Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is an immigration status available to certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both of his/her parents. SIJS is a way for immigrants under 21 to apply for and obtain lawful permanent residence in the United States.
In order to qualify for SIJS:
- The applicant must be under 21 years old
- The applicant must not be married, both when he/she files the application and when USCIS makes a decision on the application
- The applicant must obtain a state court must have issued order that contains certain findings, which USCIS uses to determine SIJS eligibility. The state court may be called “juvenile court,” “family court,” or some other name, depending on which state the court is in, and the court must have the authority under state law to decide on the custody and care of children. A SIJS applicant must be declared as a dependent in such a juvenile court.
- Reunification with one or both of the child’s parents must no longer be a viable option (because of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar reason under state law); AND
- It must be demonstrated that it is not in the best interests of the minor SIJS applicant to return to his/her country of nationality or last habitual residence.
There are many advantages and benefits to obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. SIJS waives several types of inadmissibility that would otherwise prevent the individual from becoming a lawful permanent resident, including waiving unlawful entry, working without proper authorization, status as a public charge, and particular immigration violations. Obtaining SIJS allows an individual to adjust his/her status to that of a lawful permanent resident, obtain work authorization, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
There are two main steps in obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. First, the applicant must engage in a proceeding in the Family or Surrogate’s Court in the county where he/she resides. As part of this proceeding, the minor must be issued a “special findings order,” which declares the minor’s eligibility for SIJS. Second, after receiving this order from the Family or Surrogate’s Court, the minor can then submit a SIJS application to USCIS for adjudication.
Although SIJS allows the individual to adjust status to that of a lawful permanent resident, individuals who obtain LPR status through SIJS can never petition for LPR status for his/her parents. Individuals who obtain LPR status though the SIJ program also cannot petition for a green card for his/her brothers or sisters until the individual becomes a U.S. citizen.
It is crucial to have an immigration attorney handling your case who is experienced in both immigration procedures and the state juvenile courts. The attorneys at Gavlin & Associates, P.C. have extensive experience successfully assisting clients in obtaining SIJ status. Contact us today for a consultation, so that we may help you through the complex SIJS application process.