Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including immigrants. In fact, abusers often try to use a person’s immigration status as a method to control or abuse an immigrant victim. For example, a U.S. citizen husband who constantly threatens to call the immigration authorities on his undocumented immigrant wife and have her deported is abusing her.
The government recognizes that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable. There are special immigration laws that help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence. One allows immigrant spouses of US citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have a green card to file a petition for themselves to remove conditions of residency. A second allows victims who do not have a green card to file a self-petition if they meet certain criteria under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). A third option allows victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, to apply for a U-Visa if they can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
Option 1: Self-petition to remove conditions of residency
When a USC or LPR applies for permanent residency status for their immigrant spouse, the immigrant spouse is granted a green card with conditional residency for two years. Before the end of the 2 years, the immigrant spouse typically must file a joint petition, with their spouse, to remove the conditions. However, in abusive relationships, the USC or LPR spouse often refuses to file the joint petition. Abused immigrant spouses may file to remove the conditions on their residency by themselves if they can prove that they got married “in good faith” (not for immigration purposes), but during the marriage their spouse abused them. If the immigrant spouse is successful in their self-petition, they then receive permanent residency status and a 10 year green card.
Option 2: Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition
The VAWA self-petition is for immigrants who do not have a “green card, but who meet one of five categories:
1) they are married to an abusive USC or LPR spouse;
2) their USC/LPR spouse is abusing their child;
3) they were married to an abusive USC or LPR (as long as the divorce was within the last 2 years or the spouse lost their immigration status in the last 2 years);
4) they are the child of an abusive USC or LPR; or
5) they are a parent who is abused by their USC adult child.
Immigrants who complete a VAWA self-petition must show that they married their spouse in good faith, and if they were deported it would cause extreme hardship to themselves or their child. If the self-petition is approved, the immigrant victim gets a work permit and can apply for a green card.
Option 3: U-Visas for victims of crimes
A U-visa is a type of visa available to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence. Other eligible crimes include rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. The immigrant victim must show that they were helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If a U-visa application is approved, the applicant gets a work permit valid for four years. Also, after having U-visa status for 3 years, an immigrant can apply for a green card.
More information about the immigration benefits available to domestic violence victims is available at www.uscis.gov. Legal Aid provides assistance to immigrant victims in some cases. Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help. Legal Aid is not a government agency and does not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Laskey-Donovan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!