Via the Safe Passage Project:
Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) is an immigration classification available to certain undocumented immigrants under the age of 21 who have been abused, neglected, or abandoned by one or both parents. SIJS is a way for immigrants under twenty-one to apply for and obtain legal permanent residence in the United States.
There are very specific requirements for a child to qualify for SIJS, and the criteria are:
1. The applicant must be under 21 years old;
2. He/she must be unmarried;
3. He/she must be declared dependent in a juvenile court. This means that the Family Court must take jurisdiction over a petition addressing the needs of the applicant;
4. Reunification with one or both of the child’s parents must no longer be a viable option; AND
5. It is not in the best interests of the minor to return to his/her country of nationality or last habitual residence.
There are many benefits to obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. SIJS waives several types of inadmissibility that would otherwise prevent an immigrant from becoming a lawful permanent resident (getting a green card). For example, SIJS waives unlawful entry, working without authorization, status as a public charge, and certain immigration violations. Once a minor receives SIJS, he/she will be able to adjust his/her status to that of a lawful permanent resident, obtain work authorization, and eventually apply for U.S. citizenship.
There are two main stages in obtaining Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. First, the minor must engage in a proceeding in the Family or Surrogate’s Court in the county where he/she resides, (i.e., custody, adoption, or guardianship). As part of this proceeding, the minor must obtain a “special findings order” that declares the minor’s eligibility for SIJS. Although guardianship is the most common way for the Family Court to obtain jurisdiction over a minor, it is also possible to bring a motion requesting the order though a custody, neglect, adoption, permanency hearing for children in foster care, or PINS (Person in Need of Supervision) proceeding. However it is done, receipt of this order is a pre-requisite to applying for SIJS status.
The second stage, after receiving this order from the Family or Surrogate’s Court, the minor may then apply to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) for SIJS. SIJS would bestow upon the child lawful permanent residence and work authorization.