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Visa program could help some immigrants in North Carolina

Immigration law is a broad and complex subject and some of its lesser-known, though still vitally important, areas can become overshadowed by the emphasis on other provisions and rules. For example, take the special immigrant juvenile status visa program, which is given the acronym SIJS. Under the program, if an immigrant is listed as a dependent of the state, is not married and has not yet reached the age of 21, he or she can become a lawful permanent resident.

Although the program has been in existence for decades, it has remained relatively obscure in the shadows of other immigration initiatives. A number of attorneys have slowly been raising awareness of the program among judges and immigrants who can benefit from it. About 700 illegal immigrants obtain the SIJS designation annually, and the total number of approved SIJS cases since 1997 numbers nearly 10,000.

For young illegal immigrants in state custody, the essential question is whether they would be better off having the visa and remaining in the U.S., or whether they should be returned to their relatives, who in some cases have been deported to their home countries. State workers make an initial determination on that matter, and then a judge weighs in on the best interests question. Ultimately, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services makes the decision to award the visa to an applicant.

There are a variety of potential options for immigrants seeking visas and citizenship. The criteria needed to become eligible for a given program can be complex, as can the application process itself.

Source: The Washington Post, "Special visa program offers citizenship path for illegal immigrant youth in foster care," Aug. 25, 2012

• It is important for immigrants to explore thoroughly the available choices offered to them by the government. If you would like more information on our practice, please visit our Greensboro immigration page.

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