If you are in foster care, you may qualify for Special (“SIJS”), a kind of immigration status that helps you get a green card. To qualify for SIJS, you must be under 21 years old and not married. A judge must find that you can not return to live with your parents because you have experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect. A judge must also decide that it is in your best interest to stay in the United States and not return to your home country.
Act FAST for SIJS!
It is especially important to find out about applying for SIJS as early as possible because all the steps in the court system can take a long time and they must be completed before you reach the age of 21. If you don’t apply for SIJS early, it’s possible you could lose your only chance of getting a green card!
What do I have to do for SIJS?
SIJS requires a two-step process: step one is in family court and step two is at the immigration agency.
What happens at family court?
Your law guardian will ask the family court judge to make several “special findings.” The judge must find that you are: under 21, unmarried, unable to return to live with your biological parents due to abuse, abandonment or neglect, and that it is in your best interest to remain in the United States and not be returned to your home country. (See page 15.)
What happens at the immigration agency?
Connecting with an immigration attorney:
Your immigration attorney will prepare and submit a SIJS application to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which is the agency in charge of immigration benefits. UCIS will then schedule an interview for you to meet with an immigration officer, which could take place many months later.
Your immigration interview:
Your attorney will go with you to the interview.
At the interview, an immigration officer will ask you some questions about your application. The officer will look to see if you have “good moral character” by considering any criminal convictions or other unfavorable factors. Some of the factors they can look at include evidence of drug abuse, prostitution, submitting false documents, or criminal charges, even if you were not convicted. You will not need to prove good moral character, beyond showing that you are working or in school, and explaining any negative factors that are present. Your attorney will work with you to prepare for any questions you may be asked and to submit documents that will help your application.
Do I have to pay for a green card?
If you are in foster care, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and your agency are responsible for paying all of the application fees. Your law guardian or immigration attorney will work with ACS and the foster care agency to be sure that the fees are paid in full and on time. If you are not in foster care, there are fee waivers available, but you should first talk to your immigration attorney about whether applying for such a waiver will delay or risk a denial of your case.
AM I ELIGIBLE FOR SIJS?
Can I get SIJS if I am adopted or about to be adopted?
I am not in foster care. Can I still get a green card through SIJS?
Yes, SIJS is also available if you are in a guardianship. Guardianship means that a court has named someone other than your parent to be your legal guardian. The same SIJS requirements will apply: You must be under 21 years old and not married. A family court judge must decide that you cannot return to live with your parents because you experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and that it is in your best interest to stay in the United States.
Also, if you are living on your own or with an adult who is not your parent or guardian, and you are under 18 , then you could still try to apply for SIJS. You should talk to an immigration attorney to help you file for SIJS by bringing a case in family court.
Contacting an Immigration Attorney
The following organizations provide immigration legal assistance to young people:
What if I came into the country “illegally,” can I still safely apply for SIJS?
If you entered the country without permission, you can still apply for a green card through SIJS. While some people call undocumented status “illegal,” it does not mean you are a criminal, it just means that you are at risk of deportation and need immigration assistance. Your immigration attorney can talk to you about whether you will also be able to safely apply for other types of immigration applications.
I am over 21. Am I eligible for SIJS?
No. SIJS is only available to you if you are under 21 years of age. The application process must be completed and approved before you turn 21. However, you should still talk to an immigration attorney about other ways to get a green card.
What if I have been arrested or was convicted of a crime?
If you apply for SIJS, the immigration agency will look at arrests and criminal convictions. If they are found to be serious cases, your application could be denied. The immigration agency will ask you to take a fingerprinting test and will be able to see all of your records. A youthful offender adjudication ("YO") is not treated the same way as a criminal conviction, but the immigration officer can still ask you about it.
It is very important that you are truthful about your criminal history with your immigration attorney. If you have ever been arrested, even if you weren’t convicted, then you should tell your law guardian and immigration attorney right away. Your attorney can help you complete the application correctly, explain your arrests or convictions, and ask the immigration officer to make an exception in your case.
What if I am arrested in the future?If you are arrested, be sure to let your defense attorney know if you do not yet have a green card. This might help to prevent decisions that could hurt your immigration case. Even after you get a green card, you will need to explain your immigration status to your defense attorney to help prevent deportation.