Are you, or someone you know:
- a child who is undocumented,
- under 21 years old, and
- not married?
- Have you or the child been separated from or hurt by one or both parents?
If so, you may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status or "SIJS". This will allows you to apply for lawful permanent residency in the U.S.
Get legal help! If you are a custodian or a sponsor of an unaccompanied immigrant child, click to find free information and legal help. And talk to a lawyer who can help you with the California court process. Find free legal help in your area.
Note: The child, or a relative or a friend, can apply for SIJS for the child.
What is SIJS?
- SIJS lets you stay legally in the United States.
- You can apply for work authorization.
- You can immediately apply for a green card (lawful permanent residency).
Do I qualify for SIJS?
You may qualify for SIJ status if:
- You are under 21 years old,
- You are not married,
- You are already in the United States, and
- A court in the U.S. will not let you live with one or both of your parents because they hurt you, they did not take care of you, or they left you without anyone to take care of you.
|How do I apply?
There are two steps:
- Ask for an SIJ order from a California court. Click to learn more.
- Apply for SIJ status with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Note: Sometimes you will need to wait for a visa to become available before you can apply for a green card.
|What do I need to be careful of?
- If you are 17 years old or older, contact a lawyer as soon as possible! In some cases, California courts are not allowed to make the orders you need after you turn 18.
- Getting SIJ status will not help you to give immigration benefits to your parents. This is true even if you have a good relationship with one of your parents.
|Where can I learn more?
|Find an immigration lawyer to help you
Find an immigration lawyer here and here.
What do I need from the state court?
Federal immigration courts have a very different purpose from state courts. Federal courts do not generally get involved in family issues so the federal courts rely on the state court to decide if you have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. To even apply for SIJS, you need to have an order from a state court (in the US) that says:
- You are:
- a dependent of the court (like in a juvenile dependency or juvenile delinquency case), or
- in the legal custody of a state or private agency, or
- in the legal custody of a private person.
Basically, the state court must make a child custody determination of some type in your case, giving custody of you to the court, an agency, or a private person.
- You cannot be reunited with a parent because of one or more of these reasons:
- neglect, or
- a similar reason under California law.
- It is not in your best interests to return to your home country (or the country you last lived in).
How do I get a state court to make the decisions I need?
If you have a case in state court you can ask that court to make the findings in that case. But if you do not have a case, you will need to find the right state court for you. The state courts are called ‘superior courts’ and there is a superior court in every county in California. Courts work slightly differently depending on the county you are in, but the law is the same, most of the forms are the same, and in general, the case types have the same names. Usually, you will go to the superior court in the county where you currently live, but it could be elsewhere. A lawyer can help you figure out which county you should be in and what case type is the best fit for you.
Step 1: Start a case or find an existing case in state court
There are different types of cases in which a state court (a superior court) can make the “findings” required for you to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status. A lawyer or a court self-help center can help you figure out if a case already exists or, if not, which one is best for your situation and how to start it.
Note: If you click on the case type name, you can go to a different section of this website where you can learn in a lot more detail about those cases, how to open a case, and how to file papers in that case once it is open. Talk to a lawyer to understand which type of case is best for you given your situation.
The types of cases are:
- Juvenile Dependency cases (Child abuse and neglect): These are cases where the court decides a child is a dependent of the court, and may place the child in a foster home (with relatives or a foster parent), a group home, or with a guardian in a juvenile dependency guardianship case. In this type of case, you will get a lawyer appointed for you for free.
- Juvenile Delinquency cases: These are cases where a child, in this case you, has committed an offense and the court decides the child (you) is a ward of the court and committed to juvenile hall, or placed in a foster home, a group home, or some other institution. In this type of case, you will get a lawyer appointed for you for free.
- Divorce or Legal Separation cases: These are cases where the parents of the child file to get divorced or legally separated, and also to ask for custody orders that give one parent (or both) legal custody over the children.
- Petition for Custody and Support of minor children: These cases, generally, are for parents who are married or domestic partners or where parental relationship with the children has already been legally established. One or both parents file this type of case to ask the court for child custody or child support orders.
- Parentage cases (Petition to Establish Parental Relationship): These are cases where the parents of a child are not married or domestic partners and where parental relationship has not yet been established. They are used to establish both parents as the child’s legal parents, and to ask for child custody and support.
