In a recent development, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has updated its guidance for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) petitions. SIJ classification remains a fundamental avenue for young individuals in the United States who have endured abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a parent.
To qualify for SIJ classification, you must meet specific statutory requirements:
1. Age Under 21: You must be under 21 years old when filing the SIJ petition (Form I-360).
2. Residence in the U.S.: You should reside in the U.S. when filing the SIJ petition and when USCIS makes a decision. Applying from outside the country for SIJ classification is not possible.
3. Unmarried Status: You must be unmarried at the time of filing the SIJ petition and when USCIS makes a decision. This means you have never been married or your previous marriage ended in annulment, divorce, or death.
4. Valid Juvenile Court Order: A valid juvenile court order from a U.S. state court is essential. It should declare your dependency on the court, custody by a state agency, individual, or court-appointed entity. The order must also establish that reuniting with one or both parents is not possible due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or similar state law grounds. Importantly, the court order must deem it against your best interests to return to your country of nationality or last habitual residence.
– Note: Some juvenile courts may only issue such orders if you are under 18 years old.
5. USCIS Consent: You should qualify for USCIS consent, indicating that you pursued the juvenile court order primarily for relief from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or similar state law grounds, rather than solely for immigration benefits.
6. HHS Consent: If under the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) or the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), you must secure written consent from them if the juvenile court order affects your custody status or placement.
SIJ, short for Special Immigrant Juvenile, represents an immigration category designed for individuals in the United States who require the protection of a juvenile court due to experiences of parental abuse, abandonment, or neglect. Those eligible can seek SIJ classification through the submission of Form I-360, the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. Attaining SIJ classification may open the door to lawful permanent resident status, commonly referred to as obtaining a Green Card.
These criteria form the foundation for SIJ classification, offering protection and aligning with the child’s best interests. Meeting these requirements may open a path to both protection and lawful permanent residency.