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SIJS – Special Immigrant Juvenile Status

Children, teens, and young adults facing immigration challenges in the U.S. may be eligible for relief by gaining classification as a Special Immigrant Juvenile or SIJ. Once someone has been classified as an SIJ, then they are often able to apply for a Green Card and become lawful permanent residents of the U.S.

Pursuing this form of immigration relief can be challenging because it forces a young person to recount traumatic moments in their life. At Odunlami Law, we help individuals pursue special immigrant juvenile status by making the most effective arguments and presenting compelling evidence while still respecting the privacy and emotional fragility of the families involved.

As immigrants ourselves, we know the journey can be painful and frustrating, and we want to ease the burdens whenever possible.

What is SIJ Classification?

Special immigrant juvenile status is a classification made available by immigration authorities to help and protect young people who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by at least one parent. This classification is only available for people under the age of 21 who are currently located in the U.S.

Gaining SIJ status protects a young person from deportation. It can enable them to remain in the U.S. permanently as a lawful resident with a Green Card. There are many young people without legal status who are not able to do many of the things native-born teens take for granted, such as getting a driver’s license, working at a job, or applying to college. When they are able to receive SIJ status, it can open a whole host of opportunities to live a full life. At Odunlami Law, we believe it is critical for all young people who qualify to be made aware of this pathway to obtain a Green Card before it is too late and the option is no longer available.

Who Qualifies for SIJS?

To gain status as a special immigrant juvenile, the person petitioning for SIJS must be:

  • Under the age of 21 at the time of filing the petition (in some states, because a juvenile court determination is required, the person applying must be under 18 or 19)
  • Living in the U.S. at the time of filing the petition and at the time a decision is made
  • Unmarried at the time of filing the petition and at the time a decision is made. (If the person applying was married previously but is widowed or divorced at the time of seeking SIJ classification, that is allowed.)
  • Declared dependent on the court or in the custody of a state agency or someone appointed by the court (such as in foster care)
  • Not able to be reunited with one or both parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis (the abuse, abandonment, or neglect does not have to have occurred in the U.S.)
  • Under determination by the state court that it is not in their best interests to return to the country of origin or the country where they or their parents last habitually resided

In addition, the young person seeking SIJ status must have sought an order from the state juvenile court to obtain relief from abuse, abandonment, or neglect and not just as a means to obtain immigration benefits. If the young person is in the custody of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the order from state juvenile court would change that custody, then that young person may need written consent from the Department as well.

The Process Beings in State Family Court

Because a young person seeking SIJ status needs a court order with a finding of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar issue, the process of seeking SIJ classification must begin in state court. The definition of what is considered abuse, abandonment, or neglect will be determined based on state law. For instance, in New Jersey, the death of a parent is considered abandonment, so if a young person has lost a parent, that could provide grounds for SIJ classification. The non-abusive parent can bring or participate in the case.

Because family courts are often backlogged, it is important to start the process well before the time when the young person reaches the age of 21 (or the age for the state where they live.)

Odunlami Law Helps Applicants Gain SJIS and Their Green Cards

Young people can gain lawful status through SIJ classification regardless of how they entered the U.S. It doesn’t matter if they overstayed a student visa, crossed the border illegally, or violated immigration provisions in some other way. But it is important to begin the process of seeking SIJS before they become too old.

If you or someone you know might qualify for SIJ status, we urge you to contact the team at Odunlami Law. We have considerable experience with these cases and know how to work effectively to gain SIJS and a Green Card for young people. 

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