Legals, USCIS, and the general "State of the State" in the process

The past several weeks have been a whirlwind of activity on the adoption front.  (OK, several fronts actually... but more on that later.) Let's start by jumping back to May... On May 28th, my phone rang and it was the director of the Korea program with our placement agency telling me she had our legals. I was shocked since I had spoken with her the week before and she had said not to expect them until sometime in mid-June! We pulled together our forms for the I-600 application in record time, and sent that off. The I-600 is the companion paperwork to the I-600A paperwork we filed last fall. Where the I-600A grants you approval to bring a child into the US, the I-600 grants you permission to bring a specific child into the US. It was received by USCIS on May 31, and delivered to the adoption division on June 4th. Yesterday, we received a notification in the mail that our I-600 was approved and forwarded to the National Visa Center. This is huge! Not only was that quick, it's one of the final steps on the US side. Now, we just need to clear NVC, which should not take that long and our case will go to the Embassy in Seoul.

That's the good news.

The not-good news was that in the midst of this, we discovered our home study was actually expiring. (OK, expired.) We had thought it would be good for two years, like our home study last time... but it was only good for one due to agency licensing. A fact we somehow completely missed. So the last week of May and the first week of June was a flurry of activity getting new medical forms, financial documents, and police clearances. Luckily, we have a rock star social worker at our home study agency and she turned around a new home study in record time.

Now the less-than-stellar news. We have a long way to go until travel.

Some of you may remember that when we were in process with Spencer, we traveled in record time. Like, lightning fast. This time, we knew it would be different. But we had no idea how different, and ever-changing it would be. Many people have asked me recently when we thought we would be traveling, so  I thought I would give an update for how it stands currently. I've blogged about the new laws once, twice, three times. So I won't go back into all the little, very vague details. Let's just sum up by saying new laws were put into effect requiring birth mother contact, court in country, and new exit processes for the children. The first families, or pioneers as some have called them, have currently completed court... and several have been given their travel notices to bring their children home. So, we're starting to see movement again after months and months of what felt like nothing. This is very encouraging. Along with that, the next batch of families have been submitted to court, which is where we will really get a good grasp on how the process will work moving forward. I've been holding off on writing this for several weeks because I wanted to make sure that there would continue to be movement, and to see if there would be a change in process (and there seems to be some shifts happening already, so this may all change still.)

So, here's how it currently stands for the rest of the process: Once we complete the US side, there are still things that need to happen on the Korea side... including Birth Mother Contact, Exit Permits (EP), Court, Visa Interviews, and Travel. Adoptive families do not currently know when the birth mothers are contacted or if they choose to be notified of court, but for our sake and the sake of my sanity, let's pretend it happened already. (Mostly because at this point, Birth Mothers can choose to parent... and they continue to have that right through the court process and ruling.) The next step for us on the Korean side is that our child will be submitted for an EP. I'm not quite clear on the timing of that, but it takes 4-5 weeks at least according to my timeline stalking. After our EP is approved, we can be submitted to court. This is a new part of the process, and because the last batch were the first families through court we cannot accurately gauge how long this will take. The judges have said that they hope to be efficient and as quick as possible. So we hope that we would be notified of our court date 4-6 weeks after being submitted. Notifications tend to come three weeks before court. (So time from submission to court would be @ two months) The trip over for court involves us arriving 4-5 business days prior to allow for us to meet our son, take some photos and fill out some paperwork for court. We then have our court appointment (which tends to be less than 15 minutes). At that point, they have told families that they can (should) leave the the country while the judge's ruling and the mandatory 14 day waiting period occurs. (I'm clearly no lawyer, but the 14 day waiting period seems to be part of the process with all adoption cases... wether it be domestic or international.) Most cases have had rulings within 2-3 days. (Some have even happened on the same day!) Once the 14 day waiting period is over, the families have been called to return to Korea, and take custody of their child. At that point, they will appear at the Embassy for the Visa Interview and can leave the country once that has been issued. I'm still foggy as to why the Visa Interview cannot happen during the 14 day waiting period, but I suppose that will make itself clear as we watch families go through court. Families currently are receiving their travel calls with about 5-7 days to get back in country (some as short as three days). The travel calls have been happening less than three weeks after the court dates... which is awesome from an efficiency standpoint, but as you can guess, not so great from a financial standpoint.

We plan to see how the next batch of families get through court, but we are currently keeping our options open on how to handle the travel portion. We may stay over for the duration, and Doug will have to beg and plead to work remotely. It may be just me who travels for the second trip. (That should be terrifying.) Or the process may change again, and we will not have this worry. We will make it work regardless, but I'll be honest... I've lost sleep over it. I'd just like to know how it's going to play out so I can plan. (And find the money, because let's be honest... this is not the one-time, 10-12 day trip we budgeted for.)

But, there is also fantastic news. The way the new process works, also has the children finalizing in-country. This. Is. Huge. As soon as we touch down on US soil, Milo will be a citizen and his Certificate of Citizenship will automatically be mailed to us. This means that while we still need to complete the post-placement requirements, we don't have to worry about the finalization here. Considering how much difficulty and aggravation we had with Spencer's finalization, this is awesome. Add in how long after that we had to wait for his Certificate of Citizenship, it's even better! We will probably need to re-adopt him here... but that's minor. He's ours as soon as that 14 day wait is over... and as most adoptive mamas and dadas will tell you, that's a huge weight off our hearts.

So, are you confused yet?! Yeah... me too. But, I do know that I should celebrate the I-600 and the fact that it brings us one step closer. I still hope to travel in the Fall... although we are probably looking at October or November on the early end. (I dream of September, but I really do not feel that is at all realistic.) And I know, know, that it will all work out. May not be perfect, but it will be perfect for us.