Special Immigrant Juvenile Status
Topics on this page
- What is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
- Who is eligible for SIJS?
- How can I apply for SIJS?
- What is a predicate order and how do I get one?
- What is a Juvenile Court and what are common legal remedies?
- How do I submit an SIJS petition?
- What happens after I submit a SIJS petition?
- Will I have to go to Immigration Court?
- What are the benefits of SIJS?
- What are the disadvantages or limitations of SIJS?
- What are the risks in applying for SIJS?
What is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)?
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a federal immigration classification that enables undocumented immigrant children who have suffered abuse, neglect, or abandonment to acquire lawful permanent residence in the United States (U.S.). Undocumented immigrant children who have suffered abuse, neglect, or abandonment can seek SIJS status when returning to their home country would not be in their best interests.
Who is eligible for SISJ?
To be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status in Maryland, at the time of filing you must meet the following criteria:
- Age: you must prove you are under 21 years of age;
- The definition of a child under the Immigration and Nationality Act and Maryland Family Law refers to an unmarried individual under 21.
- Marital Status: you must prove you are not married;
- Parental Reunification: you must demonstrate that you are unable to reunify with at least one parent due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis as defined by Maryland law;
- Timing: you must prove that the abuse, abandonment, neglect, or other similar basis occurred prior to your 18th birthday;
- Best Interest: you must demonstrate that it is not in your best interest to be returned to your country of last residence or citizenship, or that of your parents; and,
- Dependency or Custody: you must have been declared dependent on a Maryland juvenile court or legally placed under the custody of a Maryland state agency or department, or a person or entity appointed by the juvenile court.
NOTE: You cannot apply from outside the country to come to the U.S. on SIJ classification. You must be physically present in the U.S. at the time your application is filed.
How can I apply for SIJS?
To obtain SIJS, you must:
- Obtain a predicate order in state court.
- SIJS is unique among immigration remedies in that the application process requires the involvement of a state "juvenile court." To apply for SIJS, a child must first ask a state court judge to make determinations necessary for their SIJS eligibility. The juvenile court determinations are set out in a “predicate order.”
- Petition for SIJS status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
- A petition for SIJS is conditional on obtaining an SIJS predicate order. You cannot file an SIJS petition until the state court has issued a predicate order.
Once you have been granted SIJS status, you can petition for legal permanent residency.
What is a predicate order and how do I get one?
The SIJS process is a hybrid that involves a state juvenile court and federal immigration agencies. The state court's role in the process is to make factual determinations necessary for SIJS eligibility. The court’s findings of eligibility are issued in a predicate order.
The predicate order will include determinations for the following:
- Dependency or Custody – Declares you, the petitioner, dependent on the court, or legally commits or places the petitioner under the custody of either a state agency or department, or a person or entity appointed by a state or juvenile court;
- Parental Reunification – Declares, under state law, that you cannot reunify with one or both of the petitioner’s parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law; and
- Best Interests – Determines that it would not be in your best interest to be returned to your, or the your parents’, country of nationality or last residence. The best interest determination may be made by the juvenile court or in administrative proceedings authorized or recognized by the juvenile court.
A request for an SIJS predicate order is generated through an action in state court. An SIJS predicate order is not considered a legal remedy by itself and must be initiated as an additional request to a qualifying legal remedy. A petition or motion for an SIJS predicate order usually follows or accompanies a custody or guardianship petition or is submitted during a dependency or delinquency proceeding.
In making its factual determinations, the state court will review evidence and testimony submitted in support of the petition or motion. The evidence should show that the child has suffered abuse, neglect, or abandonment, that reunification is not possible, and that it is not in the child’s best interest to return to their home country. The evidence might include educational, medical, or mental health records that show evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment. You may also present statements of relatives or friends who witnessed the abuse, neglect, abandonment, or other dynamics of the family relationship, as well as conditions of the country of nationality.
NOTE: Obtaining a predicate order does not guarantee that a child’s petition for SIJS will be granted. The state court is not being asked to grant a child lawful immigration status; that responsibility lies solely with USCIS.
What is a Juvenile Court and what are common legal remedies?
Juvenile Courts are courts that have jurisdiction or authority over the custody or care of children. In Maryland, Circuit Courts are declared juvenile courts because they are authorized to make decisions regarding a child’s best interest, custody, guardianships, and other matters. An SIJS applicant who desires to present a case before the Circuit Court, must go the Circuit Court in the county where they live.
