SIJS: How Can I Apply for Asylum as Someone Under 18 Years Old?


Applying for asylum in the United States can be a complicated process, especially for minors. Asylum offers protection to those who cannot return to their home country due to fear of persecution. In this article, we provide guidance on how to apply for asylum in the USA if you are under 18.


This includes several different methods such as SIJS, as an unaccompanied child, or as an accompanied child on your parent’s asylum application. We detail these different methods together with a range of advice and tips to arm you with knowledge and understanding.


After reading this article you should have a clear idea of the different options available, plus a starting point on what to do next.


Understanding the Importance of the “Unaccompanied Child” Status


Being an unaccompanied child can impact your asylum application. Understanding this status is crucial for navigating the asylum process effectively.

What is the Definition of an Unaccompanied Child/Minor?


An unaccompanied child, or minor, is a person under 18 years old who enters the United States without a parent or legal guardian. This status is important because it affects how you apply for asylum.

What is the Criteria for Being Designated as an Unaccompanied Minor in the U.S.?


To be designated as an unaccompanied minor, you must be under 18, not have lawful immigration status, and be without a parent or legal guardian in the U.S. who can provide care and physical custody.


How to Apply for Asylum as an Unaccompanied Child?

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Applying for asylum as an unaccompanied child involves several steps and different agencies. This section outlines the process to help you understand what to expect.

Placement in ORR Custody (Office of Refugee Resettlement)


Unaccompanied children are usually placed in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR). ORR provides care and finds suitable sponsors, such as relatives or foster families, to ensure your well-being.


It is their aim to place you in suitable settings that are not restrictive. They will also make sure you are safe and that your best interests are taken care of. A suitable sponsor is found based on your individual circumstances – not via generic process.


The ORR works with a range of state-sponsored care providers. These people and organizations provide classroom education, healthcare, training, mental health services, access to legal services, asylum case management, and the chance for socialization, for example.

Role of Sponsors Such as a Parent or Family Member


Sponsors, who might be parents or other family members, play a vital role. They provide a safe environment and help you with the asylum process. Sponsors must be verified and approved by ORR. Generally, a sponsor must have a valid current immigration status in the US and a fixed address where they have resided for at least one year.

Application Process With the USCIS


As an unaccompanied child, you apply for asylum through the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). This involves filling out Form I-589, attending an interview, and possibly going to court hearings.

What Resources Are Available For Unaccompanied Children?


There are several resources available to help unaccompanied children navigate the asylum process.

KIND (Kids in Need of Defense)


KIND provides free legal assistance to unaccompanied minors. They help with the asylum application and offer representation in court. They can also provide psychological support and fight for your rights as an asylum seeker.



ImportaMi offers resources and support for immigrant children. They provide educational materials, legal aid, and emotional support. You can visit their website and enter your zip code to find the nearest ImportaMi branch. This organization also provides educational, healthcare, safey, LGBTQ+, and news resources.

How Legal Representation Can Help Your Application


Having a lawyer can significantly improve your chances of a successful asylum application. Legal representatives understand the process and can guide you through each step. A lawyer can help you determine which application method is appropriate.

They can also help with things like understanding SIJS age-out by state and SIJS requirements and assisting in the completion of your application forms.


If you have to attend interviews or hearings, an attorney can represent you and provide support. They will also give coaching on what to expect and the potential questions you may be asked.


What Options For Application Do You Have as an Accompanied Child?


If you are accompanied by a parent or guardian, your asylum application process may be different. It is often the easier option. Purely because you have the emotional support from your parents and can benefit from their experience and knowledge.

Inclusion in Your Parent’s Asylum Case


As an accompanied child, you might be included in your parent’s asylum application. This means your parent’s case covers your need for protection as well. 


This is often the most common method, and it is relatively easy to do. Your parent can simply list you as a dependant on their application in the relevant sections on Form I-589. You will have to provide relevant documents such as proof of relationship.

Applying Separately From a Parent


In some cases, you might need to apply separately from your parent. This can happen if your situation is different from theirs or if you have additional grounds for asylum. 


Where possible, we advise always trying to apply with your parent via their application as it helps streamline the process. It also makes it easier for things like family interviews and checking your case status.

Understand The Importance of Consulting Your Parent or Guardian First


Always talk to your parent or guardian before applying for asylum. They can help you understand your options and support you through the process. If all your family works together, you can push through the asylum process and help each other.


What Additional Immigration Options Are There for Minors?


Besides asylum, there are other immigration options available for minors.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)


SIJS is for children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. It allows you to apply for a green card and stay in the U.S. legally. 


Special Immigrant Juvenile Status requirements include being under the age of 21, and unmarried, You must also be able to demonstrate that you have been abused, abandoned, or negleceted by your parents. Lastly, you must be able to show that it is unwise for you to return to your home country.


The first stage of obtaining your Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Green Card is obtaining a court order from the Juvenile Court. They determine your dependency and verify your grounds for seeking an SIJS Visa. After that, you have to file Form I-360 and potentially attend an interview.

Family Petition


A family petition is when a family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident sponsors you to come and live in the U.S. There are different types of family petitions based on your relationship with them and their immigration status in the U.S.

U Visa


A U visa is for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse. It allows you to stay in the U.S. and eventually apply for a green card. U Visa eligibility includes:


  • Being a victim of a qualifying criminal activity.
  • You have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse.
  • You have info about the criminal activity.
  • You have been helpful to law enforcement.
  • The crime occured in the U.S.

