Special Immigrant Juveniles Status, commonly known as SIJS, is a federal law that allows certain undocumented children to get legal permanent residency in the United States. Below, we discuss this complex immigration process and the requirements in detail.
In order to be eligible for SIJS, the following requirements must be met:
1. There must be an action by a state family or juvenile court;
2. Apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status;
3. Apply for adjustment of status to that of lawful permanent residency;
Action by a state family or juvenile court: The court must be one that has the authority to decide the custody and care of children, usually family court or juvenile court. The court must find that the child has been “abused, abandoned, or neglected” by one or both of the child’s parents. The court must find that because of one of these reasons, or a similar reason, the child cannot be reunited with one or both parents. The effect is that the child must be made a dependent of the court or be legally placed with a state agency, a private agency, or a private person. The private person may be one of the parents. A child is eligible for SIJS as long as he or she cannot be reunited with at least one parent. The court must also find that it is not in the child’s best interest to return to his or her home country or the last country he or she lived.
Apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status through USCIS:
USCIS has the following requirements to apply for SIJS:
1. Must be under 21 years old on the date of filing the Form I-360; A child must be under 21 years old when the SIJS application is filed. A child does not need to be under 21 years old when a decision is made by USCIS. A child is “locked” into their age when they file the Form I-360 so that they can be eligible for SIJS even if they are over the age of 21 years old by the time a decision is made by USCIS.
2. The state court order must still be in effect at the time of filing the Form I-360 and when USCIS makes a decision on the application; Some states have different ages when a person is no longer considered a child or juvenile. For Texas, a person is no longer considered a child or juvenile after the age of 18. This means that an order by a state court would only be in effect until a child reaches 18 years old. Historically, USCIS required that the state court order be in effect until the entire immigration process was complete.
This means that, in Texas, a child must be 18 years or younger by the time USCIS had made a decision on both the SIJS and the adjustment of status. Recently however, there has been legislation that protects children from “aging out.” This means that a child is “locked” into their age at the time the Form I-360 is filed. This change is very recent, however, and a child should seek SIJS and adjustment of status as quickly as possible, while the state court order is still in effect.
3. The child may not be married at the time the Form I-360 is filed or at the time USCIS makes a decision on the application; Divorce, annulment, death of a spouse, and having children of his or her own will not bar a child from being eligible for SIJS.
4. The child must be inside the United States at the time of filing the Form I-360. Apply for adjustment of status to that of legal permanent residency: In order to adjust his or her status from SIJS to legal permanent resident (also known as green card status), the child must meet the same requirements as any other person attempting to adjust their status or get a green card.
Advantages and disadvantages of SIJS
There are both advantages and disadvantages to seeking SIJS. The greatest benefit to SIJS is that it creates a path to citizenship. After attaining SIJS, a child can apply to adjust his or her status to legal permanent residency and he or she can eventually become a naturalized U.S. citizen. Additionally, a child can apply for work authorization if they have SIJS. In Texas, a child can work as young as 14 years old in certain fields. This means that a child can receive work authorization to work in the United States even before he or she has adjusted their status to legal permanent residency.
There are, however, a couple of disadvantages. A child with SIJS can never apply for a green card for his or her parents. A child can eventually petition for his or her brothers and sisters, but only after becoming a United States citizen. This means that a child can only petition for his or her siblings after they a given a state court order, SIJS has been granted, he or she has adjusted their status to legal permanent resident, and they have gone through the naturalization process to become a United States citizen.
You can find all the documents and information you might need to become familiar with this process on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website. However, we highly recommend seeking the advice of an attorney who is familiar with immigration law, it’s complexities and this process in particular.