Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a vital and unique form of humanitarian immigration relief that exists to protect certain foreign-born children present in the United States who have experienced abandonment, abuse, or neglect. This provision, under the Immigration and Nationality Act, paves the way for these vulnerable individuals to obtain lawful permanent residence, commonly known as a Green Card.
Created by Congress in 1990, SIJS provides an avenue for these children to secure legal immigration status in the U.S., even if they originally entered the country without inspection or have overstayed their visas. Over the years, SIJS has been expanded and refined through subsequent legislation and policy changes to better address the needs of this particular population.
The SIJS program differs from many other immigration programs due to its intersection with state family law. It requires a state juvenile court order that makes certain findings before a child can apply to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for SIJS. This process is designed to ensure that a grant of SIJS aligns with the child’s best interests – a fundamental principle in child welfare matters.
Through SIJS, eligible children may ultimately acquire lawful permanent resident status, often referred to as getting a Green Card, thereby providing them with long-term security and stability within the United States. SIJS beneficiaries are also able to work legally in the U.S. and, when they reach the appropriate age, can apply for U.S. citizenship through naturalization.
In this comprehensive guide to Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), we’ll discuss the following topics.
Eligibility for SIJS
Applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) requires meeting a set of specific criteria, established to ensure the protection of minors in particularly vulnerable situations. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the eligibility requirements.
- Age and Marital Status: Applicants must be under the age of 21 and unmarried at the time of filing the petition. It’s important to note that the applicant must remain unmarried until the SIJS petition is approved.
- Presence in the United States: To be eligible for SIJS, an individual must be physically present in the United States.
- Declaration by a Juvenile Court: A state juvenile court must declare the applicant dependent on the court or legally place the applicant under the custody of an agency or department of a state, or an individual or entity appointed by a state or juvenile court. This essentially means that the applicant is subject to the jurisdiction of this court.
- Reunification is Not Viable: The juvenile court should have determined that reunification with one or both of the immigrant’s parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis found under state law.
- Best Interest Consideration: The court must find that it would not be in the child’s best interest to be returned to their previous country of nationality or last habitual residence. This involves the court evaluating various factors related to the child’s safety and well-being.
- Consent Request: SIJS requires USCIS to consent to the juvenile court’s jurisdiction as it pertains to the child’s status and custody determinations. This ‘SIJS Consent’ is in place to ensure the juvenile court’s order serves to provide relief from abuse, neglect, or abandonment beyond merely designating the child’s immigration status.
Keep in mind that while these are the standard criteria, some variances may occur based on state laws and the specifics of an individual’s situation.
Application Process for SIJS
Applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) involves a multi-step process with different government agencies. Here’s a detailed breakdown of the steps involved.
- Obtain a Juvenile Court Order: The first step in the process is obtaining an order from a state juvenile court, which declares that the individual is under the jurisdiction of the court and eligible for SIJS. The court order must include certain findings, such as that it’s in the child’s best interest to remain in the United States and that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
- File Form I-360: Once the juvenile court order has been issued, the individual can file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This form serves as the petition to classify the individual as a special immigrant juvenile.
- USCIS Reviews the Petition: USCIS reviews the I-360 petition, the juvenile court order, and any supporting documentation. If the petition is approved, the individual is classified as a special immigrant juvenile.
- File Form I-485 to Adjust Status: If a visa is immediately available, the individual can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to apply for lawful permanent resident status (a Green Card). In some cases, Forms I-360 and I-485 can be filed concurrently.
- Interview and Adjudication: Depending on the circumstances, USCIS might schedule an interview with the petitioner. Following the interview (if required) and adjudication of the application, if approved, the individual becomes a lawful permanent resident.
The SIJS process can be complex, and each individual case has unique circumstances. Therefore, it’s highly recommended to seek the assistance of a qualified immigration lawyer or an accredited representative when applying for SIJS.
From SIJS to a Green Card
Obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a significant step towards getting a Green Card (lawful permanent residency) in the United States. Here’s a closer look at the transition process from SIJS to a Green Card.
- Approval of SIJS Petition: As previously mentioned, the journey towards a Green Card starts with obtaining SIJS. This process involves obtaining a state juvenile court order and successfully filing and getting approval for an I-360 petition.
- Visa Availability: Once USCIS approves the SIJS petition, the applicant must wait for a visa number to become available. Due to annual limits on visas, this waiting period can vary.
- Adjustment of Status: When a visa number becomes available, SIJS beneficiaries can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
- Processing and Adjudication: After USCIS receives the adjustment of status application, they review it, along with any supporting documents. USCIS may also require the applicant to attend a biometrics appointment or an interview before they adjudicate the application.
- Green Card Issuance: If USCIS approves the adjustment of status application, they issue a Green Card, granting the SIJS beneficiary lawful permanent resident status. This card serves as proof that its holder has permission to live and work indefinitely in the U.S.
It’s important to note that SIJS recipients become eligible for a Green Card as a result of their SIJS classification.
Benefits and Limitations of SIJS
The Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a unique immigration classification that provides a pathway to lawful permanent residency for certain vulnerable youths. However, like all immigration benefits, it has its advantages and limitations.
Benefits of SIJS
- Pathway to Permanent Residency: One of the main benefits of SIJS is the direct route it provides to lawful permanent residency (a Green Card). Unlike some other immigration classifications, SIJS beneficiaries are immediately eligible to apply for adjustment of status once their SIJS petition is approved and a visa number becomes available.
