The phrase Special Immigrants carries legal meaning in U.S. immigration law. It refers to a group of potential immigrants who are described in provisions 101(a)(27) and 203(b)(4) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the primary law, which governs immigration and naturalization processes as well as deportation and removal proceedings; immigration detention; and many other immigration and naturalization related matters. These individuals may petition for an immigrant status in the USA if they proof to the satisfaction of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services that they are members of the one of these groups, capable of establishing eligibility for a special immigrant category, and that they merit a favorable exercise of discretion. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is a federal agency responsible for adjudication of immigration and naturalization benefits in the United States.
There are two general subgroups within the special immigrant category: a) the first subgroup includes Legal Permanent Residents returning for permanent residence in the USA after some authorized stay abroad, and Persons Reacquiring U.S. Citizenship. To petition for the special immigrant status, individuals are required to file USCIS Form I-360 with evidence of their eligibility for the Special Immigrant category qualification.
The following types of individuals may petition for the Special Immigrant status as members of the second subgroup:
- religious workers,
- employees of the U.S. government or of American Institute in Taiwan,
- Panama Canal Treaty employees and their immediate relatives,
- international medical graduates (IMG's),
- special immigrant juveniles (SIJ),
- certain U.S. service members and NATO civilian employees,
- BBG broadcasters, translators with the US armed forces,
- certain citizens of Iraq and Afghanistan who provided assistance to the U.S. forces, and
- spouses, children, and parents of a U.S. citizen or a Legal Permanent Resident who had been subjected to extreme battery and cruelty by that person.
Eligibility requirements vary depending on the subgroup and so does the evidence required to establish eligibility. There is no “specific amount of evidence,” which has been set as sufficient to establish eligibility. However, the evidence must satisfy the USCIS officer, adjudicating the petition that the applicant has established his or her eligibility.
are persons affiliated with certain religious organization in the United States may petition for an immigrant visa as Special Immigrants. Eligibility requirements:
- the petitioner must prove that they have been a member of a bona fide, non-profit, religious organization in the United States for at least two years prior to filing their petition;
- they must be employed full time (minimum of 35 hours per week) and receive monetary compensation for their services, and
- their sole function must be that of a minister.
The fourth requirement applies only to those individuals, who are already in the United States. They must prove, in addition to the three requirements above, that they have been legally employed as a minister either in the United States or abroad for at least 2 years before submitting their petition.
The law allows the applicants to include their spouses and children as dependents. The petitioner and the religious organization they are employed with must conform to the definitions of “minister”, “religious worker”, “petitioning religious organization”, “religious denomination”, “religious occupation”, and “religious vocation”.
The applicant must submit USCIS Form I-360 with evidence attesting to the following:
- the applicant's credentials as a religious worker;
- proof of IRS tax-exempt status of the petitioning religious organization;
- detailed report of the organization's structure;
- references from prior employers
- proof of monetary compensation for the declared position.
It is important to note, that USCIS may require an interview with both the applicant as well as representatives of the petitioning organization, to establish applicant's eligibility for an immigrant visa.
Employees of the U.S. government or of American institute in Taiwan for 15 years
to be eligible for the grant of status, the applicant needs to show that he or she have completed 15 years of service for the U.S. government either within the United States or abroad. Service for more than one U.S. government agency is permitted and will be considered in its totality upon the review of the petitioner's submissions.
Panama canal treaty employees and their spouses and children international medical graduates (img's)
the applicant in this category must submit evidence to show that he or she
is a medical professional duly licensed to practice medicine in one of the states of the United States of America as of January 1, 1978.
has entered the United States as H/J visa holder and resided and practiced medicine in the United States continuously since the date of entry.
the applicant in this category must prove that he or she is
- a retired G4 officer, or a spouse, or a widower, or an unmarried child of an employee of a qualifying international organization.
- who maintained a valid G4 or N status in the United States and
- submits their petition within 6 months of their retirement. Such applicants are eligible to file their Forms I485 and I 360 concurrently thus providing with an employment authorization during the time of their petition adjudication.
The unmarried children of eligible petitioners are allowed to submit their own petitions if they have resided in the U.S. for at least 7 years between the ages of 5 and 21 and are filing their petition before their 25th birthday.
Special immigrant juveniles (sij)
under-aged children belong to this category if they
- were placed under the protection of the court or any state agency and
- their reunion with the parents is impossible because of abuse, neglect, or abandonment.
U.S. service members who honorably served on active duty for 12 years
the applicant must:
- have the required service accomplished after October 15, 1978.
- demonstrate lawful enlistment outside of the United States
- allowed to include spouses and children into the petition.
Those with 6 years of service may also be eligible if they re-enlist for additional 6 years.
Hato civilian employees
the eligibility requirements for this category are the same as for G-4's category as explained above.
the eligible petitioners in this category are individuals entering the United States to work for the International Broadcasting Bureau of the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) or one of its grantees (e.g., Radio Free Asia or Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty).
Translators with the U.S. armed forces
there are 500 visas per year available in this category. Generally, it includes the nationals of Iraq and Afghanistan who have worked for the U.S. armed forces as interpreters/translators for at least 12 months. The applicants must obtain written references from the army command and pass the background check before filing their petition.
Iraqis providing faithful and valuable service to the U.S
there are 5000 visas per year available in this category. This category includes nationals and citizens of Iraq who can demonstrate the following credentials:
- at least one year of employment on behalf of the United States as of March 20, 2003;
- evidence of faithful and valuable service to the United States;
- have a credible fear of persecution because of their employment by the United States and
- have no other circumstances preventing them from being admitted to the United States.
Afghan allies protection act of 2009
This category includes nationals and citizens of Afghanistan who are required to demonstrate the same credentials as the Iraqi citizens providing faithful and valuable service to the U.S. There are 1500 visas available each year in this category. The employment of eligible candidates must start on or after October 7, 2001, and must last for at least one year.
Spouses, children, and parents of an abusive U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident
Those noncitizens who suffered abuse and extreme cruelty perpetrated by a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident while in a qualifying relationship, may petition for the special immigrant status as well and would also need to file same USCIS Form I-360. The applicant will need to provide sufficient evidence of the bona fide nature of their relationship with an alleged abuser and a detailed account of abuse and suffering that they had suffered. For more information on this category please visit our Immigration for Victims of Domestic Violence page.