Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is for non-citizen minors who cannot be reunited with one or both of their parents due to abandonment, neglect, or abuse and for whom it is not in their best interest to be returned to their country of origin. To obtain this status, first a family or juvenile and domestic relations (JDR) court must issue an order based on state law regarding the child’s dependency or custody with special factual findings on whether a juvenile has been abused, neglected, abandoned, or subject to similar maltreatment and consequently cannot be reunified with his or her parent(s); and the best interests of the juvenile. After this order is obtained, the juvenile then must apply for SIJS status with USCIS. When this application is approved, the SIJS recipient must wait for their visa priority date, and after this date he or she can apply for adjustment of status to legal permanent residency (their green card).
While lawyers licensed in any U.S. state or territory can assist with the immigration application portion, ONLY an attorney licensed to practice in Virginia can assist with the custody or dependency petition process if the juvenile has a Virginia address. This is because the juvenile court with jurisdiction over the case is the Virginia county in which the child resides. Therefore, if you live in Virginia, a Virginia licensed immigration attorney is critical to ensure that you have an attorney who can help you with every step of the process. This is important because the attorney will know both what procedures must be followed in the JDR court to successfully obtain the required order and what USCIS requires in that custody order to have a successful SIJS application. Additionally, if the juvenile is in immigration court proceedings, this same attorney can assist with attending immigration hearings, motions, and either terminating immigration court proceedings so that they can apply for adjustment of status with USCIS or adjustment of status in immigration court. Finally, if you ever receive an intent to deny your applications or a request for additional evidence, having an attorney with access to all of the custody petition records and knowledge of your case can help you overcome these challenges.
These cases are extremely time-sensitive because the custody petition must be filed before the child’s eighteenth birthday. Therefore, having an experienced immigration and Virginia attorney ensures the petition can be filed correctly and on-time and there are not issues later with the immigration applications.
If you or someone you know is an immigrant child interested in SIJS, please contact VFN Immigrants First today. We have an experienced Virginia and immigration licensed attorney who can assist with every step of the SIJS case.