Senate Passes Feinstein, Johnson Bill to Waive Visa Renewal Fees for Adoptions from Democratic Republic of the Congo
Jul 15 2015
Washington—The Senate this week unanimously approved the Adoptive Family Relief Act, sponsored by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Ron Johnson (R-Wis.). The bill would allow the State Department to waive visa renewal fees for families adopting children from abroad in 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.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.). The State Department also supports the bill.
The Adoptive Family Relief Act would immediately assist American families that 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 renew the visa for their adoptive child who remains in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“The day you bring your child home is one of the happiest days of a parent’s life. It’s heartbreaking that hundreds of families do not know when that day will come,” said Senator Feinstein. “We need to support these families by reducing the financial burden they face while they wait for the situation in the Congo to be resolved. I hope the House will act quickly on this legislation.”
“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. I am proud this legislation passed the U.S. Senate unanimously.”
“It is simply unfair that families across the country who are anxiously waiting to be united with their adoptive children from the Congo must face a hefty visa fee every six months due to heart-wrenching delays entirely beyond their control,” said Senator Klobuchar. “The bill’s unanimous passage in the Senate today is an important step towards our shared goal of alleviating this financial burden for all families whose international adoptions are being held up by exceptional circumstances.”
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 are passed. While there has been some progress, families remain separated.
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.