A "Special Immigrant" is a person who qualifies for a green card, or permanent residence, under the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services special immigrant program. Special Immigrants earn an EB-4 visa.
There are six main categories of persons who may qualify as special immigrants. Once classified, they may be entitled to certain government benefits. The quota limits for an EB-4 visa is different than in other types of visa categories.
Special Immigrant only permits 10,000 green cards in total annually. 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, the individual must fill out a petition documenting his or her circumstances and submit the petition to the USCIS.
There are various sub-categories for special immigrants, and not all applicants may qualify for special immigrant visas. Special immigrant visas, or "SIV’s" are reserved for:
- Persons subject to limitations under the EB-4 category
- Persons who have lost citizenship through marriage or through service in foreign armed forces
- International Organization Employees or Family Members
- Religious ministers and other religious workers
- Armed Forces Members
- Panama Canal Company or Canal Zone Government Employees
- NATO Nonimmigrant
- Physician National Interest Waiver
- Afghanistan or Iraq nationals who supported the U.S. Armed Forces as translators, and
- Iraq nationals who worked for or on behalf of the U.S. Government in Iraq
Each of the above categories are subject to different requirements and eligibility factors. For example, a religious worker filing for an SIV must provide extensive documentation of their religious work, the nature of the religious organization to which they belong, and have been in the United States for at least two years prior to the filing of the special immigrant visa.
The Special Immigrant Juvenile program was created by the USCIS to help foreign children in the U.S. who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected. To qualify as a special immigrant juvenile, or SIJ, you must have a state court order that contains certain findings. The USCIS uses this information to determine your status as a SIJ.
At the state court level, it must be determined that the person are a dependent of the court or has been legally placed with a state agency, private agency or private person. Additionally, it must be shown that it is not in the best interest of the person to return to their home country and that the person cannot be reunited with their parent due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
To qualify as a special immigrant juvenile, you must:
- Be under the age of 21 on the filing date of the Form I-360
- Your state court order must be in effect on the filing date of the Form I-360
- You cannot be married, and
- You must be inside the U.S. at the time of filing the Form I-360
Once a person qualifies for SIJ status, they must then establish their eligibility for a green card. It may be necessary to file a waiver in order to get a green card if you are subject to certain ineligibilities including:
- If you are a risk to people or property, because of mental or physical disorder
- If you are a prostitute or pimp
- If you are a drug addict or abuser, or
- If you are 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 you cannot financially support yourself
- If you are unlawfully present in the U.S.
- If you entered the U.S. by hiding on a boat, airplane or other form of transportation as a stowaway, or
- If you do not have a proper visa or passport
Qualifying non-citizens often choose to file as special immigrants as the category entitles them to government assistance and benefits such as:
- 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 sub-category of the application. Some benefits have time limitations after the person is granted the visa (i.e., the benefits will expire after a certain amount of time).
Refugee status is a form of protection that may be granted to persons who qualify as refugees and who are of special humanitarian concern to the United States. After one year, a refugee must apply for a green card after coming to the United States. However, a non-citizen who has been granted refugee status cannot adjust their status from asylum or refugee to SIV.
Special immigrant visas usually have more conditions and requirements than other visa categories due to the benefits associated with them. As the process can be confusing, an 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, the process more complex. An experienced lawyer will be able to assist you with the filing requirements and can provide counseling during immigration proceedings.