After identifying the appropriate court, the applicant must determine whether they have an appropriate cause of action or legal remedy to be in front of the Circuit Court. In Maryland, the commonly sought legal remedies are determinations of Guardianship, Custody, Dependency, or Delinquency (explained below):
- Custody: A legal remedy where the court gives one or both parents the authority to make significant decisions on the child’s behalf including welfare, education, religious training, and healthcare. Usually, SIJS applicants may be living with one parent who is seeking sole custody of their child. Additionally, custody can be awarded to a defacto parent or other third person so long as they meet the requirements for third-party custody.
- Guardianship: A legal remedy where a non-parent adults (any relative or family friend over 21) asks the Court for the legal authority to make decisions about the child’s care or property. In Maryland, the child and all living parents (or custodians) must consent to the guardianship. Usually, this is pursued by SIJS applicants who are not living with either parent.
- Dependency and Delinquency hearings: hearings that are commonly heard by juvenile courts when a juvenile requires foster care or has gotten in trouble with the law. In these hearings, an SIJS applicant can ask the court overseeing these hearings to make an SIJS determination.
How do I submit a SIJS petition?
The USCIS is the federal agency responsible for overseeing immigration to the U.S. If you are an SIJS applicant, you need to submit Form I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant) to USCIS along with specific required pieces of evidence. The evidence you must provide includes the state predicate order, copy of your birth certificate (or any official identity document that establishes your age). It is highly recommended that you seek an immigration attorney to represent you throughout the USCIS process.
Read the law: 8 C.F.R. §204.11(d)
What happens after I submit a SIJS petition?
A USCIS officer will review your petition and assign a priority date. The Officer may approve or deny the petition or issue a request for more evidence before making a final determination. After the SIJS petition is approved, the priority date will determine when the child can apply for Legal Permanent Residency (a green card).
Will I have to go to Immigration Court?
An SIJS petition should be submitted to the USCIS office- not the local immigration court. However, if you are already in immigration proceedings with your local immigration court, you will also have to attend your hearings and update the immigration judge on the status of your SIJS petition. It is highly recommended that you seek representation for all aspects of your case, including any state court proceeding, immigration court proceedings, and pending petitions with USCIS.
What are the benefits of SIJS?
SIJS Provides a Path to Legal Permanent Residency and Citizenship
The most important benefit of SIJS is that it establishes a basis to seek lawful permanent resident status and, eventually, citizenship. Additionally, while many types of visas require that a person remain in a visa status for several years before applying for lawful permanent residence, SIJS grantees may apply for permanent residence immediately.
SIJS protects against deportation
A child who is awarded SIJS and is involved in removal (deportation) can use SIJS status as a basis for terminating the deportation proceedings.
SIJS Recipients May be Eligible to Work
A child who files for legal permanent status with USCIS is eligible for a work permit during the time it
takes USCIS to decide their residency application. A juvenile with work authorization may obtain a
Social Security number and a state identification card or driver’s license.
NOTE: The child may not be legally allowed to work under Maryland and federal labor laws, depending on the child’s age.
SIJS Recipients May be Eligible for Public Benefits
SIJS status can lead to eligibility for public and assisted housing, health insurance and subsidies, post-secondary education grants and loans, nutrition assistance, and state or federal public benefits. The benefits that may be available are based on the specific factors of each individual’s case.
What are the disadvantages or limitations of SIJS?
Children who obtain lawful permanent residence through an approved SIJS petition cannot acquire or petition for green cards for their parents. Although most legal permanent residents and citizens are entitled to petition for the lawful permanent residence for their parents, children who obtained their legal status through SIJS give up this right regardless of which parent abused, abandoned, or neglected them.
Generally, USCIS creates a “cap” for each type of visa they issue. Because of this, some SIJS applicants, depending on their country of origin, may have to wait years after receiving an approval of the I-360 petition. This can cause stress to applicants whose priorities and desires change with age. For example, a child who must wait to file a petition for legal permanent
What are the risks in applying for SIJS?
There are always risks in filing any application with any entity or institution. When filing a petition, you willingly give another person or agency access to personal information for better or worse. USCIS can use the information to determine a person’s eligibility for SIJS benefits or report the same information to other agencies or persons that may have in interest in enforcing other laws. It is important that anyone interested in SIJS consult with an attorney regarding the specific risks in their case.