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Special Immigrant Juvenile Status: Do You Qualify?

For children who have been abandoned, abused, or neglected by one or both of their parents, United States Citizenship and Immigrations Services offered a special process to obtain a green card and seek lawful permanent residence in the U.S. Called a Special Immigrant Juvenile classification, it applied to undocumented and unmarried children under 21 years old who had been separated from or hurt by their parents.

But recent policy changes have many at-risk immigrant youth wondering about their status. Here's what you need to know.

Special Eligibility

The USCIS lists the following requirements for a Special Immigrant Juvenile status:

  • Be under 21 years of age;
  • Be currently living in the United States (you cannot apply from outside the country to come to the United States on SIJ classification);
  • Be unmarried;
  • Have a valid juvenile court order issued by a state court in the United States which finds that you are dependent on the court, or in the custody of a state agency or department or an individual or entity appointed by the court and you cannot be reunified with one or both of your parents because of any of the following: Abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar basis under state law; and
  • It is not in your best interests to return to the country of nationality or last habitual residence of you or your parents.

The USCIS site also notes:

There is no age limit for when you must apply for a Green Card as an SIJ. If you were under 21 years old on the date you properly filed your Form I-360, we will not deny your SIJ-based Form I-485 just based on age if you are older than 21 at the time of filing or adjudication of Form I-485.

Age Enforcement Changes

However, as the New York Times pointed out in April, an unannounced policy change by the Trump administration meant that applicants who were over 18, but not yet 21, when they began the application process no longer qualify under the Special Immigrant Juvenile classification. "They are looking for what he calls 'loopholes,' and what we call protections, and trying to close them," Wendy Young, executive director of Kids In Need of Defense, told the Times. "Under this administration, everybody is presenting a fraudulent claim, rather than, 'Why is this child here and do they need protection?'"

So, determining eligibility may become a bit more complicated, depending on your age. If you're considering a Special Immigrant Juvenile green card application, or have been denied classification, contact an immigration attorney today.

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