What is SIJS?
SIJS (Special Immigrant Juvenile Status) is a special immigration status for youth under 21 who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent. It is unique in that it is obtained by working through one's local family court to get a special findings order, and then applying with USCIS. If approved, one can eventually apply for permanent residency. SIJS is not done through immigration court (although one may be in immigration court already while pursuing SIJS and it is important they continue to appear for their hearings). It should be done with a lawyer who specializes in SIJS.
Who is eligible for SIJS?
To be eligible for SIJS you must prove the following five criteria in family court:
You are under 21 when you apply for SIJS;
You are currently unmarried;
One or both of your parents have abused, abandoned, or neglected you according to New York State law - this includes if a parent has passed away;
It is not in your best interest to return to your country of nationality or last residence;
You have an adult willing to be your guardian or custodian until you turn 21. This can be a parent, mentor, or neighbor - their immigration status does not matter.
Should people who do SIJS also file for asylum, etc?
Yes - one should usually try to file as many forms of relief as possible. A lawyer will help advise someone on what options they have.
When should someone file for SIJS?
It takes a few months to finish the process of applying for SIJS, so you should start at the latest a few months before turning 21 years old.
How does SIJS work?
SIJS determinations are initially made by the family court where the person lives - New York City has a different family court for every borough. Over a period of several months, and several court appearances, one needs to gather and create documentation to:
Prove that the young person meets the SIJS eligibility
Legally establish a guardian in family court
If the family court Judge determines someone is eligible, they will provide a special findings order. That order must be submitted to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service - USCIS (learn more about different immigration-related agencies here). Typically there will be two stages with USCIS, which will take several years, before one obtains permanent residency. The specifics will depend on the individual's exact circumstances.