Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) was created to help foreign children in the United States who have been abused, abandoned or neglected. SIJS is unique among immigration remedies in that the application process requires the involvement of a state "juvenile court." Whereas applicants for other immigration remedies proceed solely before federal immigration authorities, a child seeking SIJS must first ask an appropriate state court judge in the state where the child is living to make certain findings. These findings involve determinations that, among other things, reunification with one or both parents is not viable for the child due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar grounds under state law.

The involvement of state court in the SIJS process reflects Congress' judgment that an appropriate state court is best suited to make findings relating to family law or child protection matters that lie within the state court's traditional expertise.

Commonly Asked Questions

Who is a special immigrant juvenile?

The INA defines a special immigrant juvenile as a person who has been declared dependent on a juvenile court, or who has been placed in the custody of an agency or individual because one or both of the child's parents are not able to care for the child due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law.

The child must continue to be dependent on care from the juvenile court. In addition, the child must show that the juvenile court determined it would not be in the child's best interest to be returned to the child's country of origin. Also, the child must be under the age of 21, in the United States, and remain unmarried throughout the immigration process to qualify as a special immigrant juvenile. Finally, the child cannot have committed certain crimes, such as crimes of moral turpitude or drug offenses, and cannot be otherwise inadmissible to the United States.

How is abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a

The SIJS statute requires a factual determination of abuse, abandonment, or neglect, or similar basis under state law. The SIJS regulations do not define these terms, and so you will have to consult the relevant state laws for guidance on what constitutes abuse, neglect, or abandonment. There is also an additional category, "similar basis under state law" that gives more latitude in states that use different terminology or recognize additional bases for foreclosing a child's reunification with parents. For example, there are situations in which a child may be mentally ill or physically incapacitated and the parent is unable to care for the child, but in which there was no actual abuse, abandonment, or neglect.

Is SIJS permanent immigration relief?

No. Obtaining SIJ status is not an end in itself, the juvenile is classified as a "Special Immigrant Juvenile" which enables a child to immediately apply to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) of the United States. It is this complete process - SIJ status and then eventual lawful permanent residency - that is referred to as a "remedy" or form of relief for an undocumented child. To summarize, the process for gaining LPR status through SIJS entails several steps with both state law and immigration law components:

  1. Obtain a SIJS predicate order in state juvenile court;
  2. File a petition with USCIS for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status; and
  3. Once SIJ status is granted, apply for legal permanent resident status