10 Things You Need to Know Before Applying for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a special immigration classification that can help certain undocumented children in the United States become lawful permanent residents (get a Green Card). It’s designed to protect minors who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. 


Understanding SIJS is crucial before applying, as it involves a detailed legal process. This blog post provides the essential information you need to know before starting your SIJS application. 


We’ve compiled a simple list of 10 important pointers that can help with your Special Immigrant Juvenile Status journey. This includes things like the application process, its benefits, and the potential challenges you may face.


1. Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Green Card is a Legal Protection for Minors


First, it’s important to understand what the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status statute is and how it came about.

Definition of SIJS


Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a type of immigration relief for children who cannot return to their home country due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. It allows these minors to apply for a Green Card.

Legal Framework and Applicable Legislation


SIJS is governed by U.S. immigration laws, including the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). It involves state juvenile courts and federal immigration authorities, like USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services).


It was first defined during the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 and then amended by the Immigration Act of 1990.

Eligibility Criteria: Abuse, Neglect, or Abandonment by One or Both Parents


To qualify for SIJS, a juvenile court must find that you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. This means the court decides it’s not in your best interest to return to your home country or reunite with your parents.


2. SIJS Has Strict Age and Marital Status Requirements


When looking at what is Special Immigrant Juvenile status, only some qualify for SIJS. Specific requirements relate to your age and whether or not you are married.

Age Requirements


You must be under 21 years old to apply for SIJS. The juvenile court must also issue its order before you turn 21.


There are some caveats to the age requirements known as the SIJS age-out-by-state policy. You can find more information about this in our dedicated article. Essentially, some states have age limits of 18 or 19 instead of 21.

Marital Status Requirements


To be eligible for SIJS, you must be unmarried. You will no longer qualify for this status if you get married before the SIJS process is complete.


3. Applicants Must Also be Declared Dependent by a Juvenile Court


A juvenile court plays a significant role in Special Immigrant Juvenile Status requirements. They must declare that you are dependent on the court.

The Role of the Juvenile Court in SIJS Applications


The juvenile court determines if you meet the criteria for SIJS, such as being abused, neglected, or abandoned. This court issues the necessary order to apply for SIJS with USCIS.

Understanding the Juvenile Court’s Jurisdiction


Juvenile courts handle cases related to minors. They have the authority to make decisions about your dependency status and whether reunification with your parents is possible or in your best interest.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Processing Time

4. It Must Also Not be Viable for the Applicant to Reunify With Their Parents


Another important requirement is proving that reunification with your parents is not possible.

Understanding Parental Reunification Requirements


The juvenile court must determine that you cannot be reunited with one or both of your parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

Examples of “Not Viable”


“Not viable” means that it’s not possible or safe for you to live with your parents. Examples include situations where a parent is abusive, has abandoned the family, or is unable to care for you.


It is up to you to provide evidence of this. For example, you could give testimonials from family or professionals. Additionally, you could give photos of your living conditions, or SMS and Whatsapp messages from your parents.

5. It Must be Proven That The Applicant Can’t Return to Their Home Country


Part of the SIJS process involves showing you cannot safely return to your home country. This could be due to contact with your abusive parents or unstable conditions in your country that could place you in harm’s way.

Understanding Best Interests Determination


The juvenile court must decide that it is not in your best interest to return to your home country. This determination is based on your safety and well-being.


For example, perhaps the only option to return to your home country would be to go and live with your abusive parent. This goes directly against the premise of SIJS. In this instance, the Juvenile Court would most likely provide your best interests determination.


It is their responsibility to make sure that you are protected from future harm.

Common Types of Evidence Used


Evidence can include testimony about your living conditions, statements from teachers or social workers, and any documentation of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.


You could provide SMS messages, emails, or Whatsapp messages, for example, from your parents. Additionally, things like professional opinions from doctors could be used. An immigration attorney can assist in gathering this evidence and presenting it to the Juvenile Court.


6. The Application Process Has Two Main Stages


Unlike asylum, how to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status has two stages. You must be clear on these two processes as they are pivotal to your chances of approval.

Stage One – Juvenile Court Proceedings


The first stage involves going to juvenile court, where a judge will review your situation and make findings about your dependency status and best interests.


The judge must declare you dependent (I.e. that you need guardianship from someone else). They must also declare that you cannot be reunited with one or both of your parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Lastly, the court must declare that it’s not in your best interests to return to your home country.


These are known as the SIJS findings and contain the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status information for Juvenile Courts. They must be obtained before you can proceed with the second part of the application.

Stage Two – USCIS Application


The second stage involves submitting a petition to USCIS, using the findings from the juvenile court. USCIS will review your application and decide whether to grant you SIJS.


The petition is Form I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant). This is a multi-stage form where you provide your details. You also have to give details of your case such as the issues you have with your parents. The USCIS has a handy set of instructions for filing Form I-360.


After filing Form I-360, you may have to attend a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status interview.

7. SIJS Applicants Have Access to Benefits and Waivers


Applying for SIJS can offer several benefits and waivers for certain immigration issues.

