Special Visas Available to Abused and Neglected Foreign-Born Children

An increasing number of children and families find themselves caught in the intersection of our country’s complex – and broken – immigration and child welfare systems.  The first goal in these cases should be for the state to provide culturally appropriate services to reunify the family when that is appropriate and can be done safely.  In situations in which reunification is not possible, some of these children may qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS).[i] This opportunity is available for certain abused, abandoned or neglected undocumented children in the juvenile court system so that they could become a legal permanent resident (LPR).

The requirements for obtaining SIJS are:

  • The juvenile must be under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court, although if the child is no longer under juvenile court jurisdiction because of “age” (turning 19 in Nebraska), then he or she should not be denied SIJS for this reason;
  • The juvenile must be dependent on a juvenile court or placed in the custody of a state agency or department or an individual or entity;
  • Reunification with one or both parents is not viable due to abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar basis found under state law; and
  • It is not in the child’s best interest to be returned to her or his home country. [ii]

The SIJS petition can provide a critical path to citizenship for children who, through no fault of their own, otherwise face obstacles including the threats of immigration holds and removal; no Social Security number or state ID or driver’s license; no access to federal financial aid for college; and no ability to work legally.  However, SIJS petitions are generally underutilized.  Therefore, we encourage individuals who work with juveniles and immigrants to look into the process for obtaining SIJS in appropriate cases.  As part of our ongoing efforts to address issues at the intersection of child welfare and immigration law, Appleseed is committed to providing a range of resources to assist families and practitioners with such issues.  For more information, click here to visit Appleseed’s Foster Care Reform Legal Resource Center and click here for a listing of non-profit immigration legal services that may be able to help with SIJS petitions or other issues.


[i] Immigration & Nationality Act, codified at 8 U.S.C. §1101(a)(27)(J); regulations are at 8 C.F.R. § 204.11.

[ii] See William Wilberforce Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008, Pub. L. No. 110-457, 122 Stat. 5044.

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