If you are a young person in the United States who has experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a parent, you may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) classification. This classification can provide a pathway to lawful permanent residency (Green Card). Here’s a comprehensive guide to understanding the SIJ classification, including eligibility criteria, the application process, and what to expect.

Who Can Apply for SIJ Classification?

To be eligible for SIJ classification, you must meet the following requirements:

  1. Age Requirement: You must be under 21 years old at the time you file the SIJ petition (Form I-360).
  2. Residency: You must be currently living in the United States. Applications cannot be submitted from outside the country.
  3. Marital Status: You must be unmarried at the time of filing and when USCIS makes a decision on your petition. This includes:
    • Never having been married, or
    • Having a marriage that ended in annulment, divorce, or death.

Necessary Court Order

A valid juvenile court order from a U.S. state court is required. This order must state that:

  • You are dependent on the court or in the custody of a state agency or an appointed individual/entity.
  • You cannot be reunified with one or both parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis under state law.
  • It is not in your best interest to return to your home country or the country where your parents reside.

Note: Some juvenile courts may only issue these orders if you are under 18 years old.

Exceptions and USCIS Consent

You do not need to be under the juvenile court’s jurisdiction if it ended because you were adopted, placed in permanent guardianship, or aged out of the court’s jurisdiction.

You must demonstrate that the juvenile court order was sought to obtain relief from maltreatment and not primarily for immigration benefits. USCIS must give consent for your SIJ classification, ensuring your intent aligns with protection from abuse or neglect.

If you are in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), you need written consent from HHS for the court’s jurisdiction if your custody status changes.

State Juvenile Court Orders and USCIS Authority

State juvenile courts handle dependency or custody determinations, which are essential for establishing eligibility for SIJ classification. They decide if a juvenile has been mistreated and cannot be reunified with their parents and if it’s in their best interest to stay in the U.S.

However, state courts cannot grant SIJ classification or lawful permanent residence. Only USCIS has the authority to make these immigration decisions.

Filing the SIJ Petition (Form I-360)

To petition for SIJ classification, submit the following to USCIS:

  • Form I-360: Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
  • Proof of Age: Birth certificate, passport, or other official identity documents.
  • Juvenile Court Order: Valid order with required determinations and evidence.
  • HHS Consent: If applicable, written consent from HHS.
  • Form G-28: Notice of Entry of Appearance if represented by an attorney.

In-Person Filing Before Your 21st Birthday

If delays prevent timely filing, you can file Form I-360 in person at a USCIS field office within two weeks before turning 21. Contact the USCIS Contact Center to request an expedited appointment.

Deferred Action Consideration

If you have an approved SIJ petition but cannot apply for adjustment of status due to unavailable visa numbers, USCIS will consider you for deferred action. Deferred action defers removal proceedings and allows you to apply for employment authorization (Form I-765).

Applying for

a Green Card Based on SIJ Classification (Form I-485)

Once you have been granted SIJ classification, you can apply for a Green Card by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Here are the steps and what to expect:

  1. Filing Form I-485: If an immigrant visa is immediately available, you can file Form I-485 at the same time as Form I-360. If a visa is not available, you must wait until one becomes available.
  2. Required Documentation: Include supporting documents such as your juvenile court order, evidence of age, and any other relevant documentation.
  3. Biometrics Appointment: USCIS will schedule an appointment for you to provide fingerprints and photographs.
  4. Medical Examination: Submit Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, either with your application or when requested.
  5. Interview: You may be required to attend an interview with an immigration services officer.

After Filing

After submitting your Form I-485, USCIS will:

  • Send you a receipt notice.
  • Contact you for additional evidence if needed.
  • Schedule a biometrics appointment.
  • Possibly schedule an interview.

Decisions and Timelines

  • SIJ Petition (Form I-360): USCIS aims to make a decision within 180 days of filing. If approved, you will receive an approval notice; if denied, you will receive a notice explaining why and how to appeal.
  • Green Card Application (Form I-485): If approved, you will receive an approval notice and your Green Card. If denied, you can file a motion to reopen or reconsider the decision.

Consideration of Deferred Action

USCIS will automatically consider deferred action for SIJ petitioners with approved Form I-360s who cannot apply for adjustment of status due to visa unavailability. If granted, deferred action allows you to stay in the U.S. and apply for employment authorization (Form I-765).

Employment Authorization

If you are granted deferred action, you can apply for employment authorization by filing Form I-765. Indicate eligibility category (c)(14) and do not file before receiving deferred action.

Updating Your Address

Ensure USCIS has your current address to receive all correspondence, including deferred action notifications. Update your address through the USCIS website.

The SIJ classification offers vital protection and a pathway to permanent residency for young individuals in the U.S. who have faced abuse, neglect, or abandonment. While the process involves obtaining a valid juvenile court order and navigating the USCIS application steps, achieving SIJ classification can ultimately lead to a more secure and stable future. For more detailed information and guidance, consult the USCIS Policy Manual and consider seeking legal advice. If you have further questions or need assistance, don’t hesitate to reach out to Cambridge Immigration Law for expert support.