Amid travel bans, visa restrictions and business closures, international adoption agencies are struggling to cope in the midst of the global pandemic, and some adoptive families have been left stranded in foreign countries.
Several agencies have reported that these stranded clients have no way to obtain the necessary paperwork to travel back to the United States with their adopted children.
Mary Beth King, executive director of the Frank Adoption Center in Wake Forest, North Carolina, said her agency has three families stuck in African countries waiting for visas for their adoptive children. Some of them fear for their safety amid the economic and political unrest stirred up by the coronavirus crisis.
Similarly, World magazine reported that Nightlight Christian Adoptions, which offers adoption assistance in 18 nations, sent an email March 24 asking their staff to pray for 17 parents and their adopted children detained in various foreign countries.
“We’ve done everything we know to get them home, and we continue trying,” wrote Lisa Whitaker, international program coordinator at Nightlight.
National Council for Adoption, a nonprofit adoption advocacy group based in Alexandria, Virginia, has called on the U.S. State Department to grant humanitarian parole to the children of adoptive families who are unable to receive an adoption visa in a timely manner, therefore enabling parents to return to the U.S. with their adoptive child as soon as possible.
“U.S. citizens who have adopted children internationally cannot be asked to abandon their children while waiting for a visa and return to the United States,” said Ryan Hanlon, vice president of Education, Research and Constituent Services for NCFA. “Instead, we must be willing to respond to these extreme, unprecedented circumstances with solutions that prioritize the safety, health and welfare of these families and the children they have legally adopted.”
On March 20, the State Department issued a notice on its website stating, “Intercountry adoption cases remain a high priority for the Department of State. Intercountry adoption cases where the adoptive parents are in country and the case is in the final stages of visa processing may still be processed to the degree that Embassy and Consulate resources and foreign government rules allow. Please be aware that circumstances can change frequently and with limited notice.”
Toni and Dayton Puckett from Farmville, Virginia, were scheduled to officially welcome their new daughter into their family on Feb. 3. The couple, who are already parents to three biological children, has been dreaming of the day when they could wrap their arms around 3-year-old Vera Riese. But when Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar announced travel restrictions to and from China on Jan. 31, the Pucketts’ adoption journey was put on hold indefinitely.
“I could lose my mind worrying about her, but instead, I choose to believe that God loves her even more than I do and that China is taking every precaution possible to keep the children healthy,” Toni said. “I just have to have faith that she will be OK until we can get to her.”
Like Toni, Nightlight Christian Adoptions has not given up hope. The adoption agency is doing everything within its power to unite families despite this time of encouraged isolation. And while many things are beyond the agency’s control, the staff continues to trust in the Lord.
“Even though this has caught all of us off guard,” Whitaker said, “it has not caught God off guard.”