adoption, plans on how you will raise your child, discipline your child, etc, etc. There's a safety and fire inspection of your home. I was even required to have emergency numbers and a fire escape plan posted on my refrigerator for the baby who is not home yet and who won't be able to read anyway, let alone dial a phone. Go figure. I also had to take 16 hrs of parenting classes.
As part of the paperchasing, I had to provide documents which included my bank account balance, my dog's shot records, employer verification, financial statements, tax returns, guardianship letters, reference letters, divorce decrees, birth certificates, a statement of heterosexuality (yes.. that's what I said). I had to go to the doctor and have a physical, blood tests, TB tests. I had to get a criminal clearance letter from the police dept, be fingerprinted by them to be cleared through the state, and get a separate letter stating that I was not a registered child abuser.
Then all of these documents have to be notarized, certified and authenticated. What does that mean? Well, I don't really know because my adoption agency did it for me. Which saved a lot of stress and hassle but cost me a nice chunk of change. For those who have to do it themselves, it means that all the notarized paperwork has to be certified in the county of notary with more documentation stating that the notary is authentic. Then it has to go to the state level, in Columbus for us Ohioans, and then the Chinese Consulate in New York City for the same thing. It is a royal pain in the ... well, you know. It just basically means that they are certifying that the notary is legitimate on the county level, state level and national level.
While you're paperchasing, you will have sent off an I-600A form to USCIS (which is the immigration office). This is an application for "advance processing of orphan petition" which basically means that once you return to American soil with your child, they will be a US citizen. USCIS schedules a fingerprint appointment at the federal building in Cincinnati (again this is Ohio specific) and then you wait for the most coveted I-171H form which is the "notice of favorable determination". This is usually the last piece of paperwork to complete your "dossier" (this is what that big finished pile of paperwork is called). It can take quite awhile to get it because we all know the government moves at their own pace.
*** Edited to add that the homestudy expires after 2 yrs in the state of Ohio. The I-171H expires after 18 mths and the federal fingerprints that I did for my immigration paperwork expire after 15 mths. Since the wait time until this adoption is completed has extended so much, the above mentioned paperwork has all expired. Which means I had to have it re-done at additional cost and inconvenience. The sad thing is that I may have to re-do it a 3rd time before Mia is home. But life is what it is.... ***
So after several months, when all of that is finally done....you have a dossier that is sent to China. This is a day to celebrate! The hard work is finished and you can finally breathe again. (Uhhh... see the edited parts of this post. I learned that the hard work is not necessarily done at this point. LOL!)
Then you wait for the Chinese Center of Adoption Affairs (aka the CCAA), which is the government run agency that handles all adoptions in China, to log in your dossier. This is the all important "Log In Date" or LID for short. This is when your clock officially starts to tick.
Next the CCAA matches you with a child and sends out the "referral" which consists of photos, a brief medical history, and social history of the child. Referrals are normally sent out about once a month. They're matched by your log in date which, in essence, is your spot in the line. China matches first come-first served style and we all wait in the same line until our number comes up.
After you have a referral and know who your child is, you wait for "Travel Approval" (TA ... gotta love all the abbreviations) which is the formal invitation from China to come and adopt the child. You travel within 3-8 weeks after that and stay in China for 2 weeks while the adoption is finalized. The adoptive parent usually meets their child a couple of days into the trip and from that point on..... they are yours. WooHoo!!!
Unfortunately, right now the wait time between LID and referral is at exactly 12 months. It may even stretch longer while I'm waiting. I hope not, but I gotta be realistic. My dossier went to China on June 5th. I don't know my LID yet but it should be within a week or so of that date. So I have some time to kill.
*** Edited to add that my LID is June 14th, 2006. And the wait times have dramatically increased since I first wrote this post in 2006. That is no exaggeration. My wait is now expected to end up somewhere between 3-4 yrs. Yes... I said years. Today as I'm editing this post, I've waited just over 2 yrs already. ***
That sums up the basic process. If you've read this far, then you should be commended. You're either really interested in China adoption or you have no life. Stay tuned. More later.