Juvenile Law Center

Youth in Care

Immigration Issues for Youth in Care in Pennsylvania

What should I do if I am in foster care, but am not a U.S. citizen or do not have valid immigration documents?

Making sure you have valid citizenship or alien status is one of the most important things a young adult can do before leaving substitute care. Without documentation of your immigration status, you will not be able to get state identification and it will be hard for you to work, receive financial aid, or apply for medical or other public benefits.

What immigration options are available to immigrants in substitute care?

The best way to know what options are available to you is to talk to a lawyer who specializes in immigration. If you need help finding an immigration lawyer, contact HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia at 215-832-0900 or e-mail them at [email protected]. You should also talk to the lawyer that represents you in dependency court.

Here are some of the more common ways that young people in substitute care might obtain legal status in the United States:

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS): If you are still in substitute care, you may be eligible for SIJS, which is available to individuals who cannot return to their parents’ care because of abuse, abandonment, or neglect and cannot return to their home country. If you are eligible for this status, you will be able to get a green card and eventually apply for citizenship.

Adoption: In some cases, you may be eligible for a green card if you are adopted by U.S. citizens. However, adoption will not necessarily change your status automatically. As a result, if you are adopted, you and your adoptive parents should contact an immigration lawyer.

Asylum: If you are in this country because you are afraid that you will be persecuted or abused in your home country, you may be eligible for asylum. If you are granted asylum, you will be allowed to live and work in the United States. You also will be eligible to apply for a green card a year after you are granted asylum.

Changing status with your parents: In some cases, if your biological parents obtain legal status in the United States, you may be eligible for legal status as well. Both you and your parents should talk to a lawyer to find out more details.

What resources are available for immigrant individuals and families in Pennsylvania?

HIAS and Council Migration Service of Philadelphia, 215-832-0900

  • HIAS offers law-related immigration services to foreign-born individuals and their families who seek asylum, family reunification, permanent legal status, and citizenship in the United States.

Nationalities Service Center, 215-893-8400

  • Nationalities Service Center offers educational, social, and legal services for immigrant individuals and families in Philadelphia.


Last updated December 2011


Juvenile Law Center's fact sheets are sponsored by The Alex Benjamin Norris Memorial Fund.

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