Under Immigration and Nationality Act section 101(a)(27)(J), non-citizens under the age of twenty-one are potentially eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) classification if they have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both of their parents and they can prove it is not in their best interest to return to their home country. SIJS allows those who qualify to eventually apply for lawful permanent residency or a green card.
SIJS can be especially beneficial in situations where a child has come to the country alone, in an effort to reunite with a biological parent in the United States, or with only one biological parent. It is important to remember, however, that an applicant can also be living with a family member, such as an aunt, uncle, grandparent, or older sibling, and still qualify for SIJS.
Who is eligible for SIJS?
An applicant for SIJS must:
- Be under the age of 21 when the appropriate forms are filed with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS);
- Be unmarried, meaning never married or the marriage has ended in annulment, divorce, or death;
- Be currently living in the United States; and
- Have a valid juvenile court order issued by a state court in the United States.
What makes a valid state court order?
Anyone applying for SIJS must have a valid order from their state juvenile court finding first, that the applicant is dependent on the court, in custody of a state agency, or in the custody of an individual or entity appointed by the court. Second, the order that the applicant cannot be reunited with one or both parents due to abandonment, abuse, neglect, or a similar basis found under the specific state’s law. Lastly, the order must find that it is not in the applicant’s best interest to return to their home country or last country of residence or the country of their parents. If one of the applicant’s biological parents is not included in the proceedings, the judge will typically grant custody or guardianship to a suitable family member. All determinations made by the juvenile court are based on state law, not federal immigration law.
Some state juvenile courts allow applicants to remain in their systems after they turn 18, but it is important to check the individual state’s juvenile court jurisdictional requirements to see how long they maintain jurisdiction after the applicant’s 18th birthday. Keep in mind that obtaining the state court order is only one part of proving that the applicant is eligible for SIJS, it is not the whole process.
What happens after the state juvenile court issues a valid order?
After a state juvenile court issues a valid order, the applicant will need to file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with USCIS. In addition to the state court order, the applicant will need to provide evidence of their age (usually a passport or birth certificate). Depending on what country the applicant is originally from, they might not be able to apply for permanent residency immediately. However, once USCIS has the right visa available, the applicant will be able submit a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status to obtain a green card.
Wilner & O’Reilly is a multi-state law firm exclusively dedicated to the practice of immigration law. For individualized advice on your immigration situation, please feel free to contact us. We offer free consultations at our offices in Orange, Riverside, Fresno, Sacramento, San Diego and San Francisco, California; Salt Lake City and Orem, Utah; and Boise, Idaho.
ASSOCIATE ATTORNEY – SALT LAKE CITY
Mallorie A. Mecham is an associate attorney at the Wilner & O’Reilly Salt Lake City Office and her practice focuses primarily on family-based and removal defense cases. Ms. Mecham, the oldest of eight children, was born and raised in Utah. She earned her bachelor’s degree in history from the University of Utah and her Juris Doctorate degree from the J. Reuben Clark Law School at Brigham Young University. Prior to coming to Wilner & O’Reilly, Ms. Mecham spent two years working as a judicial law clerk and attorney advisor for the Salt Lake City Immigration Court as part of the Attorney General Honors Program. While at the court, Ms. Mecham gained extensive, vital, and critical experience in the complex adjudication of removal cases.