Report: Bureaucratic limbo leaves new adoptive parents stranded in Japan

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Ryan Hoag and Wiyani Prayetno met their adopted daughter for the first time on May 10. They’d just arrived in Japan and hoped to return as a family to B.C. within a couple of weeks.

Those first moments affected Hoag profoundly.

“You felt vulnerable. You felt warm. You felt in love instantly. You felt like a family unit,” Hoag told CBC News.

But weeks after the new parents expected to be back in their Coquitlam, B.C., home as a family, Prayetno and the baby are stranded in a Tokyo hotel, along with four other B.C. families caught in bureaucratic confusion over cross-Pacific adoptions.

The central issue is an April 13 notice from the U.S. government, which says it was told by the government of Japan that all intercountry adoptions of Japanese children require authorization from the courts in Japan.

To date, Canadians haven’t required that authorization to adopt children from Japan. But Canadian officials have told adoptive parents they need clarification from the Japanese government to make sure that no one is breaking the law.

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Until that clarification arrives, Canada will not issue visas for babies adopted in Japan, and Prayetno is stuck in Tokyo with a newborn.

Hoag says he felt an instant connection with his adopted daughter. (Ryan Hoag)

Hoag was at their side for the first three weeks, but decided to fly back to Canada on June 1 to help care for his father, who is ill.

“The decision was heart-wrenching,” Hoag said.

‘Something needs to be done’

Prayetno has no friends or family in Japan to support her. Hoag said he checks in with her multiple times each day to see how she’s doing, but the predicament is beginning to wear her down.

“It got to the point late last week where she called me crying and saying, ‘I don’t understand why the government is doing this to us’ … and for me, as a husband and a father, that was the turning point that something needs to be done,” he said.

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Immigration lawyer Aleksandar Stojicevic represents the five Canadian families stranded in Japan, and he said each one has followed the proper procedure for adopting from Japan — a procedure that has been in place for a decade.

“Some of the families have already been there for over eight weeks. You’re only allowed to be in Japan on a visa for 12,” Stojicevic said.

The families have not been able to confirm which Japanese authority informed the U.S. about the need to have court approval for intercountry adoptions, Stojicevic said.

“All of the Japanese government officials we’ve spoken with are surprised that the children are still in Japan. They don’t know where this is coming from,” he said.

Issue is a priority, Ottawa says

The B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development, which approved each set of parents to go ahead with the adoptions, said it has secured Japanese legal counsel to support the stranded families.

Hoag left Japan on June 1 to help care for his sick father. His wife has no friends or family in Japan and the delay is wearing her down. (Ryan Hoag)

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“We feel for the families affected and are working closely with our federal counterparts and adoption agencies in B.C. to find a resolution quickly,” a ministry spokesperson said in an email.

Meanwhile, Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) spokesperson Nancy Caron said the Canadian government is treating this issue as a priority.

“Our hearts go out to the prospective parents, who have travelled to Japan to adopt children,” Caron said in an email.

“We understand and sympathize with their very difficult situation, however IRCC must respect its obligations under international and Canadian laws which is in the best interests of the children involved.”

The families are hoping the Japanese Justice Ministry will clarify the situation soon, and they’ll be able to bring their children home.

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