- Protection from Deportation: While an SIJS application is pending, beneficiaries generally receive protection from removal proceedings. This means they cannot be deported during this time.
- Eligibility for Work Authorization: SIJS beneficiaries are eligible to apply for employment authorization, which can provide a crucial source of income and stability.
Limitations of SIJS
- Age Limit: SIJS is only available to individuals under the age of 21 at the time of filing the SIJS petition. This can be a significant limitation as it excludes many vulnerable individuals who do not meet the age requirement.
- Irrevocable Parental Reunification Bar: SIJS beneficiaries are prohibited from ever sponsoring their parents for immigration benefits, even after they become lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens. This is a significant limitation that separates SIJS from other forms of immigration relief.
- Limited Visa Availability: There is an annual limit on the number of SIJS-based visas that can be issued each year. This can lead to a backlog and long wait times for a visa number to become available.
- Dependency on State Courts: SIJS requires obtaining an order from a state juvenile court. This dependency on state courts, which operate independently of the federal immigration system, can lead to delays and complexities in the SIJS process.
The unique benefits and limitations of SIJS highlight the importance of understanding this immigration relief option thoroughly. If you think you or someone you know may be eligible for SIJS, it is advisable to seek advice from an experienced immigration professional.
How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help
Navigating the complex landscape of immigration law and policy can be challenging, particularly for vulnerable individuals such as unaccompanied minors or those eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). The expertise and guidance of an immigration lawyer can make a significant difference in the successful outcome of a SIJS case. Here are a few ways an immigration lawyer can provide assistance.
- Case Assessment: An immigration lawyer can help assess whether SIJS is the best pathway to immigration benefits for a particular individual. They can help understand the individual’s situation and determine the best strategy moving forward, which may involve SIJS or another form of immigration relief.
- Guiding Through the Application Process: The SIJS application process involves multiple steps and strict deadlines. An immigration lawyer can provide guidance and assistance throughout the process, helping to ensure that applications are complete, accurate, and submitted on time.
- Representation in Court Proceedings: In some cases, obtaining SIJS may involve appearing in state juvenile court to obtain the necessary orders. An immigration lawyer can represent individuals in these proceedings, advocating for their best interests and ensuring that all legal requirements are met.
- Addressing Potential Issues: There can be potential issues and obstacles that arise during the SIJS application process, such as complications related to the applicant’s age or custodial situation. An immigration lawyer can help anticipate and address these issues, increasing the chances of a successful outcome.
- Navigating Post-SIJS Issues: After obtaining SIJS, there are further steps to take to secure a Green Card and ultimately, citizenship, if desired. An immigration lawyer can provide guidance during these steps and help address any potential issues or complications that arise.
The support of immigration lawyers can be invaluable for individuals pursuing SIJS. It’s important to remember that every individual’s situation is unique, and the best course of action may vary accordingly.
Are you a young immigrant facing difficult circumstances? You don’t have to go through it alone. Attorney Pepper Glenn, with her extensive experience in immigration law, can help you understand and navigate the SIJS process. At Glenn Immigration Law Firm, we are committed to standing by your side. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions and answers about Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).
Can I work in the United States with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
Yes, you can work in the United States with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). Once you receive your SIJS, you can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which permits you to work legally in the U.S. Furthermore, when you adjust your status to a lawful permanent resident, commonly known as getting a Green Card, through SIJS, you are authorized to work without needing an EAD.
Does Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) expire?
No, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) does not expire. Once SIJS has been granted, it remains in effect unless revoked due to a violation of the terms of the status, such as committing a certain type of crime or fraud. The ultimate goal of obtaining SIJS is usually to apply for lawful permanent residency (a Green Card), which also does not expire, although the physical card must be renewed periodically.
What if my Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application is denied?
If your Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application is denied, you have the right to appeal the decision within 33 days of the notice of denial. You may also be able to file a motion to reopen or reconsider your case. However, the denial could make you vulnerable to removal proceedings.
Can I sponsor my family members after obtaining a Green Card through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) has specific restrictions on family sponsorship. Unlike other categories of Green Card holders, individuals who have obtained a Green Card through SIJS cannot petition for their parents to obtain lawful status in the U.S. For siblings, SIJS recipients must wait until they become U.S. citizens to sponsor them for immigration. This limitation is a unique aspect of SIJS meant to prevent misuse of the system.
Does Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) provide protection against deportation?
Yes, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) provides some protection against deportation. Once an SIJS application is properly filed and pending, the applicant is generally safeguarded from removal proceedings. However, it’s important to note that this protection is not absolute and certain actions, such as committing certain crimes or violating specific immigration rules, could still lead to deportation proceedings.
Can I travel outside of the U.S. while my Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application is pending?
Yes, you can technically travel outside of the U.S. while your Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application is pending. However, doing so can be risky as it could potentially be seen as an abandonment of your SIJS application.
What if I turn 21 while my Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application is pending?
If your Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) application was filed before you turned 21, you generally remain eligible for SIJS even after you’ve reached 21. This is due to a federal law provision known as the “age-out protection”. However, rules can vary depending on individual state interpretations.
What happens if my circumstances change after obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
If your circumstances change after obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), such as getting married or moving, it could potentially impact your SIJS status or your eligibility to adjust status to become a lawful permanent resident. Each situation is unique and the impact of these changes can vary.