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What is the Special Immigrant Juvenile Classification?

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services: If a person is in the United States and in need of the protection of a juvenile court because they have been abused, abandoned or neglected by a parent, they may be eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) classification. If SIJ classification is granted, they may qualify for lawful permanent residency (also known as getting a Green Card).

Origin of Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) Classification:

  • The SIJ classification was established by Congress in 1990 to provide a pathway to legal status for children in the U.S. foster care system
  • It was designed for juveniles who required court intervention to protect them from parental abuse, abandonment or neglect
  • While there is no limit on the number of SIJ petitions that USCIS is able to approve each year, there is a limit to the number of SIJ-based adjustments that USCIS may approve due to visa availability
  • For the past several years, USCIS has granted approximately 5,000 SIJ adjustments each year

What is the Significance of the Administrative Appeals Office’s Decision?

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) occasionally “adopts” an Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) non-precedent decision to provide policy guidance for USCIS personnel. An adopted AAO decision is identified by a unique citation format as well as by a USCIS cover memorandum announcing its designation as an adopted decision.

To ensure consistency surrounding SIJ classification, USCIS is issuing three Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) adopted decisions

  • Through these adopted decisions, USCIS clarifies that it requires evidence of a court’s intervention to provide relief from abuse, neglect or abandonment beyond a statement that the juvenile is dependent on the court
  • This level of intervention from the court serves as an indicator as to whether the SIJ classification is sought for its intended purpose of relief from parental abuse, neglect or abandonment and not primarily to obtain an immigration benefit
  • Many juvenile court orders already contain this level of detail
  • USCIS also clarifies that it will consider qualifying orders from state courts, provided the petitioner met the applicable definition of a juvenile under state law when the order was issued and the court determined the juvenile was subject to parental abuse, neglect, abandonment or similar maltreatment

According to USCIS Acting Director Ken Cuccinelli:

“Through these clarifications, USCIS adjudicators will help ensure those who are victims and truly need protection from abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar basis under state law receive the assistance they need,”

“These new clarifications will better protect deserving juvenile immigrants while also promoting program integrity and upholding our laws.  Congress needs to address loopholes in the SIJ program to better protect children.”

Eligibility Requirement for Special Immigrant Juvenile:

An alien seeking classification as a special immigrant juvenile must file a Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I–360). DHS proposes to require that an alien is eligible for SIJ classification if he or she:

  • Is present in the United States;
  • Is under 21 years of age at the time of filing;
  • Is unmarried;
  • Has been declared dependent on a juvenile court, or has been legally committed to, or placed under the custody of, an agency or department of a State, or an individual or entity appointed by a state or juvenile court.
  • Such dependence, commitment, or custody must be in effect at the time of filing and continue through the time of adjudication unless the age of the petitioner prevents such continuation;
  • Is the subject of a State or juvenile court determination that reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar basis under state law
  • Has been the subject of a determination in judicial or administrative proceedings that it would not be in the alien’s best interest to be returned to the alien’s or parent’s previous country of nationality or country of last habitual residence; and
  • Obtains consent from the Secretary of Homeland Security to classification as a special immigrant juvenile.
  • DHS proposes to require the petitioner to be under the age of 21 at the time of filing as provided by TVPRA 2008.

USCIS will also reopen the comment period for the proposed rule, Special Immigrant Juvenile Petitions, for 30 days to gather more information so it can clarify SIJ requirements by rulemaking. The petition could be found here USCIS will accept comments through Nov. 15, 2019.

Note:

  • In recent years, the SIJ classification has increasingly been sought by juvenile and young adult immigrants solely for the purposes of obtaining lawful immigration status and not due to abuse, neglect or abandonment by their parents
  • Through this rulemaking, USCIS seeks to realign the SIJ classification with congressional intent, implement statutorily mandated changes and address shortcomings in the regulations that threaten the integrity of the SIJ program
  • Based on the CJS 1998 Appropriations Act and TVPRA 2008, the proposed regulation would significantly change the Form I–360 eligibility criteria. See proposed 8 CFR 204.11(b) (currently 204.11(c))
  • DHS also proposes to require that dependency, commitment, or custody per section 101(a)(27)(J)(i) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(27)(J)(i), as amended by the TVPRA 2008, be in effect at the time of filing and continue through the time of adjudication, unless the age of the petitioner prevents such continuation