Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJ) is an immigration benefit and path to a green card for children who are found to be abused, neglected, or abandoned. Created by Congress in 1990, this type of immigration relief helps certain vulnerable children for whom it may not be in their best interest to return to their home country. Children with SIJ may apply for legal permanent residency, i.e., a green card, before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) if not in removal proceedings, or before the Immigration Court if in removal proceedings.
Who qualifies for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
The Immigration and Nationality Act section 101(a)(27)(J) establishes the definition of a Special Immigrant Juvenile. A “child” who has been abused, neglected, or abandoned may apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
To qualify for SIJ, you must:
- be in the United States;
- be under the age of 21 at the time of filing;
- be unmarried; and
- have a juvenile court’s order with three (3) specific findings:
- the child is declared dependent by a juvenile court in the U.S.;
- reunification with one or both of the child’s parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis; and
- it is in the child’s best interest that they not be returned to their country or their parents’ country of nationality or last habitual residence.
A child eligible for SIJ can include, for example, someone who:
- is in federal custody in the United States without parents or legal guardians;
- is in foster care (i.e., the welfare system); or
- is in the court-ordered custody of a state agency (e.g., Department of Children and Families) or an individual (e.g., a family member or family friend, such as an aunt or grandparent, who has adopted the child or has been declared a guardian to the child).
Turning 18? Don’t delay in applying for Special Immigration Juvenile Status!
The eligibility for SIJ is very specific and time-sensitive. Contact our immigration lawyers as soon as possible to determine whether you or someone you know may qualify for this immigration benefit.
Currently, in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the Probate and Family Courts have jurisdiction over children 18 years old and younger. Therefore, you must obtain the court order with the special findings before turning 18 years old to qualify for SIJ. In other states, courts have jurisdiction beyond the child’s 18th birthday – until their 21st birthday.
As long as a child’s dependency order has not been vacated, terminated or ended, the child can adjust their SIJ status to become a legal permanent resident (i.e., a green card holder) as long as they file the adjustment application prior to reaching 21 years of age.
What are “abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar grounds”?
State laws define what abuse, neglect, and abandonment are. In 2008, the William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”) amended the original statute and broadened eligibility for SIJ by including “similar grounds” to abuse, neglect, and abandonment.
In Massachusetts, a Probate and Family judge must determine if a child has been subject to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar conditions based on the Commonwealth’s laws.
Remember: The abuse, neglect, or abandonment need not have occurred within the U.S. for the child to qualify for SIJ. You may seek SIJ for the abuse, neglect, or abandonment you experienced while outside of the U.S.
What does it mean that a juvenile court must find that reunification with one or both parents is not viable?
You must demonstrate that a significant separation exists between the parent and the child because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
For a more in-depth explanation of this and other requirements, contact a knowledgeable immigration lawyer like Attorney Goldstein.
What is the “child’s best interest”? And what does it have to do with applying for SIJ?
A juvenile court judge must find that you should not be returned to your country of origin or your parents’ country of origin for a substantial reason. The absence of any relatives living in their home country or the inadequate conditions of a relative’s home in that country may favor your petition for special findings.
Does the child need to show that they have been abused, neglected, and/or abandoned by both of their parents or just one parent to qualify for SIJ?
As stated previously, the TVPRA amended the law and broadened eligibility for SIJ in 2008.
Therefore, a child need not be separated from both parents to be eligible for SIJ. In fact, a child may even reside with one parent when applying for SIJ. For example, if you are living in the U.S. with your mother, you may qualify for SIJ if you can prove that your father abused you or abandoned you whether here in the U.S. or outside of the U.S.
What is the process for obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
To obtain SIJ, there are two major steps before two separate courts:
Step 1: Get a court order from a juvenile court. In Massachusetts, a hearing before the Probate and Family Court in the county where you live will be necessary to seek the special findings. A judge must order special findings (explained above).
Once these findings are made, your biological or prior adoptive parent(s) will not be eligible to receive immigration benefits through you.
Step 2: Apply to USCIS for SIJ. You must submit Form I-360 as well as the special order from the juvenile court. You must also submit proof of their age (e.g., a birth certificate, a passport biography page with the date of birth clearly legible, an identification card such as a cédula, etc.). USCIS must adjudicate an SIJ petition within 180 days.
If you are not in Immigration Court proceedings, then you may simultaneously apply for adjustment of status using Form I-485. However, if you have a hearing before the Immigration Court, then you must await USCIS’s decision on the SIJ application before seeking a green card before the Immigration Judge.
As you can see, applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status is not an easy process. That is why you need an experienced immigration attorney, who knows how to navigate the complex legal system and advocate for you and your loved ones.
What are the benefits of receiving Special Immigrant Juvenile Status?
- SIJ waives numerous types of inadmissibility issues, including unlawful entry, working without authorization, falsely claiming U.S. citizenship, etc.
- So even if you have entered the United States without inspection (i.e., undocumented), you may still qualify to become a green card holder.
- If you are granted SIJ, you can adjust your immigration status and become a green card holder.
- You will also be able to apply for other benefits such as a Social Security Card and a driver’s license.
- As a green card holder, you will be on the path to obtaining a U.S. citizenship.
How can our immigration lawyers help you get a green card through SIJ?
If you or someone you know is under the age of 21 and lives in the Boston area, contact the Law Offices of Joshua L. Goldstein to help you. Attorney Goldstein has extensive years of experience guiding countless families through the immigration process. Our immigration lawyers understand what you are going through and they are eager to help. Call us at (617) 722-0005 today to schedule an immigration consultation.