Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS): Who Is Eligible?

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) emerges as a crucial legal avenue, providing a pathway to safety and stability for eligible individuals. This article aims to dissect the eligibility criteria, requirements, processing timelines, and initial steps to apply for SIJS so that you can have a clear understanding of what it is, if you are eligible, and how to get started with your bid for security and a new life in the U.S.

Understanding SIJS

 

SIJS is an immigration classification tailored for undocumented immigrants under 21. It serves as a conduit to legal permanent residence (green card) and work authorization within the United States. Notably, it’s essential to recognize that SIJS benefits do not extend to parents or other family members.

 

The SIJS process was first introduced as part of the 1990 Immigration Act which made amendments to the previous Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Within the Immigration Act, SIJS was defined, provisions made, and the scope of this process was agreed upon.

 

The aim of the Special Immigrant Juvenile Status green card is to give a lifeline to minors who are suffering at the hands of one or both of their parents. The USCIS (United States Citizens and Immigration Services) is responsible for this provision including processing applications and adjudication.

SIJS Requirements

 

To qualify for SIJS, you must fulfill specific eligibility criteria. These encompass age, residency in the United States, marital status, and the circumstances surrounding your parents. Crucially, you must substantiate claims of abuse, abandonment, or neglect through a court order from a state juvenile court. A breakdown of SIJS eligibility includes:

 

  • You must be under the age of 21 (18 or 19 in some states).
  • You must be unmarried.
  • You must be declared dependent by a Juvenile Court and obtain a court order.
  • Prove that you have suffered abuse, neglect, or abandonment by one or both of your parents and that reunification with them is not viable.
  • Show that it is not in your best interests to return to your home country or place of last residence outside the US with your parents.

 

The court order from a Juvenile Court is incredibly important and without this, you cannot complete your SIJS adjustment of status. Think of the court order as a document that proves your eligibility. 

 

This is the document that shows the abuse, neglect, or abandonment from one or both of your parents and that you can no longer be reunified with them. It’s essentially the Juvenile Court stating that you are dependent on them and that they believe you have a valid case.

 

Your SIJS immigration lawyer can guide you through the court order process and help gather the relevant evidence and supporting documents.

SIJS Processing Time

 

Historically, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) takes approximately 180 days or six months to process SIJS petitions. This is the timeframe they are supposed to aim for, but the reality is far from that in the current climate.

USCIS Processing Backlog

 

Before 2014, SIJS applicants and child migrants entering the US were relatively consistent, and the USCICS could easily keep up with the applications. However, 2014 saw a child migrant surge, which resulted in an explosion of applications.

 

For example, in 2014, there were 5,776 SIJ petitions, however, that doubled in 2015 to 11,500. This major increase has continued year after year, and it’s resulted in an adjudication backlog. The USCIS simply cannot process the applications quickly enough.

 

Because of this, processing times have slowed down significantly, and it has been reported that the average wait time for approval in the 2023 fiscal year was 263 days. 

Age Out by State Provision

 

Simply put, you must be prepared for a long haul. Don’t worry, though – if your application has not been approved when you reach the state age-out date, you can still get approved. The only stipulation is that you file your I-360 SIJS form before you reach the age-out date.

 

It’s also important to understand that there are different age-out dates by state, though and these can vary from 18 to 21. For example, the age-out for SIJS Massachusetts is 21, whereas it is 19 in Alabama and 18 in Texas and Utah.

 

Some states also have additional caveats, for example, in Hawaii, you must file Form I-360 before you turn 21, but the abuse, neglect, or abandonment must have happened before you turn 18.

 

Approval Rates

Despite the slow processing times, the SIJS approval rate 2023 and other years has been historically high. Usually, the approval rate for application is 90%+, and in recent years (despite a small blip in 2018) it has mainly been above 94%.

Sijs Requirements


First Steps to Apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Initiating the SIJS application process entails obtaining a state court order that underscores the applicant’s need for protection and support. This court order plays a pivotal role in evidencing eligibility for SIJS. We have detailed the process if you are seeking I-360 below and the steps you can expect to take:

 

Obtaining the Juvenile Court Order


Obtaining the court order is the part people struggle with, as it can be unclear how to do this. Essentially, you have to approach the relevant Juvenile Court in your jurisdiction and request a new case for the court order. The court must have the legal capability to make judicial determinations about custody and dependency of minors.

