Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) today introduced the Adoptive Family Relief Act, a bill to allow the State Department to waive visa renewal fees for families adopting children from abroad in exceptional circumstances when children are unable to immigrate to the United States in a timely manner.
Cosponsors of the bill are Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). The State Department also supports the bill.
The Adoptive Family Relief Act would immediately assist American families who have adopted children from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which has refused to issue exit permits to legally-adopted children since September 2013. This suspension has affected more than 350 American families, including at least 20 in California.
Under current law, a U.S. immigrant visa for an adoptee expires if it is not used within six months, and costs $325 to renew. Under the bill, the State Department could waive the renewal fee for visas issued on or after March 23, 2013, and refund visa fees that have already been paid since that time. In one case, a Chino Hills, Calif., family has spent nearly $1,000 to repeatedly renew the visa for their adoptive child, who remains stuck in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“Adoption should be one of the happiest experiences of a parent’s life, so it’s heartbreaking that families are being left in limbo when all they want is to bring their child home,” said Senator Feinstein. “We need to support these families by reducing the financial burden they face while this situation gets resolved.”
“Families waiting to be united with their adopted children face enough of a burden already from the political foot-dragging of the Congolese government,” said Senator Johnson. “There is no reason for our federal government to add hundreds of dollars of unnecessary costs in repeated visa renewal fees as the families and children wait. It is the least we can do, yet it means so much to waiting families.”
Congolese authorities have provided a number of excuses for halting adoptions. In July 2104, the government announced that it would not issue exit permits until new adoption laws were passed, but there has been little progress to date.
Members of Congress, including Senators Feinstein and Johnson, have written letters to President Obama and Congolese President Joseph Kabila, as well as the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s parliament to spur action to resolve the problem. The Senate has also passed resolutions concerning the exit permits, and Senator Feinstein has met and corresponded with the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s ambassador to the United States, Faida Mitifu.