In 1990, Congress enacted federal law to assist certain undocumented children in obtaining lawful permanent residence through a special immigrant visa category known as Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). In 2008, the statutory definition of SIJS was clarified and expanded under new reauthorized legislation.
SIJS helps certain undocumented children in the state juvenile system to become Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR). Children involved in adoption or guardianship proceedings who have been abandoned, abused or neglected may be able to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and, based on that, apply to become a LPR.
In its current form, the SIJS law requires that an applicant file Form I-360 visa petition with supporting documentation, including a juvenile court order signed by a judge making the findings described below. An application for lawful permanent residence may be concurrently filed with the I-360 visa petition, or, it may be filed following the approval of the visa petition. Immigrant youth may be eligible to receive employment authorization during the pendency of their application, and ultimately lawful permanent residence upon approval of their visa petition. SIJS applicants are excused from many requirements that most other applicants for lawful permanent residence must meet, including providing proof of a lawful entry into the United States. However, there are some instances where a waiver may be required for certain criminal or immigration issues, and intending immigrants with these complications are advised to have their cases reviewed by an immigration attorney.
Eligibility Requirements for SIJS applicants:
- The intending applicant must be under the age of 21 and unmarried. (Many children may not be able to get the necessary court order if they are over 18 years of age.)
- S/he must be declared a dependent on a “juvenile court” in the United States, or the court must have legally committed the child to, or placed him or her under the custody of an agency or department of a state, or an individual or entity appointed by a state or juvenile court, while the child is in the United States. The child must remain under the jurisdiction of that court during the SIJS application process.
- A “juvenile court” is defined as a court located in the United States having jurisdiction under state law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles. This covers children in dependency, adoption, guardianship/probate, and delinquency proceedings.
- In addition to the finding above, the juvenile court must also make the following findings:
- The child’s reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment or a similar basis found under state law; and,
- It is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to his or her country of nationality or last habitual residence.
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