Washington, US, 14th May 2022, ZEXPRWIRE, On March 7, 2022, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (UCIS) announced a policy change to better protect juvenile immigrants who have suffered abuse, abandonment, neglect, or parental maltreatment. 

When announcing the policy change, USCIS Director Ur M. Jaddou hailed the move as a bold step towards giving abused and neglected immigrant children a chance to rebuild their lives. This policy change affects minors whom the juvenile courts determine that having them stay in the United States will be in their best interests. 

The Legal Path to Permanent Residency

Once it becomes effective, starting May 6, 2022, the new policy change will allow for the expansion of the pool of juveniles eligible for Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status. The new policies also clarify requirements for eligibility for the status. 

The program created by congress has been around since 1990 and was designed to allow immigrants under 21 that came from violent backgrounds to apply for permanent residency in the United States. Under the program, qualification for permanent residency is dependent on whether a state court issues an order stating the person’s eligibility. The program has seen over 130,000 juvenile immigrants gain SIJ status since 2010. 

Departure from Trump Administration’s Approach

“These policies create a path for young immigrants that escape violence in the homes to have legal residency in the U.S.,” says immigration attorney Brandon Ritchie of Ritchie-Reiersen Injury & Immigration Attorneys. “These policies mark a departure from the Trump administration’s approach, where very stringent requirements for documentation saw many applicants locked out.”

The administration also denied most petitions filed by applicants over 18 years, citing the state family court’s lack of jurisdiction over the individuals based on age. While the new policies come as good news to immigrant advocates, critics feel that the new guidelines are too permissive and encourage immigration.

It Is a Three-Step Process

Obtaining an SIJ status is a three-step process. The first is the state court level. In this stage, the court scrutinizes the evidence provided to prove the minor cannot reunite with their parents because of abuse. 

If the evidence provided satisfies the court, an order will be issued stating that staying in America is in the individual’s best interest. Some of the evidence required by the court to prove age includes passports, birth certificates, or any form of identification documentation issued by the individual’s country of origin. 

Once a minor has the court order, the next step is to petition UCIS by filing form 1-360. If their petition is approved, the non-citizen juvenile proceeds to the immigration court when they apply to gain lawful permanent residency. Sometimes it is possible to apply for steps two and three simultaneously, but that is subject to the country of origin.

Employment Eligibility

Previously, only SIJs with valid visas were eligible for work authorization. With the new changes, SIJs do not need a visa to be eligible for work; the only requirement is that they acquire an SIJ status. This is great news for hundreds of immigrant minors granted SIJ status but could still not get a job. 

The biggest beneficiaries of the policy change are individuals approaching the age of 21 that are in the program but are yet to get their visas. Previously reaching 21 meant ejection from the United States even with an SIJ status. Under new policies, individuals who attain the age of 21 while their petition is still pending cannot be removed from the United States.

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