Immigrant youth who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents can seek Special Immigrant Juvenile status. This is a step toward qualifying for lawful permanent residency.
What is the Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa?
In 1990, Congress passed a federal law to help undocumented children who qualify obtain permanent residency by way of a special category known as Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status. In 2008, the legal definition of SIJ was amended by legislation and expanded the category of children who qualify.
Currently, SIJ status helps certain juveniles who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. These minors can obtain SIJ status. Once they have it, can seek permanent residency as well. Sometimes children who request the status find themselves in removal proceedings before an immigration court (Executive Office for Immigration Review or EOIR). Some children who request the status are not in proceedings before an immigration court and simply want to obtain lawful immigration status in the United States.
What are the requirements for classification as a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ)?
The requirements for classification as a SIJ (Special Immigrant Juvenile) are as follows:
- Be under 21 years of age.
- Be single.
- Dependency or Custody:
- Be declared dependent on a juvenile court in the United States, or
- The juvenile court must award custody over the juvenile to an agency of the state or an individual.
- The court must order that the juvenile's reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis under state law.
- The court must determine that it is not in the juvenile's best interest to return to their or their parent's previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence.
A "juvenile court" is defined as a court in the United States with jurisdiction under state law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles. Juvenile courts are state courts (in this case, Texas), and they are not federal courts.
What happens if state laws define juvenile as a person under 18 years of age?
It is important to point out that, although federal law protects individuals who are under 21 years of age, sometimes state laws define a juvenile as a person under 18 years of age. For this reason, some individuals older than 18 and younger than 21 will not be able to obtain the necessary order from a juvenile court.
How can SIJ (Special Immigrant Juvenile) status be requested?
Once the state juvenile court order with the necessary findings is obtained, SIJ status can be requested with the federal immigration authorities. Form I-360 should be filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). No fee is required to file the I-360. Additionally, there is no annual limit on the number of I-360 petitions that USCS can approve.
USCIS can request an interview with the petitioning juvenile before making a decision or can simply grant or deny the I-360 petition. Sometimes USCIS does not grant the petitioner without first requesting more information about the process in the state juvenile court.
What happens if USCIS grants the petition for SIJ status?
If USCIS decides to grant the petition, it is a step forward, but remember that:
- if the juvenile is in removal proceedings, those proceedings do not halt or terminate simply because the petition was approved, and
- the juvenile does have the right to request permanent residence through Form I-485, but only if a visa number is immediately available.
A visa number is immediately available when the priority date for the immigrant category (EB-4, in this case) is current. The notification approving the I-360 petition always includes the priority date.
Permanent residency has requirements independent of those requirements for SIJ status. In order to become a resident, whether or not the juvenile is a person admissible pursuant to immigration law will be evaluated. There is a fee related to Form I-485, but some individuals qualify to submit the form without the fee.
For those juveniles that are in removal proceedings, the immigration court is the one with jurisdiction over the application to adjust their status to that of a lawful permanent resident (the I-485). Sometimes the court will have a hearing to decide on residency, and sometimes it will terminate the proceedings so USCIS can make the decision.
How can I get more information?
See the diagram below to understand the steps necessary to obtain SIJ status and permanent residency.
For more information, consult the USCIS website in English here:
It is important to consult with an attorney who specializes in immigration law if you think you qualify or know someone who appears to qualify for SIJ status. For a list of free or low-cost legal services in your area of Texas, see the list provided by the immigration courts (EOIR): List of Pro Bono Legal Service Providers.
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