Perhaps you’re not Angelina Jolie, but you still have a big heart and hate to see children suffering in third world countries. Or, perhaps you’ve discovered that you and your spouse are unable to conceive on your own, and you’re hoping for a child who shares your specific ethnicity and heritage.

Whatever the reason, an overseas adoption can be a blessing on all sides. Few people would take issue with this act of love. But, if you’re a security clearance holder – particularly in the intelligence community – the U.S. government might.

Here are a few things to consider:

The Age of the Child

In most cases, a minor child would never be considered a national security risk. Then again, there is a substantial difference between a two-year-old from Thailand and a 17-year-old military age male from Somalia. The former isn’t going to get more than a glance from security officials; the latter might raise some eyebrows.

These are obviously extreme examples, but the point is that the older the child is, the more likely he or she is to have developed relationships in – and allegiance to – the home country that could create potential foreign influence risks for the adoptive parent. It also means less time for the child to integrate into the United States before becoming an adult. 

The Identity of the Foreign Country

Of similar relevance is the identity of the child’s birth country. Foreign influence considerations have long taken into account the identity of the foreign country and whether issues like espionage or terrorism there present a “heightened risk” to the United States. The underlying concern is that the security clearance holder may be placed into a position of having to choose between his or her allegiance to the United States and the safety of family members, friends, or financial assets abroad due to hostage situations or other forms of coercion by either state or non-state actors.

It is conceivable, albeit unlikely, that a situation could arise in which an adopted foreign child leaves siblings behind who could be used as leverage against the security clearance holder, vis-à-vis the adopted child, by a hostile foreign government or terrorist organization. Questions to ask one’s self in this area include: what is the nature of foreign relations between the U.S. and the foreign country; how prevalent and developed is the rule of law in that country; what is the foreign country’s form of government (democratic vs. totalitarian); and, what is the country’s overall record of compliance with international norms?

Any Lingering Connections to the Country Post-Adoption

Lastly, keep in mind that the cleaner the break between the adopted child and his or her home country, the less potential for foreign influence. Be wary of situations in which adopted children remain entitled to social welfare benefits from their birth country, and decline reissuance of foreign passports or identity cards for adopted children after they obtain their U.S. citizenship. 

At the end of the day, foreign adoptions – like virtually all other potential foreign influence matters – are considered on a case-by-case basis. If you love a child, no matter the age, country of origin, or lingering overseas connections, the decision to adopt will probably far outweigh career considerations on a personal level. And, even in cases where the potential for foreign influence is higher, chances are still good that you can mitigate the government’s initial concerns; foreign adoptions rank very low on the scale of potential foreign influence concerns.

Yet however implausible foreign influence issues may be as a result of foreign adoption, they are still possible. Those considering a foreign adoption are wise to consider all possible scenarios before proceeding.


This article is intended as general information only and should not be construed as legal advice. Consult an attorney regarding your specific situation. 

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Sean M. Bigley retired from the practice of law in 2023, after a decade representing clients in the security clearance process. He was previously an investigator for the Defense Counterintelligence and Security Agency (then-U.S. Office of Personnel Management) and served from 2020-2024 as a presidentially-appointed member of the National Security Education Board. For security clearance assistance, readers may wish to consider Attorney John Berry, who is available to advise and represent clients in all phases of the security clearance process, including pre-application counseling, denials, revocations, and appeals. Mr. Berry can be found at