Will Vietnam adoptions continue?

Disclaimer: For those who live in the adoption world, I am writing this based on what we have all read on AAR, APV, VVAI, Ethica, the US Department of State website, etc. I’m just offering my take on things. I don’t have any “inside” information (Sorry – I know that’s what everyone is really looking for right now!).

The Background:

The Agreement Between the United States of America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam Regarding Cooperation on the Adoption of Children, known by most as the Memorandum of Understanding or MOU, was signed in June 2005, and went into effect September 1, 2005. From 2002 to 2005, there had been a moratorium on adoptions, imposed by Vietnam. It is believed that this “shutdown” was the result of corruption and unethical practices by adoption “professionals.”

The MOU was signed for a period of three years, meaning that the agreement is set to expire in September 2008. The MOU states that the agreement will automatically terminate “unless both Parties exchange written notification extending this Agreement for an additional term of 3 years, at least six months prior to the date of termination.” This means that unless the agreement is resigned in March, the current agreement will expire in September.

Questions as to whether the agreement would be resigned started swirling on the Internet last October/ November, when the US Embassy posted a statement about corruption in Vietnam adoptions and began issuing NOIDs (Notice of Intent to Deny) when parents applied for their children’s US visas (Ethica states that 26 NOIDs were issued). At that time, adoptive parents went to Vietnam and had their child’s Giving and Receiving Ceremony (G&R) before applying for a US visa. This meant that the adoptions were finalized on the Vietnam side, but that the US could still deny the child entry into the United States if there were questions about the child’s paperwork and legal orphan status. In November, the procedures were changed so that adoptive parents file the I600, Petition to Classify Orphan as an Immediate Relative, before travel. Though the procedure is still new and there are questions about its effectiveness, the idea was that the US would be able to investigate a child’s file and raise questions before adoptive parents had physical custody of the child (and legal custody by Vietnamese law).

Today, the US Department of State issued a statement saying, “…given concerns about the existing level of protection for children in Vietnam, it is unlikely that the Agreement can be renewed in its current form.” The statement also says, “The United States is strongly committed to continuing intercountry adoptions from Vietnam if possible.” Now the question is whether or not a NEW agreement will be signed.

Will Adoptions Continue?:

Last week, adoption agency representatives attended a US Embassy meeting in Hanoi. The Embassy basically told agencies that the United States and Vietnam are still in the process of negotiating, and that it’s too early to say what will happen. Some agencies have had a positive take on the meeting, reporting that the US and Vietnam are committed to coming to an agreement, while other agencies have said they believe Vietnam adoptions to the US will cease after the current agreement terminates. Some agencies are continuing their programs as usual, while others have stopped taking applications.

So here’s the part where I offer my personal opinion: I don’t know.

From what I have read, the United States is concerned that children’s dossiers are being presented to them with inaccurate information, so they are doing investigations. They are concerned that dossiers have been falsified, that the circumstances surrounding some of the children’s abandonment isn’t “above board,” or that parents who relinquished their children were paid or did not understand what they were doing. Under the terms of the agreement, however, Vietnam doesn’t believe that the US has any jurisdiction to be doing these types of investigations. They are also angry that the US is doing these investigations without notifying the Vietnamese government and are showing up in the provinces unannounced. Vietnam officials have already done their own investigation before a dossier is presented to the US government, and the Vietnam government thinks that should be good enough. The US government wants transparency in adoptions, and is trying to root out unethical practices, but to the Vietnamese government, the US government is throwing its weight around, being a “bully,” and insulting the Vietnamese government.

Further at issue is the fact that the MOU required that the Vietnamese government post a standardized fee schedule, which has not been done. This means that adoption costs vary from province to province, which can lead to bribes and corruption. I read somewhere (can’t remember where now) that Dr. Long, Director of the Department of International Adoption (DIA) in Vietnam, has been frustrated that the national government has not discussed the fee schedule or given more time to the issue of adoption. The national government has so many other issues competing for its attention, and adoption is not high on their priority list.

I think this is an important thing for adoptive parents to remember: Adoption does not exist in a vacuum. There are big issues for the Vietnamese government. I have set up Google alerts for “Vietnam,” so I get daily e-mails with links to web posts about Vietnam. It’s interesting to read about the bigger picture, and has to be viewed in context of some of the “larger” issues Vietnam faces: a rapidly growing economy, new international trade agreements, inflation, bird flu, a territory dispute with China, drug smuggling, a new role in the United Nations, human trafficking, foreign investment, and globalization. The relationship between the US and Vietnam needs to be considered in the bigger picture too. Adoption isn’t the only issue between the two countries, as evidenced by articles in the last few days that the US and Vietnam met in Washington to discuss issues including human rights, trade, investments, and “people-to-people ties” and a new pact between the countries allowing illegal Vietnamese immigrants to be deported from the US.

What happens now? No one knows. I’ve heard one adoption “insider” say that if Vietnam and the US walk away from the table now, they will never come back. This same person pointed out the anti-immigration movement in the US right now, and also said that Vietnam doesn’t “need” the US for international adoptions (they have agreements with several European countries that are still intact). On the other hand, I’ve heard an agency say that if things shut down, it will be temporary and will only cause a small “hiccup” in the program. I think anyone who offers an opinion right now is only guessing. This may even be true for US officials at this point, because no one can say for sure what will happen if and when the US and Vietnam finally begin negotiations.

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4 thoughts on “Will Vietnam adoptions continue?

  1. Thank you for your perspective on this. I’ve read so many contradictory things regarding the fate of the program, it’s hard to gauge what might come of it. On one hand I think American PAPs can have a huge impact on the US gov’t. I honestly don’t think any Cambodian kids would have come home after the 12/01 suspension if it had not been for the outcry of hundreds of PAPs. However, if the ball is more in the VN govt’s court, who knows what will happen. As you said, they may just say they don’t need US families as they have agreements with plenty of other countries. There are no guarantees that if the MOU is not renewed that anyone in process, even those with a referral, will be allowed to complete their adoptions.

    All I know is that I really feel for the families who are in limbo.

  2. This is a wonderful, clear exposition of what’s going in the Vietnam adoption world. Thank you for putting it together.

    And I agree, at the end of the day, no one really knows if adoptions will continue.

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