How can an immigrant child in the US who has been abused, abandoned or neglected qualify for immigration benefits?
Under US immigration laws, certain children who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned and who are unable to be reunited with a parent are eligible to get a green card as a Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ). These children can then live and work permanently in the US. Congress created SIJ status in 1990 with the purpose of helping non-US citizen children in the US who have been somehow harmed physically or mentally by one or both parents. This allows the child to remain in the country under the care and custody of the court while applying for a green card.
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For a child to become eligible for SIJ status, a state juvenile court must go through the following procedure:
- Make the child dependent on the court or place the child under the legal custody of a state agency or other individual appointed by the state
- Declare that the child cannot be reunited with one or both parents due to abuse, abandonment or neglect
- Declare that it is not in the best interest of the child to be returned to his/her country of citizenship
In order to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile status, a child must be under the age of 21 when they file Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. The child must also be unmarried and currently inside the US at the time the application is submitted. Once a child has met all eligibility requirements for SIJ status, it is necessary to establish eligibility for a green card. There are various reasons that cause an applicant to be ineligible for a green card but some of these do not apply to SIJ applicants including:
- The child cannot financially support himself or herself
- The child is unlawfully present in the US
- The child entered the US by hiding on a boat, airplane, or through other transportation
- The child does not have a proper visa or passport
There are other disqualifying grounds that would be waived in these cases but it is important to consult an experienced immigration attorney for more information. If eligible to apply for a green card based on SIJ status, two forms must be filed with the USCIS. The first, Form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant and second Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status can be filed together to speed up the process. Based on the circumstances of each case, more forms may be necessary before a green card is approved.
It is important to note that if a child receives a green card through the Special Immigrant Juvenile program they will never be able to petition for their parents to get a green card and they will only be able to petition for their siblings after they become a citizen of the United States.
Special Immigrant Juvenile (USCIS)
Special Immigrant Juvenile: Additional Resources
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.