Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is an option for young people in the United States who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by one or both parents. Most recipients of SIJS status arrived to the United States by themselves or with one parent. Young people who receive SIJS status may qualify for lawful permanent residency.
In recent years, The Virginia Beach-based attorneys at Gardner & Mendoza have helped many young people obtain Special Immigration Juvenile Status and ultimately apply for and receive a green card allowing them to work and remain permanently in the United States.
The path from being an SIJS eligible person to a green card holder is a long and uncertain one, but it’s possible with experienced legal representation. In recent years, thousands of unaccompanied minors have crossed the southern border of the United States, escaping hardship and abuse in Central America. According to the Migration Policy Institute, as many as 11,500 unaccompanied minors crossed the border in May 2020 during a surge rivaling those seen in 2013 and 2014. Some of these children who lack legal immigration status may be able to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Who is Eligible to Apply for Special Immigration Juvenile Status?
Applicants for SIJS must meet the following criteria:
- Be under 21 at the time you file the petition with immigration.
- Be currently living in the United States.
- Be unmarried.
- Have a valid juvenile state-issued court order showing the following:
- The applicant cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar reason under state law.
- The applicant is a dependent on the court, in the custody of a state agency, an individual, or a department appointed by the court.
- It it is not in the best interest of the applicant to return to their home country or their parents’ residence.
What Are the Benefits of Obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
There are many benefits to obtaining SIJS. The biggest benefit is that it provides a route to obtaining lawful permanent residency (a green card)!
Applying for a green card as an SIJS applicant waives several grounds of inadmissibility (things that may prevent you from receiving a green card, normally). For example, if you entered the United Status unlawfully or worked in the United States unlawfully, you can still get a green card as a SIJS applicant.
SIJS applicants are also exempt from the public charge rule and do not have to submit an affidavit of support. They can also receive a fee waiver for their green card application, saving them $1225!
What Are the Disadvantages of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
Getting a green card based on SIJS can take a long time! Often, it is a three or four year process.
People who receive green cards based on their SIJS status and later become U.S. citizens are not permitted to file any type of immigrant petition for either parent – even if they were only abandoned, abused, or neglected by one parent.
The Role of State Juvenile Courts in SIJS Eligibility
A state juvenile court must make a judicial determination about the dependency and custody and care of the juvenile. A juvenile court where the minor resides in Virginia will determine if a child has been neglected, abused, abandoned, or mistreated in another way that means the child cannot be reunited with his or her parents. Typically, an attorney will need to bring the abuse, neglect, or abandonment before the court and show the judge it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to his or her home country. Applicants for SIJS may also encounter issues over the age of the juveniles. For a state court judge to make findings related to a child’s eligibility for SIJ, the judge must have jurisdiction over the child in custody, guardianship, dependency, or delinquency. Courts in most states including Virginia only have jurisdiction over children in these areas until the age of 18, at which point children cease to be legally defined as minors. Although SIJ eligibility under federal law lasts until the age of 21, many immigrants are not able to apply for the status after they turn 18 because they cannot obtain the required state court findings. It’s important to start the SIJS process as soon as possible if you meet the criteria!
Although the juvenile court will decide if a child has been mistreated, it does not administer or enforce the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) grants or denies SIJ status or lawful permanent residence. A child must obtain a juvenile court order and apply to USCIS for SIJ status before the child ages out of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, typically before reaching the age of 18.
How to Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Seeking SIJ classification is a complex issue. It’s advisable to talk to an immigration lawyer. USCIS requires the following:
- Evidence of your age such as a birth certificate, passport, or another identity document issued by a foreign government.
- Submission of Form I-360.
- A valid state juvenile court order with the requisite findings, as described above
How to Apply for a Green Card Based on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Depending on the applicant’s nationality, he or she may be able to apply for a green card at the same time they apply for SIJS. However, most applicants will have to wait a few years before they are able to apply for their green card.
Talk to a Virginia Beach Immigration Lawyer about Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
As with many other avenues of immigration, policy changes, and a growing number of applicants have slowed down the SIJS process making it more fraught and difficult in recent years. Many unaccompanied minors fail to meet the stringent requirements of the asylum rules when they arrive in the United States. Seeking SIJS is another option for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by their parents. Given the complexity of the process and the many hurdles applicants face, it’s prudent to contact an immigration lawyer as soon as possible. Call Gardner & Mendoza at (757) 464-9224.