In an ever-changing immigration landscape, knowledge is not only power but also a lifeline for many vulnerable individuals seeking refuge and stability in the United States. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is one such crucial legal avenue that provides hope and a secure future for minors who have experienced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. As an immigration law firm deeply committed to assisting those in need, we at Hyder Immigration Law recognize the significance of offering comprehensive information about SIJS. In this blog post, we’ll demystify SIJS, exploring its eligibility criteria, benefits, and application process, ensuring that those who require this protection can easily find the guidance they need. Join us on this informative journey, as we shed light on the path to a secure and promising future through Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is an immigration benefit in the realm of Humanitarian Immigration available to certain immigrant children who have been abandoned, abused, and/or neglected by one or both of their parents in their home country. SIJS provides many benefits, including a path to permanent residency – in a different way than family immigration or immigration through immigrant visas. However, that path can be intricate, especially when considering the nuances of navigating the state juvenile court system, and in certain cases, the complexities of removal defense.
- Age: The applicant must be under the age of twenty-one (21) at the time of filing the SIJS petition
- Residence: Must be present in the United States.
- Valid state juvenile court order providing: 1. Dependency: that the applicant is dependent on a juvenile court or placed under the custody of a state agency/department or an individual/entity appointed by a state court. 2. Basis: The applicant cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abandonment, abuse, neglect, and/or a similar basis under state law. 3. Best Interest: It must be determined that it is not in the applicant’s best interest to return to their country of nationality due to the abandonment, abuse, and/or neglect.
Step 1: State Juvenile Court Order
The most common way to obtain the required order from the state juvenile court is for one parent or other competent adult to file a custody petition on behalf of the minor child. This serves as the foundation for establishing eligibility for SIJS by demonstrating that the minor is dependent on the state court due to abandonment, abuse, and/or neglect by one or both parents.
Commonwealth of Virginia
Each state has different laws that govern their custody petitions and processes. In the Commonwealth of Virginia, the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court of an applicant’s city or county of residence has jurisdiction over the custody petition. The petitioner files a custody petition, usually through a lawyer which can be a family visa lawyer, humanitarian visa lawyer or general immigration lawyer. We at HIL are immigration lawyers in Richmond, Virginia and handle these types of cases in the Greater Richmond area.
After filing the petition, typically, a guardian ad litem (GAL) will be assigned to represent the interests of the minor child and provide their recommendation to the court as to the custody placement. Thereafter, a judge will hear the case to determine if custody and/or SIJS findings are appropriate. If the judge issues an order granting custody and SIJS findings, the applicant will be eligible to continue onto the second stage of the process, filing the petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
Special Considerations: Age
Although USCIS requires that a child be under age twenty-one (21) to be eligible for SIJS, the state courts have different age limits to their jurisdiction. In 2021, Virginia Code §16.1-241(A1) was amended to update the age requirements for SIJS custody petitions in the Commonwealth of Virginia. This expanded the availability of SIJS to many older children who previously would have “aged out” of the custody process, rendering them ineligible for SIJS classification.
The immigration law firm of Hyder Immigration Law is able to guide clients on this expansion in eligibility and how it would affect a particular case.
Step 2: Form I-360, Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Once the proper juvenile court order has been issued, the child can apply for Form I-360 with USCIS to gain SIJS classification. The applicant must be under twenty-one (21) years of age at the time of filing.
If the I-360 petition is approved, the applicant must then consult the Department of State Visa Bulletin to determine when their specific priority date will be current and a visa available, meaning that they are eligible to apply for adjustment of status in the United States. The waiting period for visa availability can span several years.
In the past, one obstacle that many young adult SIJS recipients faced was the inability to work lawfully in the United States while waiting for their priority date to become current. However, in May 2022, USCIS updated its guidance allowing deferred action for noncitizens with an approved I-360 petition for SIJS classification. If granted both SIJS classification and deferred action, the applicant is eligible to apply for a work permit. This new USCIS policy enables many young adult SIJS recipients to work lawfully while waiting to apply for adjustment of status.
Once the visa becomes available, according to the Department of State Visa Bulletin, the applicant can typically continue with the final stage of the process, adjustment of status.
Step 3: Adjustment of Status
With an approved I-360 petition and a current priority date, the applicant is eligible to apply for adjustment of status with USCIS. Typically, this is the final stage in the SIJS process.
However, there are sometimes extenuating circumstances that may complicate an applicant’s ability to apply for adjustment of status. The most common complexity arises if the applicant is or ever was in removal proceedings with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR). If the applicant is or was in removal proceedings, it is crucial to consult with an experienced removal defense lawyer before applying for adjustment of status. There may be additional steps to reopen and/or dismiss removal proceedings before proceeding with USCIS. While complicated, there is typically a legal solution for an SIJS recipient who has been in removal proceedings and otherwise qualifies for adjustment of status.
The SIJS process is complex and can be lengthy, but it is also one of the best forms of immigration relief for children who have been abandoned, abused, and/or neglected by one or both of their parents. If the child has either one parent or another competent adult who wishes to serve as their legal guardian and petition for custody, the SIJS process offers a pathway to security, safety, and permanent residency for the child, here in the United States.
Call Hyder Immigration Law to guide you on this journey.