As the holidays approach, it is important to remember that this a time in the U.S. when there have historically been spikes in incidents of domestic violence. Noncitizens in the U.S. who are also experiencing intimate partner violence may feel that their immigration status is an additional barrier to leaving their partner or getting help. While many factors make it extremely hard to leave a relationship, it is important to know that there are immigration options available if you are an immigrant and this blog post discusses generally some of them.
Please remember that if you are experiencing domestic violence, think about your safety first! A good option is to call a domestic violence hotline to talk with someone experienced in the nuances of domestic violence about what you are going through and with whom you can talk about some options moving forward. You do not need to figure out all the answers now, and you can attend to your immigration legal needs after the more urgent matters are addressed.
What if someone is married to a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident who is abusive?
A person in this situation does not need to stay in an abusive relationship because of immigration reasons and may benefit from VAWA, which stands for Violence Against Women Act. VAWA is not limited to women and can be applied for regardless of gender or sexuality. The abuse does notneed to be physical. A VAWA petition leads to a green card (legal permanent residence). To qualify for VAWA, the following must be shown: (1) bona fide marriageto U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident, (2) common residence with abusive spouse, (3) battery or extreme cruelty from the abusive spouse, and (4) good moral character.
What if someone is in removal proceedings and has been subjected to abuse or extreme cruelty from a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse?
Someone in this situation may benefit from VAWA cancellation of removal, which requires similar requirements as above, in addition to (1) three years of continuous presence in the United States, and (2) a showing of extreme hardship to oneself if deported.
What if someone is married to someone in a nonimmigrant class who is abusive?
If someone is in the United States as a dependent of certain nonimmigrants (A, E-3, G, or H), it is possible to apply for work authorization for the remainder of your lawful stay in the United States and you do not need to remain with the abusive spouse for lawful status or employment.
What if someone is in an abusive marriage to a spouse with a different immigration status than listed above, or what if someone is not legally married but is experiencing violence from their partner?
It may be possible to apply for a U nonimmigrant visa if you have contacted the police for assistance with a crime of domestic violence and you cooperate with an agency (such as the NYPD or District Attorney’s Office) in investigating and prosecuting the crime. The U visa is extremely backlogged, but it is a path towards eventual legal permanent residence.
What if a child under 21 is experiencing abuse from a parent or step-parent?
A child in this situation may have two options. VAWA is also available to children and step-children of abusive U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident parents. Another option is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS), which may provide relief to individuals who have experienced abuse, neglect or abandonment from one(or both) parents—in this situation, the parent’s immigration status is not relevant and the parent does not need to even reside in the U.S. This process requires an order from a Family Court.
If you have questions about immigration options for domestic or intimate partner violence victims and survivors, please contact us. We are here to help. Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or Tumblr for up-to-date immigration news.
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