In the world of immigration law, changes are frequent and often complex. In this blog post, our law firm, as dedicated advocates for immigration rights, aims to clarify recent changes affecting Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJs).
On March 7, 2023, USCIS announced a final rule that refines the SIJ classification. This rule aligns the SIJ classification with existing federal statutes and provides further clarity on eligibility criteria and evidentiary requirements, aiming to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of the program. In tandem with the SIJ final rule, USCIS is also updating guidance regarding deferred action and related employment authorization for SIJs with an approved Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
The crux of these updates lies in the provision that, starting May 6, 2023, USCIS will consider deferred action and related employment authorization for noncitizens who have an approved Form I-360 for SIJ classification but who cannot apply to adjust status to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) because an immigrant visa number is not immediately available. This change is significant, providing an avenue for employment authorization even when a visa number isn't immediately accessible.
For those unfamiliar with SIJ status, it offers critical legal protection in the U.S. for individuals under 21 who have suffered from abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a parent. The grant of SIJ classification can pave the way to lawful permanent residency, also known as obtaining a Green Card.
There are several eligibility requirements for SIJ classification, which include being under 21, living in the U.S., and being unmarried at the time of filing the SIJ petition. Applicants must have a valid juvenile court order issued by a U.S. state court, determining that they are dependent on the court or in the custody of a state agency, department, or an individual/entity appointed by the court. This court order must also find that reunification with one or both parents isn't feasible due to abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar issue under state law.
It's essential to note that while some juvenile courts may only be able to issue such an order if the applicant is under 18, exceptions exist. For instance, if the court's jurisdiction ended because the applicant was adopted, placed in a permanent guardianship, or aged out of the juvenile court’s jurisdiction, they do not need to be under the court's jurisdiction when applying for the SIJ classification.
Additionally, applicants must be eligible for USCIS consent, meaning the juvenile court order must be sought for relief from abuse, neglect, abandonment, or a similar issue under state law, and not primarily for an immigration benefit. Lastly, if the applicant is in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and their custody status or placement changes due to the juvenile court order, written consent from the HHS/ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) is necessary.
Understanding the intricacies of these changes can be challenging, and our team is here to help you navigate them. Please contact us for any questions or assistance you might need in understanding these new changes or other aspects of immigration law.