T Visa


A T Visa is for victims of human trafficking. It allows you to stay in the U.S., work, and apply for a green card after a few years. Initially, the T Visa lasts for 4 years, but you can apply for Legal Permanent Resident status after this. T Visa eligibility includes:


  • Being a victim of sex trafficking or labor trafficking.
  • Physically present in the U.S, American Samoa, Mariana Islands, or a port of entry.
  • Have complied with any law enforcement request.
  • Can show that it would be unwise to remove you from the U.S.

How Can You Maintain Your Immigration Case?

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Green Card

Maintaining your immigration case is essential to ensure you remain eligible for asylum or other forms of relief. For SIJS, for example you must be aware of the SIJS age out by state policy to make sure you obtain your court order in time. Additionally, there are things you must do, such as keeping your address updated and checking your case status.

Keeping Your Address Updated With the USCIS


Always update your address with USCIS. This ensures you receive important documents and notices about your case. The USCIS provide guidance on how to do this and it is done easily if you create an account on their website. With an account, you can do other things quickly, like checking your case status.

Regularly Checking Your Case Status


Regularly check the status of your case online or by contacting USCIS. This helps you stay informed about any updates or required actions. 


Once you have submitted your application (whether that’s SIJS guardianship or asylum), the USCIS should provide a receipt number. Make sure you keep this safe, as it is what you must enter to track your case online via the USCIS website.

Arming Yourself With Knowledge About the Process


Understanding the asylum process can help you avoid mistakes. Learn as much as you can and ask for help when needed. 


Make sure you are aware of things like travel restrictions and employment authorization. If you know your SIJS eligibility or asylum requirements inside out, you can make sure you don’t do anything accidentally to jeoparize your progress.


How Can You Get Help and Support?


There are many organizations and individuals ready to help you through your asylum journey. This includes groups like KIND, plus the services of an immigration attorney.

Reach Out to Organizations Like KIND


Organizations like KIND provide free legal assistance and support to unaccompanied minors. They can guide you through the application process and represent you in court.


Kids in Need of Defense is an organization that offers legal protection, psychological support, and advocacy for minors seeking asylum. They can also help you find pro bono legal services to assist with your SIJS eligibility or asylum application, for example.


Alternatively, ImportaMi is an organization that provides resources and support for unaccompanied minors and their sponsors entering the States. They have a wealth of legal, healthcare, education, and safety resources.

Consulting With Your Immigration Attorney


Having an immigration attorney can make a big difference. They know the laws and procedures and can help you present the best possible case. An immigration attorney can help with the following:


  • Assess your eligibility for different types of asylum like Special Juvenile Immigrant Status.
  • Discuss the best course of action for your sanctuary.
  • Guide you through the application process.
  • Help with completion of application forms such as Form I-589 and Form I-360.
  • Help gather the required documents and evidence.
  • Make sure you meet deadlines.
  • Legal representation during interviews and hearings.
  • Help in checking your SIJS processing time and case status.
  • Help with any appeals or additional hearings.


As you can see, their knowledge and experience is invaluable. Adults who are more knowledagble about legal proceedings can benefit from an attorney. Therefore, they are even more vital for minors under the age of 18 who have a limited knowledge of immigration processes.


Minors Under 18 Have Various Options for Asylum in the U.S.


Applying for asylum as a minor involves understanding your status, knowing the steps to take, and seeking help from the right resources. With the right support and information, you can navigate this complex process more effectively.


You have several asylum options available depending on your status and what has happened to you. For example, if you have experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect at the hands of one or both of your parents, SIJS adjustment of status could be a viable option.


Alternatively, if you are entering the States as an unaccompanied minor, you could be placed in ORR custody, assigned a guardian, and then file for asylum with Form I-589. Lastly, if you are accompanied by your parents or family member, you can apply for asylum via a family petition.


What is an unaccompanied child?


An unaccompanied child is someone under 18 who enters the U.S. without a parent or legal guardian. You can apply for asylum or SIJS immigration as an unaccompanied child. Initially, when you enter the country, you will be placed in the custody of the ORR before you can start your SIJS application or asylum application.

Can I apply for asylum if I am an unaccompanied child?


Yes, unaccompanied children can apply for asylum through USCIS. You will be placed in ORR custody first and assigned a guardian or advocate. This person can provide support throughout the process. After that, you can apply for an SIJS Green Card or asylum, depending on your eligibility.

Do I need to attend court hearings if I apply for asylum as an unaccompanied child?


You might need to attend court hearings. Your lawyer can help you prepare for these. If you take Special Immigrant Juvenile Status route, an interview is less common. However, if you apply for asylum by filing Form I-589, an interview is usually required. This interview typically lasts around 30 minutes but can be longer depending on your case and evidence.

What if I am not considered an unaccompanied child?


If you are not considered unaccompanied, you might need to apply with your parent or guardian’s help or separately if you have different circumstances. You could still apply for SIJS status as an accompanied minor providing you meet the criteria. More commonly, though, you would apply for asylum as part of your parent’s application.

What other immigration options do I have besides asylum?


Other options include Special Immigration Juvenile Status (SIJS), family petitions, U visas, and T visas. An asylum lawyer who specializes in U.S. immigration can help you choose the most suitable path. They can also guide you through the SIJS process or other application methods.


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