Special Immigrant Juvenile Status as a Path to Protection and Residency
A child’s overall safety and stability are vital to their well-being and development. While the United States has processes in place to protect citizens and their children from abuse and neglect, there are also proceedings available to immigrant children seeking safety from familial harm.
When immigrant children experience unsafe situations in their home country, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) provides a path to protection with additional immigration benefits. Kogut & Wilson attorneys navigate SIJS to help children and young adults find safety in the United States.
What is SIJS?
SIJS is a special immigration classification designed to protect children from familial harm and provide safety in the form of United States residency. Granted to those under 21 years of age, this classification offers legal status to applicants who have been abused, abandoned or neglected by one or both legal parents, or prior adopting parents, and cannot return to their home country.
While potentially offering a path to citizenship, SIJS does not automatically grant individuals legal status. Additionally, as SIJS is granted on the federal level, state courts do not decide whether a child can attain this classification although they take part in the fact-finding process to establish the child’s vulnerability.
The process to obtain SIJS in the United States consists of two steps:
- Attaining a predicate order establishing harm to the child and;
- Petitioning for SIJS with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).
USCIS, the federal agency responsible for determining immigration eligibility, will not consider a child’s SIJS application until first obtaining a predicate order.
Who Qualifies for SIJS?
Applicants for SIJS must meet various requirements to obtain permanent lawful resident status. Most notably, the Department of Homeland Security requires that reunification with the biological parents or prior adopting parents must not be viable due to harm.
Additionally, individuals may qualify if they meet the following criteria:
- Under 21 years of age
- Experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment by one or both biological parents or prior adopting parents
- Unable to return to their country of nationality or residency
- In custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, a state agency or a dependent on the juvenile court or;
- Residing in the United States with one biological parent or with another third-party caregiver willing to pursue custody, guardianship or adoption of the child or young person
How to Start the SIJS Process
Individuals looking to start the SIJS process should work with an experienced attorney capable of navigating the complex family law and immigration regulations. As family law attorneys, Kogut & Wilson focuses on the first step of the process to assist qualified individuals in attaining a predicate order.
The predicate order must involve specific findings that establish the child’s vulnerability and inability to return to their country of origin. This language can be included in various court orders such as a:
- Parentage Order
- Judgment for Dissolution of Marriage
- Judgment Order for Adoption
- Plenary Guardianship Order
If a state court judge grants the predicate order, individuals will then work with an immigration attorney to submit the order to USCIS with their application.
Kogut & Wilson attorneys can assist with any questions and provide valuable resources for those considering the SIJS process. Contact our attorneys at (312) 565-4100 to learn how you may qualify and the protections it can offer.