SPECIAL IMMIGRANT JUVENILE STATUS (SIJS)
A path to legal status for some young immigrants.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”) is a good mechanism for obtaining legal status for certain minors without parents in the United States and, in some cases, without one parent. Typically this is an application appropriate when a child is in the U.S. as a refugee or else loses a parent through death or other loss. It can be a path to lawful permanent residence in this case that is often a good alternative to lengthy asylum or adoption proceedings.
How does one qualify for SIJS?
In order for a child to qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, several factual findings must first be made by a state ‘juvenile court’, defined as “any court in the United States having jurisdiction under State law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles.” 8 C.F.R. § 204(1).
State juvenile courts must make initial findings for SIJS related to the child involved. The required findings are as follows:
• The child is “dependent” upon the juvenile court within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. §s 1101(a)27(J) and 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (a) and (d)(2)(I);
• The child is “eligible” for long term foster care” due to abuse, neglect or abandonment within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)27(J) and 8 C.F.R. §204.11 (a) and (d)(2)(I); and
• it is not the “best interest” of the child to be “returned to her country of origin” within the meaning of 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)27(J) and 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (a) and (d)(2)(I).
Where does one apply for SIJS?
For the child to qualify to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, the first step is that factual findings must be made by a state “juvenile court”. 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(27)(J)(I); 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (a).
Immigration regulations define the term “juvenile court” as “a court located in the United States having jurisdiction under state law to make judicial determinations about the custody and care of juveniles.” 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (a). Typically the juvenile or probate courts in California have recognized that they are “juvenile courts” for the purpose of making factual findings for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
In making a guardianship decision, this court is making a “judicial determination about the custody and care” of the child and is considered to be a “juvenile court” under federal immigration law. See 8 C.F.R. § 204.11 (a).
How does one apply to Immigration for SIJS?
Once the state court order with the factual findings required is obtained through the state Court, the child can apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) with the U.S. Citizen and Immigration Service (“USCIS”). See 8 C.F.R. § 204(d). The USCIS has discretionary authority to approve or deny the child ’s application.
This petition generally is made with supporting documentation highlighting the child’s abandonment by his or her parents and status as a dependent of the state, as well as the interest in the child not returning to his or her country of origin.
The supporting memorandum our law offices submits summarizes the law and the civil court finding that the child’s parents have abandoned him, reunification with them is not viable, and return to the home country is not in his best interests. Under these circumstances, most of our clients have been found therefore eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status under Immigration and Nationality Act 101(a)(27)(J).
Final Step: once the CIS has granted the Application for SIJS, an application is presented to the Immigration Service (CIS) to obtain permanent residence for the child.
Once the CIS grants Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”), the last step is an application package submitted to obtain the child permanent residence. This involves a large packet of application forms, medical examination, photos and related application materials. The process culminates in an interview of the applicant and any caretakers at the Immigration Service (CIS) office.
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (“SIJS”) is a useful tool to obtain immigration status for minors for whom adoption is not an option, either because there are no adoptive parents or because they are 16 or over. Generally we find very good cooperation from both the courts and the immigration service with respect to eligible child applicants.