Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

About SIJS

One of the most vulnerable segments of society is undocumented, abused children removed from the home and placed in the care and custody of the State. In addition to the threat of arrest, detention, and deportation, undocumented minors are unable to obtain lawful employment and/or attend college.  For that reason, the U.S. Congress created two separate provisions under federal law to allow immigrant children to obtain lawful permanent resident status or a “green card.”   Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a federal law that assists certain undocumented children in obtaining legal permanent residency.  Persons under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court who are eligible for long term foster care due to drug abuse, abandonment or neglect may qualify for SIJS and based on that, apply for adjustment of status to a Lawful Permanent Resident.  In California, non-parent child placement decisions are made in juvenile dependency and delinquency court and probate court.  Typically SIJS is granted to children in juvenile dependency court who are placed in foster care.  Children under the jurisdiction of the juvenile delinquency court may also be eligible for SIJS.  Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is a way for a dependent of juvenile court to become a permanent resident of the United States (i.e., get a “green card”). If the juvenile applies for this status and is successful, s/he may remain in the U.S., work legally, qualify for in-state tuition at college, and in five years apply for U.S. citizenship. However, if the application is denied, the child might be deported.

Who Qualifies for SIJS?

In order to qualify for SIJS, a juvenile court in the U.S. must have declared the child a court dependent, or have legally committed the child to a state agency or department. The court must have found the child “eligible for long-term foster care” (which in this context means that parental reunification is not possible), and that it is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to the home country. The child should have proceeded to long-term foster care, adoption, or guardianship and the court must have made its findings based on the abuse, neglect or abandonment of the child.

Who Can Complete the Application?

The child, a caseworker, or an attorney can complete the application for SIJS, which will be submitted to the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The child must complete INS forms, obtain a special medical exam, and provide fingerprints, a photograph, and proof of age. The application must include an order from a dependency court that the child is eligible for long-term foster care due to abuse, neglect or abandonment. There is a fee for the application process, but a fee waiver is available.                                                                                          
The INS will grant the applicant employment authorization as soon as the application is filed, and schedule a date for the SIJS interview. Generally, the INS will decide the case at the time of the SIJS interview.                                                     

NOTE: It is important to apply for SIJS as soon as possible while the child is a juvenile court dependent because the process may take from 6 to 18 months after submitting the application to get an SIJS interview. If the child is emancipated before the interview takes place, the current INS policy is to deny the case.