Over the past several years, the U.S. has seen an influx of unaccompanied minors entering the U.S. The majority of these minors have entered through the U.S.’ southern borders from war-torn countries in Central America. However, there are many unaccompanied minors from many other countries. Many of these juveniles are eligible for a special immigrant juvenile visa that would allow them to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.
A foreign citizen in the U.S. may obtain a special immigrant visa if they need the protection of a state juvenile court due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect by a parent or both parents. In essence, the juvenile becomes a dependent of the state and is allowed to apply for lawful permanent residence through their special immigrant classification. The juvenile must be under 21 in California (18 for some other states), be unmarried, and be currently living in the U.S.
The first step of the process in obtaining a special immigrant visa is to obtain a valid juvenile court order by the state which states that the juvenile is a dependent of the court or in the custody of the state. The juvenile must show that they cannot be reunited with one or both their parents because of either abuse, abandonment, or neglect, and it is not in their best interest to return to their native country.
Once the juvenile has the state court order of dependency, the juvenile can apply for the special immigrant visa classification with USCIS. Once USCIS makes the classification, the juvenile can then apply for lawful permanent residence. The petition for the special immigration juvenile must be filed before the juvenile turns 21 and the juvenile must remain unmarried until their lawful permanent residence is approved. Further, all the normal grounds of inadmissibility apply – such as criminal and misrepresentation grounds. Due to the nature of the visa, no family derivative applications are allowed. The juvenile may apply for a work permit and a travel document while their application is pending.
Just in 2017, over 11,000 of these visas were granted. However, this program is rapidly gaining the attention of the Trump administration, which is trying to limit the reach of the program. So, if this visa applies to you, should speak to a knowledgeable attorney that is licensed to practice in your state to start the process as soon as possible.