By Cesar R. Romero
In Fiscal Year 2021, USCIS received its highest number of Special Immigrant Juvenile (“SIJ”) petitions at 22,699 while also approving its lowest amount since 2018 at 15,924. While SIJ petitions are approved at a high rate, this does not guarantee benefits for those who receive an approval until a visa number becomes available.
Typically, the process for immigrants who qualify for Special Immigrant Juvenile to receive benefits was based on applying for adjustment of status when a visa number becomes available. Depending on nationality (specifically for El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), waiting for a visa number can take a number of years. During this period of limbo, there were no venues to pursue Employment Authorization Documents (“EAD”) that allow juveniles to apply to receive driver’s licenses, social security numbers, and legally work in the U.S. As these groups of immigrants begin their lives in the U.S. either working or pursuing a higher education, these EAD’s allow for the basic necessities to continue those lives.
Only recently has USCIS taken action for those with approved SIJ status to receive the benefits of an EAD. On March 7, 2022 USCIS announced that it would pursue deferred action on a case-by-case basis for approved SIJ applicants.
USCIS: “Deferred action and related employment authorization will help to protect noncitizens with SIJ classification who cannot apply for adjustment of status solely because they are waiting for a visa number to become available”
If you have an approved SIJ status, USCIS will automatically issue you another approval notice which states that Deferred Action has been granted on your case. This notice will allow these juveniles to apply for an EAD under category (c)(14). Ensuring that your mailing address is kept up to date with USCIS will allow for any SIJ correspondence to be delivered and prevent delays. There is no need to submit a separate inquiry for deferred action to be granted on your SIJ case.
As many juveniles begin to explore the options in their lives, whether it is education, beginning a vocation, or exploring other options to prepare themselves to become contributing members of society, an EAD is a stepping stone for SIJ applicants.