- Domestic Violence Restraining Orders: When there is domestic violence, one person can ask the court for a restraining order against the other for protection. In these cases, when the people asking for the orders have a child together, they can also ask for child custody orders.
- Guardianships: When the parents of a child are not around or are unable to care for a child, someone else (a relative, friend, or another adult) can ask the court to be made guardian of a child. This means that the guardian would get legal custody of you, as the child. Guardianships can be in probate court. And guardianships can also be ordered in juvenile dependency court. There may be very good reasons why it may be better for you to have the guardianship happen in juvenile dependency over probate, and vice versa. If you think this type of case is good for you, make sure you talk to a lawyer to find out what type of guardianship is best. If you are 18 to 20 years old, you can still use the probate guardianship process. Click to learn how.
- Adoptions: In an adoption, a person who is not the child’s parent (it can be a relative, friend, stepparent, or another adult) asks to have custody of the child. It is different from a guardianship because an adoption is permanent. The rights of the child’s parents are ended, and the adoptive parents become the child’s new legal parents, with all legal rights to custody and also the responsibilities of being parents.
Step 2: Ask the court to make the “findings” (or decisions) you need for your SIJ Petition
Once you have the right type of case and the court has made some decisions, you will have to ask the court to make certain findings required by federal law before you can file your Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
You need the state court to make 3 findings:
- That you are a dependent of the court or in legal custody of person or agency.
The first finding the court has to make is that you are a dependent of the court, or are in the legal custody of a person, state, or private agency. The court can order this in all of the cases we listed earlier. The case you have in state court may already have a court order establishing one of these things. If not, then you can use the case to ask for that determination. You will also use that case to ask the court for the other findings you need.
- That you cannot be reunited with a parent because of abuse, abandonment, neglect, or a similar reason recognized under California law.
This means that the court will have to decide that you have been abandoned, or have suffered abuse or neglect, either in the U.S. or elsewhere. The court has to decide that placing you with one or both of your parents cannot happen. There may be other reasons under California law that allow a judge to decide that you cannot be reunified with a parent, and those may be enough.
- That it is not in your best interest to return to your country.
The court needs to look at your situation and decide what is in your best interests. The court will look at all the information you and your lawyer present and decide if it is not in your best interest to return to your home country or wherever you were last living.
To ask the court to make these findings:
- For juvenile dependency and delinquency cases, and for a guardianship in juvenile court (not in probate court): You will get a lawyer appointed for you for free. Your lawyer will use the Request for Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings (Form JV-356). Your lawyer will help you file the papers you need to get the state court order for your petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status.
- For a divorce, legal separation, petition for custody and support, parentage, domestic violence restraining order, or adoption case: As part of this case, the child (you) can file a request for orders, using the Confidential Request for Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings—Family Law (Form FL-356). In that confidential request, you have to ask the court for the decisions you need and attach other papers that provide the information necessary for the judge to make those decisions. Anyone who gets notified of your request and wants to give the court more information will need to use the Confidential Response to Request for Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings (Form FL-358). A lawyer or the court’s self-help center can help with these steps.
- In a guardianship case (in probate court): You will have to file a request in the guardianship case that asks the court to make the findings that you need. You must use the Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings (Form GC-220). A lawyer or your court’s self-help center can help you with this step. And remember, if you are 18 to 20 years old, you can ask for a guardianship to be set up or extended so you can use that case to ask for the special Immigrant juvenile findings that you need. Click to learn how.
Step 3: Get your state court order
You will likely go to a court hearing when you file your request to the court for the findings you need for your SIJ Petition. If the court grants your requests, your lawyer or the court will prepare a a court order, called Special Immigrant Juvenile Findings (Form FL-357/GC-224/JV-357).
This order is the document you will need to then file your SJI Petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and the rest of your SJI case will be handled by USCIS. Click to get an overview of the SIJ Petition Process on the USCIS website.
What else should I know?
There is a lot of information you need to be aware of. Talk to a lawyer about the potential consequences of you filing a Petition for Special Immigrant Juvenile status.
You can also read more online at:
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – Special Immigrant Juvenile Status page
Immigration Center for Women and Children’s SIJ page
Immigrant Legal Resource Center – resources for children and youth
California Department of Social Services webpage with resources for immigrant families and children
Latino Practice Advisory Committee (LPAC)
Unaccompanied Children Resource Center