On March 18, 2021, Virginia passed legislation allowing for juvenile and family courts to retain jurisdiction of matters where a child has petitioned the court to make findings that would allow them to apply for Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS) before the age of 21. The law goes into effect on July 1, 2021.
Juveniles who are unable to reunify with one or both of their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect are permitted to apply for SIJS with USCIS if they obtain signed orders from state-court judges making those findings, along with determinations that it is in the minor’s best interests to remain in the United States, the minor is under 21, and unmarried.
While federal law permits persons to file for this benefit prior to turning 21, most states do not retain legal authority to make these determinations once the child turns 18. Currently, New Jersey, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Colorado, Nevada, Washington, and California all allow state courts to make these findings for minors after the age of 18 and prior to reaching the age of 21. Nebraska and Alabama have allowed for jurisdiction in cases where the minor has yet to reach the age of 19. Maryland allows for juveniles to obtain predicate orders up until the minor turns 21 but the abuse, abandonment, or neglect must have occurred prior to the minor turning 18. Every other state and the District of Columbia do not allow findings to be made after the child turns 18.
The new Virginia law does not appear to be as permissive as the states that permit courts to make determinations beyond the age of 18. One of the bill’s sponsors, Senator Scott Surovell, acknowledged that the original intent of the bill was to expand the court’s authority past 18 through the age of 21 but, due to compromises, the amended language will likely lead to an interpretation that courts can only make the necessarily factual determinations only if the minor came under the Virginia state court’s authority prior to turning 18. While this a move in the right direction, many Virginia juveniles who would otherwise be eligible for SIJS will not be able to benefit if they have already reached the age of 18. The final language of the bill does appear to be ambiguous.