Waivers of Certain Grounds of Inadmissibility


SIJS applicants can get waivers for some grounds of inadmissibility, such as entry without inspection or certain criminal offenses. It’s best to try and avoid any grounds for inadmissibility, but knowing that waivers are possible is reassuring.

Eligibility for Green Card Application Fee Waiver


If you qualify for SIJS, you may also be eligible to have the fees for your Green Card application waived. This is fantastic, as the typical SIJS fee without waivers is $525 as per the current schedule.

No Need for Consular Processing if You Entered Illegally


If you entered the U.S. without inspection, you can still apply for a Green Card through SIJS without leaving the country for consular processing.


8. SIJS Isn’t Without Its Limitations and Drawbacks


While the approval rates are high, SIJS does have limits and you may face a range of challenges during the application process. This includes things like Green Card limitations, and the emotional toil it places on you.

Inability to Petition for Parents’ Green Cards


One major limitation of SIJS is that, once you have been approved, you cannot sponsor your parents for a Green Card. Sponsoring of family members is only possible for U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card holders).


This could mean issues with family separation or prolonged periods where you are in the United States on your own.

The Process Can be Emotionally and Physically Draining


The SIJS process can be lengthy and stressful, involving multiple court appearances and detailed paperwork. Adults would struggle to complete this process without any emotional and mental side effects. Therefore, it can be even more draining for a minor.


It’s important to get support, speak to your family and friends, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. There are charitable organizations such as KIND (Kids in Need of Defense) that offer support to minors seeking asylum.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Processing Time


It’s no secret that the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status processing time is one of the main challenges. The USCIS has experienced a backlog of applications due to a surge in migrant activity, particularly at the southern border from Central America.


This means that the average approval time for SIJS is 260+ days. You must account for this when planning your application. The lengthy waiting time could place a financial strain on you and your family.


9. It Has Various Similarities and Differences With Asylum


You must understand that USCIS Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and asylum are two different processes. They shouldn’t be confused. Each has different eligibility criteria, requirements, and application process. There are some similarities too though and we discuss them below.

Similarities With Asylum


SIJS and asylum protect individuals who cannot return to their home countries due to danger or persecution. Both processes involve proving your case to U.S. authorities.


During both processes, you deal with the USCIS too. This is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department. They oversee all applications relating to immigration to the U.S.


With asylum and SIJS, it is your responsibility to prove to the USCIS that your case is valid. For example, with asylum, you must provide proof of persecution or a fear of on one of the five protected grounds. Similarly, with Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Massachusetts and other states, you must provide proof of abuse, abandonment, or neglect by one or both of your parents.

Differences From Asylum


Unlike asylum, SIJS specifically requires a juvenile court order and focuses on abuse, neglect, or abandonment by parents rather than fear of persecution.


The asylum process doesn’t have this initial stage – you simply go straight to the application part and file Form I-589


The timeline requirements are different, too. With SIJS, you must obtain the Juvenile Court order (SIJS findings) before you turn 21 (depending on the age-out-by-state policy, this can be 18). In contrast, your asylum application must be filed within 1 year of your arrival in the U.S., regardless of your age.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Information For Juvenile Courts

10. Seeking Legal Advice Can Help Speed Up the SIJS Application


Applying for SIJS can be complex, and having legal assistance can make a big difference. Below, we explore the benefits of an immigration attorney and the different services they can provide for your special juvenile immigrant status process.

The Importance of Consulting With an Experienced Immigration Lawyer


An experienced immigration lawyer can help you understand the requirements, gather necessary evidence, and represent you in court.


Also, as a minor, you may find aspects of the special immigrant juvenile status requirements, application, process, and interviews difficult. You may not have the support of one or both of your parents either so having someone like a lawyer who understands the process is vital.


Not only can you get help with the process, but the attorney can offer emotional support and coaching. This helps minimize the stress and emotional toil you may experience.

How a Lawyer Can Help During the Process


A lawyer can guide you through each step, ensuring that all forms are correctly filled out and submitted on time, and can advocate on your behalf in juvenile court and with USCIS. Particular things they can do include:


  • Assessing your initial eligibility for SIJS.
  • Creating a plan of action on how to tackle the process.
  • Representation during the Juvenile Court proceedings.
  • Helping obtain the SIJS findings from the Juvenile Court.
  • Help to file Form I-360.
  • Make sure you send the right documents and evidence with the form.
  • Representation during any additional interviews and hearings.
  • Help with denials and appeals if necessary.


As you can see, an attorney supports you from start to finish – at every step of the way. This helps ease the emotional, mental, and physical strain of the process. It also gives you a higher chance of Special Immigrant Juvenile Status California approval. 


Start Your Asylum Journey With Our Special Immigrant Juvenile Status Manual


Special Immigrant Juvenile Status USCIS offers a path to lawful permanent residency for minors who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. 


Understanding the requirements and process is essential for a successful application. Seeking the help of an experienced immigration lawyer can provide valuable support and increase your chances of obtaining this type of protection.


The first step is determining your eligibility for special immigrant juvenile status New York which can be done with the help of an experienced immigration lawyer. After that, obtaining the SIJS findings from a juvenile court is the next step, and you can then file Form I-360 and hopefully gain approval from the USCIS.


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