The classification of who is and is not a “child” varies from culture to culture. It’s important to understand how the word child is defined by immigration officials if you’re interested in applying for or maintaining a family-based immigration status in the U.S.
Ordinarily, U.S. immigration law defines a child as someone who is both under the age of 21 and who is unmarried. However, the Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) allows certain individuals to avoid aging out of their immigration-specific status as a child under specific circumstances.
Why child status extensions matter
When a child (as defined above) submits an application for lawful permanent resident status (LPR) but reaches their 21st birthday before they are approved for a Green Card, they age out of their application. This has historically meant that, even though they submitted their application when they were still legally a child, immigration officials wouldn’t consider their application any longer because they had reached legal adulthood for the purposes of the immigration process.
Before the CSPA was enacted, when a child aged out of an application for LPR status, they faced frustrating circumstances. Some discovered that they weren’t eligible for a Green Card anymore. Others had to file new applications for LPR status and wait much longer for immigration officials to consider their petitions.
What the CSPA does
Due to significant immigration processing backlogs, more and more children have been aging out of their LPR applications in recent years. To address this challenge, Congress passed the CSPA. When it went into effect, it didn’t change the immigration system’s definition of what a child is. It simply allows still-unmarried child applicants to benefit from a “CSPA age” that allows many individuals over the age of 21 to remain classified as children while their applications are processed.
As the CSPA only applies to certain LPR applicants, it’s important to carefully research what might happen if you or your child is likely to age out of an application before you submit one. Understanding this potential risk will help you to make informed decisions.