Q: I’ve heard that there is a cap on Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) visas for minors from Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Mexico. What does this mean for youth from these countries who have entered the child welfare system and will soon turn 21?
A: Yes, there is a cap on the number if SIJS visas and according to the U.S. State Department, it has been reached for children from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Mexico for FY2016. However, the Center for the Study of Social Policy makes the following recommendations for assisting youth who are impacted by the SIJS visa cap:
- Continue to file for SIJS (Form I-360) on behalf of youth from these countries. The current cap on SIJS visas should not prohibit child welfare workers and practitioners, including attorneys and guardians ad litem, from moving forward and filing for SIJS.
- Ensure the proper findings have been issued by the court and all forms (I-360 and I-485) have been filed. To be eligible for SIJS, the appropriate court findings and paperwork must be filed before the child or youth’s 21st birthday. It is imperative that practitioners and advocates continue to seek the necessary findings in court and file the appropriate forms to move forward with petitioning for lawful permanent residency once the cap is lifted in October 2016 (when the new fiscal year begins). It can be difficult to get a case in front of the court once a child or youth has exited the foster care system so having the appropriate findings issued during an open foster care case is imperative.
- Ensure that SIJS eligible children and youth are granted Deferred Action while awaiting the availability of SIJS visas. The United States Citizen and Immigration Services (USCIS) has indicated that it is approving Deferred Action, which is temporary relief from deportation, for SIJS visa-eligible applicants. By obtaining Deferred Action, these children and youth will be exempt from deportation for two years and will be eligible to apply for Employment Authorization.
- Inform children and youth petitioning for SIJS that a change to their circumstances can impact their eligibility for an SIJS visa. Despite having the appropriate finding and forms completed, youth may be found no longer eligible if they get married or are arrested.
- Connect youth to community-based agencies that can provide support and specific guidance related to pursuing permanent legal residency once the cap is lifted.
- Ensure youth have filed for health insurance under the ACA or other health care coverage.
- Inform and connecting youth to adult education and higher education opportunities.
- File all the appropriate forms to receive authorization for employment.