Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What is the "hold-up" at the U.S. Consulate Visa Department?

Currently, the Haitian adoption process takes anywhere from one to three years. In the past, the U.S. Consulate took about 5 working days (at the most) to issue an adopted child a visa to come to the United States with his/her adoptive family.

However, this has changed recently... the process is taking up to several months now.

Background Information:
In August 2007, the U.S. Consulate started processing the I-600 applications for adopting families who applied for their I-600 in the U.S.

The I-600 applications that are filed in Haiti still remain under the approval jurisdiction of the USCIS office in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. They conduct the parent interview for the orphan investigation portion of the process, I-604. Once the adopted child has received a Haitian passport and the orphan investigation has been concluded by the local USCIS office, the approved file is forwarded to the U.S. Consulate Visa Department.

However, all I-600s applied for in the U.S. have to have their orphan investigation (I-604) completed by the U.S. Consulate in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

(The U.S. Consulate is supervised by the U.S. Department of State and the USCIS is part of the Office of Homeland Security (formerly known as INS. They are two separate entities.)

U.S. Consulate - Orphan Investiation/Birth Parent Interview:
Orphanage representatives and adoptive families are having a difficult time scheduling the birth parent interviews with the U.S. Consulate. Some families have tried since mid-December 2007 to schedule an appointment.

The process for families who have to have the orphan investigation conducted by the U.S. Consulate to the time the child receives a visa is taking about two months or longer! Some families have been in the process now since November 2007, five months!

There is no tracking of a timeline because the "file information" is not logged into the U.S. Consulate computer system for some time, thus there is no official tracking record of families' timelines for the families who have been trying to get birth parent interviews scheduled.

Inability to Communicate with U.S. Consulate Personnel:
Orphanage representatives and adoptive families can attempt communication with the U.S. Consulate personnel via email, telephone, and during walk-in hours.

Emails - are unanswered because there are "email server issues" in the U.S. Consulate where emails do not reach the Visa Department. (That is the reason given for not responding to emails.)

Telephone calls - are limited to one hour per workday afternoon, from 2:00 - 3:00 p.m. Most of the time, the telephone line rings busy.

Walk-in Hours - are from 9:00-9:30 a.m. However, there are days when those walk-in hours are cancelled and often one sits in the lobby for several hours waiting before somebody comes out to talk to the waiting person.

This inability to communicate with the U.S. Consulate personnel is one of the reasons there is such a difficulty in scheduling an appointment.

Once the Birth Parent Interview is Scheduled:
For several cases, the birth parent interviews were rescheduled multiple times, dragging out the process and frustrating the birth parents. Some come from the provinces and do not live locally. It adds a burden to those birth parents.

Other times, birth parents come out of the interview crying. Some report that some "not so nice things" were said to them. Others report that they were pressured to give the name of the biological father. Others report that they are made to sign things that they do not know what they are signing. (Please keep in mind that these reports are second hand, third-party information. I am just reporting what I have been told via third parties.)

Follow-up Requirements & Investigations:
The U.S. Consulate requires unconditional and irrevocable relinquishments in order for adopted children to receive visas. This type of relinquishment is not legal under Haitian law. Some judges will issue them because they know that the U.S. Consulate requires them, but they are taking a "chance" by giving those types of relinquishments.

This issues was supposedly resolved last year, 2007. However, with the current demand for this kind of relinquishment, it appears that the issue has not been resolved.

Additionally, it appears that most adoption files have been flagged for further "fraud investigations". Thus, no visa appointments are given.

During those "fraud investigations" very little information is released to adoptive families, congress representatives who are inquiring for families and orphanage representatives. However, when information is given, it appears to be conflicting information.

The U.S. Consulate appears to be questioning the USCIS approvals (for I-600s that were processed and approved by USCIS Haiti office) and DNA testing is required for birth mothers and the adopted children. This is also being required for other adoption files. However, sometimes the DNA testing request comes after several weeks of waiting and it takes some time for orphanage personnel to be able to retrieve the original documents needed for the DNA testing. The U.S. Consulate holds onto the original documents during this phase. It would be helpful to get original documents needed in a timely manner.

U.S. Congressional Inquiries:
Some families have asked their U.S. Representatives to assist and to inquire to what is happening to their files. Several families have been told that if it was not for those congressional inquiries, visas would be processed. However, these families would not have contacted their representatives if the visas were being processed.

Another issue is that because there is no tracking system of files until they are entered into the U.S. Consulate computer system, for some files that had been inside of the U.S. Consulate for some time (several weeks for some files), the file is logged into the system and it appears as if the file has only been at the U.S. Consulate for a couple of days.

Some orphanage representatives and some adoptive families are afraid to speak out about what is happening in the orphan investigation and visa appointment stage. They are afraid that if they complain that they will be "black listed" and the adopted children will be denied their visas.

It makes me feel sad because this is our government and we should not be afraid to speak up when something is not working properly within one of our government agencies.


mdownard said...

So based on this information I would guess that it would be better to file the I600 in Haiti. Is this correct? If so, when in the process can you file it?


Colleen said...

I agree ~ it is very sad! Thank you for all the information.

acceptancewithjoy said...

Thank you so much for your time and for explaining so clearly what is holding up files in the US Consulate.