 

Sometimes, you may have an existing case that your parents previously petitioned, or you may have to request a new case be created. Once a case has been created with the court, you have to ask the judge to make the relevant findings for SIJS, which include:

 

  • That you are dependent on the court or have SIJS guardianship.
  • That reunification with one or both of your parents isn’t possible because of neglect, abandonment, or abuse.
  • That it’s not in your best interests to return to your home country, or where your parents last lived.

 

You may have to attend a court hearing and provide evidence so the judge can determine if the findings can be made. If they are, your SIJS lawyer can make a court order known as “Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings”, which can then be used to start your application.

Filing Form I-360


With the findings secured, you can file Form I-360 – Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. The USICS has instructions on completing this form, but your asylum attorney can also help. You can also file Form I-485 at the same time (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status), which is your Green Card application. 

 

The form has 15 sections, and you must read each part carefully and understand what is being requested. Failure to complete the form properly can delay your application. Make sure you answer truthfully and give as much detail as possible. 

 

The standard processing fee is $435, however, currently, the fee is waived for Special Immigrant Juveniles.

 

Once you have submitted the form you will receive a Notice of Action – keep this as it is your receipt to show the form has been received.

Waiting for Approval


It’s now a case of waiting for approval. During this time, the USCIS may contact you for additional information, a biometrics appointment, and potentially an interview. You must reply with any info as quickly as possible and attend any requested meetings.

Approval

 

Eventually, you will hopefully gain approval. At this point, if you haven’t already submitted Form I-485, you can file it as this is how you obtain your Green Card and legal permanent residency in the United States. At this point, you can start to think about your new life in the U.S. and how you can hope to build a promising future free from abuse and neglect.

Sijs Adjustment Of Status

Start Your SIJS Application Today in the Right Way

 

So, what is SIJS? In summary, SIJS serves as a vital lifeline, offering a route to safety, stability, and a brighter future for young immigrants in the United States. By meeting the eligibility criteria, understanding the requisites, and navigating the application process adeptly, you can complete the SIJS process smoothly and hopefully secure a brighter future for yourself.

 

If you require guidance or assistance with SIJS, consulting an SIJS lawyer or legal representative is highly recommended, underscoring the significance of this legal option in fostering security and hope for young immigrants.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

 

How to get USA resettlement as a 17-year-old refugee?

To be resettled in the USA as a 17-year-old refugee, you typically need to go through the United States Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP). Generally, refugees are referred to the program by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) or another qualified organization. Once referred, applicants undergo a rigorous screening process, including interviews, security checks, and medical examinations. 

 

DACA vs. SIJS: Which is better for young immigrants?

The choice between DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status) depends on individual circumstances. 

DACA provides temporary protection from deportation and work authorization for undocumented individuals who arrived in the USA as children. On the other hand, SIJS offers a pathway to legal permanent residence for undocumented immigrants under 21 who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. 

The suitability of DACA or SIJS depends on factors such as age, immigration history, family situation, and future immigration goals. Consulting with an asylum attorney is recommended to determine the best option for each case.

 

What happens if I turn 21 while my SIJS application is pending?

If you age out while your SIJS application is pending, you can still get SIJS approval. As long as you filed your SIJS application before you met the SIJS age out by state limit, there is no problem.

 

Can I apply for SIJS if I am in foster care or under the guardianship of someone other than my parents?

Yes, you can apply for SIJS if you are in foster care or under the guardianship of someone other than your parents. SIJS eligibility is not contingent on the legal relationship with your parents. As long as you meet the other eligibility criteria, such as being under 21 years old and having been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents, you may qualify for SIJS.

 

Will receiving SIJS affect my ability to apply for other immigration benefits in the future?

Receiving SIJS should not generally affect your ability to apply for other immigration benefits in the future. SIJS is a distinct immigration classification that provides a pathway to legal permanent residence (green card) for eligible individuals under 21 who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents. 

Once you obtain SIJS status and lawful permanent residence, you can pursue other immigration benefits and options available to lawful permanent residents, such as naturalization, family-based immigration petitions, or employment-based visas.

 

Can I apply for SIJS if I have a criminal record or have been involved in juvenile delinquency proceedings?

Having a criminal record or being involved in juvenile delinquency proceedings may affect your eligibility for SIJS. USCIS evaluates SIJS petitions on a case-by-case basis, considering factors such as the nature and severity of the offense, rehabilitation efforts, and the overall circumstances of the case. 

In general, certain criminal convictions or behaviors may render an individual ineligible for SIJS. However, each case is unique, and it’s essential to consult with an asylum lawyer to assess your SIJS eligibility and explore potential options.

 

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