What is SIJS?
SIJS means “Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.” Many people call it the “juvenile visa,” but it is not actually a visa. SIJS is form of immigration parole. It gives an immigrant youth permission to remain in the United States until they can apply for permanent residency.
What are the requirements?
- Less than 21 years old
- Not married
- Physically present in the United States
- Cannot reunify with one or both parents due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar reason
- It is not in the youth’s best interest to return to their country or origin
How can I get SIJS?
When a person wants to be in the United States, they need permission. Usually, that permission is a visa. There are many different kinds of visas–for students, tourists, engineers, rock stars, etc. For most visas, the person fills out a form and sends it to the immigration authorities. The authorities decide whether to grant the visa or not.
SIJS is different. To get SIJS, the youth needs to prove to the immigration authorities that they have suffered mistreatment by at least one of their parents and that they meet the other eligibility requirements. But the immigration authorities have no capacity for determining if a particular youth has suffered mistreatment. They just don’t know how to do that.
But there is a court system in each state, including here in Washington State, that makes these determinations every day. The state courts want to protect mistreated children and want to help parents become better at parenting. The state courts are completely separate from the immigration authorities and do not even talk to the immigration authorities. If a person wants SIJS, they first need to present a case in state court, usually for dependency, guardianship, or a parenting plan. As a part of that case, they can also ask the state court judge to sign a document that says the youth suffered mistreatment by at least one parent and that they qualify for SIJS.
After the state judge signs the document, the youth attaches it to the SIJS application form and sends it all in to the immigration authorities, who then decide whether to grant the youth SIJS or not.
Why do I need two lawyers?
You don’t actually need any lawyer to help you with this process, but it is difficult to know how to do it on your own. Most clients hire both an immigration lawyer and a state court lawyer. Because the two systems are separate, most immigration lawyers do not know very much about how the state courts work, and most state court lawyers don’t know much about how the immigration system works. So clients end up hiring two lawyers, one for state court and one for immigration court.
I do the state court portion of an SIJS case, and I work closely with the client’s immigration lawyer to make sure the two pieces fit together.
Are there any drawbacks to SIJS?
The only drawback is that, if you get SIJS, you can never petition for your parents to get legal status in the United States. The reason is that a parent cannot benefit from mistreating their child. If you have any questions about this, talk to me or an immigration lawyer.
Can I apply for SIJS and other kinds of immigration relief (like asylum) at the same time?
In general, yes. This is common. You should speak with an immigration attorney to develop an overall strategy for getting the immigration benefits that you and your family want.
Can I work? Can I travel?
These are questions to ask an immigration lawyer. For most people, until they get permanent residency, they cannot work or travel. But the rules around this are very complex, and you should talk with an immigration lawyer in order to find out the specific possibilities for you.
How long does it take?
There are several timelines, one after another.
- To get the document from state court takes about six months from when you hire me, sometimes less, sometimes more. In an emergency, it is sometimes possible to get the document within about four weeks.
- Then you apply for SIJS. The immigration authorities are currently taking about 6-8 months to decide whether to grant SIJS. In emergencies, it is sometimes possible for them to make a decision more quickly.
- After you get SIJS, you can apply for permanent residency (a “green card”), but you might need to wait first. Depending on which country you are from, you might be able to apply right away, or you might need to wait about 2-3 years before you can apply. The length of the wait changes all the time, so ask me or an immigration attorney what the current wait time is.
- The immigration authorities take a long time to decide whether to grant permanent residency. It is currently taking them about 9-20 months, but this changes all the time.
- If you get permanent residency, you can remain in the United States forever, if you want to. You can also travel to other countries, including your country of origin, and you can work.
- A few years after you get permanent residency–usually five years later–you can apply for citizenship if you want to.
The process is long, but it does move. Every day, people who started by getting an SIJS order from state court become permanent residents and citizens.