Special Immigrant Juveniles
Many children and young adults from other countries come to the United States without the benefit of a parent because they have been abandoned, neglected or abused and they are seeking refuge in the United States. It may be possible for these individuals to obtain Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) classification. The Special Immigrant Juvenile status may allow these individuals to also apply for a lawful permanent residence, or a “green card” to enable them to live permanently in the United States.
While individuals under the age of 21 may qualify, it can be difficult, as they need to have obtained a custody or dependency order that was entered before they turned 18 years old. To qualify for SIJ status, the individual must meet all of the following requirements:
- Be under 21 years of age at the time the SIJ petition is filed;
- Be living in the United States, both at the time the SIJ petition is filed and when a decision is made on the petition;
- Be unmarried-that means that either the intending immigrant was never married, or he or she was married but the marriage was terminated through divorce, annulment, or death;
- Have a valid juvenile court order has determined that
- He or she is “dependent on the court, or in the custody of a state agency or department or an individual or entity appointed by the court” OR he or she has been adopted or placed in permanent guardianship OR he or she aged out of the court’s jurisdiction (for example, in state courts that can only issue a juvenile order for children under 18); AND
- He or she cannot be reunified with one or both of his or her parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar issue; AND
- It is not in his or her best interests to return to the country of nationality or last habitual residence of him or her or his or her parents;
- Be eligible for USCIS consent-this means that he or she sought help from the juvenile court in order to obtain help for one of the above-listed reasons, and not primarily to obtain an immigration benefit like a green card; and
- If he or she is in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, and the juvenile court order changes his or her custody or placement, written consent from Health and Human Services/Office of Refugee Resettlement is required.
It is important to note that throughout this process, USCIS will never require a prospective SIJ applicant to contact the family members who abused, neglected, or abandoned him or her. The Special Immigrant Juvenile process is a often a life-saving avenue for many young people, but it is a lengthy process that one may not be eligible for in the future if it is not done correctly the first time as the applicant may “age out” and no longer be eligible to apply. To make sure that it is done correctly the first time, it is important to obtain legal representation. The attorneys at Tanner Law Office have experience in obtaining the underlying custody/dependency order, as well as filing the SIJ petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. To schedule a consultation to discuss your case, please contact our office at (717) 731-8114.