Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (or “SIJS”) is available to immigrant children under the age of 21 present in the United States. The adjudication of SIJS petitions is split between federal immigration law and state family law. SIJS provides a pathway to permanent resident status for qualified applicants. SIJS is not a visa, it’s a status; therefore, petitions for SIJS cannot be submitted while the child is outside of the United States. There are two ways to apply for SIJS: affirmatively and defensively. Affirmatively means that the child voluntarily applies for SIJS. Defensively means that the child seeks SIJS as a form of relief from removal and deportation.
Who qualifies for SIJS?
To qualify for SIJS:
– The applicant must be under 21 years old;
– The applicant must be unmarried;
– The applicant must be declared dependent on a juvenile court in the U.S., which generally means that a juvenile court has taken jurisdiction over a petition addressing the needs of the applicant, such as a guardianship petition;
– The applicant must be unable to be unified with one or both of his or her parents due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or other similar basis under state law; and
– It is not in the best interest of the applicant to be returned to his or her country of nationality.
What is the process of applying for SIJS?
As stated earlier, the applicant must be present in the U.S. prior to applying for SIJS. Once the applicant has been present in the U.S., there are several steps the applicant must take to obtain SIJ status. The first step in obtaining SIJ status is to obtain certain court orders from a juvenile court. The most common proceedings brought to obtain these documents are guardianship and custody proceedings. In New York, the relevant court is the family court of the county in which the child and potential guardian reside. A guardianship proceeding provides the family court with the jurisdiction it needs to enter a “Special Findings Order,” which is an order from the court outlining the applicant’s eligibility for SIJ status. The Special Findings Order is a prerequisite to applying for SIJ status.
The second step in the process of applying for SIJS is to file the relevant forms with USCIS. If the applicant is not in removal proceedings, and is not from Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, or El Salvador, the applicant should simultaneously file an I-360 Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and an I-765 Application for Employment Authorization with USCIS. Once the I-765 is approved, the child will receive identification and work authorization. These documents remain valid until they expire or until the child receives his or her green card.
If the child is in removal proceedings, an additional step must be taken prior to filing the I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status. Once the I-360 is approved by USCIS, the child should move to terminate the removal proceedings so he or she is no longer at risk of being removed from the U.S. If the I-360 is still pending, the child can instead move to administratively close the removal proceedings against him or her. An administrative closure allows the judge to take the case off the active docket and essentially put a pause on the proceedings until the I-360 is adjudicated by USCIS.
The final step in the process for applying to SIJS is to file the I-485, which is an application for the child to become a full permanent resident of the U.S. If the child was in removal proceedings and his or her case was administratively closed, he or she may now file a motion to terminate the proceedings.
What are the processing times for SIJS petitions?
According to USCIS, the current processing time for Form I-360 is around six months.
What should be submitted as evidence?
To obtain a Special Findings Order, the child must establish that he or she is eligible for SIJS. Therefore, the motion to obtain a Special Findings Order should contain the following:
– A personal statement from the child, if possible, detailing his or her eligibility;
– Birth certificates and passports to establish age;
– A statement from the intended guardian;
– Statements from family members in the child’s country of citizenship to corroborate abuse, abandonment, or neglect by the child’s parents and to establish that there is no one other than the guardian capable of taking care of the child;
– Evidence of abuse, neglect, or abandonment;
– Letters from the parents;
– Records from the child’s current school, if possible;
– Any other evidence relevant to show that the child meets the statutory qualifications for SIJS.
The package containing the I-360, I-765, and I-485 should also include the following documentation:
– Child’s birth certificate and passport;
– G-693 medical examination;
– A copy of the order appointing guardianship or custody;
– A copy of the Special Findings Order.
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