Special Immigrant Visas

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 What Is the "Special Immigrant" Visa?

The “Special Immigrant” category includes people who qualify for a green card, or permanent resident status, under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) special immigrant program. Special Immigrants earn an EB-4 visa.

There are six main categories of people who may qualify as special immigrants. Once a person is granted an EB-4 visa, they may be entitled to certain government benefits. The quota limits for EB-4 visas are different from other visa categories.

Only 10,000 green cards in total annually are allowed to obtain the “Special Immigrant” status. Also, children and spouses of special immigrants are often granted lawful permanent resident status (LPR) or “derivative citizenship” as the child or spouse of a special immigrant. To be admitted as a special immigrant, a person must fill out a petition documenting their circumstances and submit the petition to the USCIS.

There are various subcategories for special immigrants, and not all applicants may qualify for special immigrant visas. Special immigrant visas, or “SIVs,” are reserved for:

  • People subject to limitations under the EB-4 category;
  • People who have lost citizenship through marriage or through service in foreign armed forces;
  • G-4 International Organization Employees or Family Members
  • Ordained ministers only and not other types of religious workers from December 8, 2017;
  • Special immigrant juveniles who has been through hardship and are seeking permanent residence in the U.S.;
  • Members of the Armed Forces;
  • Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone employees;
  • Broadcasters;
  • NATO-6 employees;
  • International employees of the U.S. government who are stationed abroad;
  • Certain physicians;
  • Afghan or Iraqi nationals who supported the U.S. Armed Forces as translators; and
  • Afghan and Iraqi nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq.

Each of the above categories is subject to different requirements and eligibility factors. Keep in mind that the USCIS can change these regulations also. A person needs to check frequently to keep up with changes in the law.

What Is a Special Immigrant Juvenile?

The Special Immigrant Juvenile program of the USCIS exists to help foreign children in the U.S. who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected and qualify for the protection of a juvenile court. In order to qualify as a special immigrant juvenile, or SIJ, you must have an order from a state court that contains certain findings. The USCIS uses the information in the order to determine your status as a SIJ.

At the state court level, it must be determined that the person is a dependent of the court or has been legally placed with a state agency, private agency or private person. Also, it must be shown that it is not in the best interest of the child to return to their home country and that the child cannot be reunited with their parents due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.

To get special immigrant juvenile status, a person must:

  • Be under the age of 21 on the date of filing the petition for SIJ status (Form I-360);
  • Have a state court order that is in effect on the date of filing the Form I-360;
  • Not be married;
  • Live inside the U.S. at the time of filing the Form I-360;
  • Be eligible for USCIS consent. This means that the applicant must have sought the juvenile court order to obtain relief from abuse, neglect, abandonment or a similar basis under state law and not primarily to obtain an immigration benefit.
  • Have written consent from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)/ Office of Refugee
  • Resettlement (ORR) to the court’s jurisdiction if:
    • The applicant is currently in the custody of HHS, and
    • The juvenile court order also changes the applicant’s custody status or placement.

Once a person qualifies for SIJ status, they must then establish their eligibility for a green card. It may be necessary to file a request for a waiver in order to get a green card if you are subject to certain ineligibilities including:

  • If the person is a risk to people or property, because of mental or physical disorder;
  • If the person is a prostitute or pimp;
  • If the person is a drug addict or abuser; or
  • If the person is an alien smuggler.

However, despite these limitations, there are situations where reasons that would disqualify a green card applicant do not apply to SIJ applicants. These are the following:

  • If the person cannot support themselves financially;
  • If a person is unlawfully present in the U.S.;
  • If the person entered the U.S. by hiding on a boat, airplane or other form of transportation as a stowaway; or
  • If the person does not have a proper visa or passport.

If any of these circumstances characterize a juvenile, they do not disqualify the juvenile for SIJ status.

No other person may file as a derivative applicant of an SIJ. However, an SIJ may petition for qualifying family members through family-based immigration after they have been granted a green card.

Please note that if a person is granted a green card based on their SIJ classification and then later becomes a naturalized citizen, the person cannot apply for green cards for their natural or their prior adoptive parents. This is true even if a custodial parent was not abusive.

Are Special Immigrants Entitled to Any Benefits?

Qualifying non-citizens often choose to file as special immigrants as the category entitles them to government assistance and benefits that are denied to other people who obtain green cards. These benefits include such items as the following:

  • Supplemental Security Income (SSI);
  • Food Assistance Programs (FAP);
  • State-funded “resettlement” programs;
  • Other entitlement programs.

Eligibility for such programs depends on the background of each individual applicant and the subcategory of the application. Some benefits have time limitations after the person is granted the visa, that is, the benefits expire after a certain amount of time.

A Special Immigrant (EB4) visa holder will have access to healthcare in the United States,, however, they should remember that the cost of healthcare in the US is one of the highest in the world. Thus, they need to sign up for a health insurance plan that fits their needs best and is also affordable.

Can Persons under Refugee Status Adjust to SIV?

Refugee status is a kind of protection that the U.S. may grant to persons who qualify as refugees and who are of special humanitarian concern to the U.S. government. A refugee is granted this status before coming to the U.S. One year after coming to the United States, a refugee must apply for a green card.

However, a non-citizen who has been granted refugee status cannot adjust their status from that of asylum-seeker or refugee to SIV. An asylum seeker is already in the U.S. when they request asylum, but the situation regarding SIV status is the same. An asylum seeker cannot adjust their status to that of an SIV.

Do I Need a Lawyer for Assistance with Obtaining a Special Immigrant Visa?

Special immigrant visas usually involve more conditions and requirements than other visa categories due to the benefits associated with them. This is a very technical and complex area of the law and an experienced immigration lawyer can provide much needed assistance when applying for special immigrant status.

Special immigrants often travel to the U.S. with their children or spouses, making the process more complex. An experienced immigration lawyer will be able to assist you with the filing requirements and can provide expert guidance during immigration proceedings.

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