Know the Laws:
UPDATED April 20, 2013
Immigration laws can be extremely complicated. Here we provide some basic information about immigration benefits available to victims of domestic violence. WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you consult with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA before applying for any type of immigration status to see if you qualify for these or other forms of immigration relief. You may contact us through our Email Hotline if you would like referrals to organizations with experience in VAWA in your state. For national organizations with experience in general immigration law, please see our Immigration/ International page. You can also find legal referrals on our Finding a Lawyer page.
VAWA is the acronym for the Violence Against Women Act, which was passed by Congress in 1994. Among other things, VAWA created special provisions in United States immigration law to protect victims of abuse who are not citizens of the United States. In cases of domestic violence, US immigration law allows certain victims of abuse who are not citizens to obtain lawful status without having to rely on their abuser to petition.
Normally, if you are a spouse, child or parent of a US citizen (USC) or a spouse or child of a legal permanent resident (LPR) and you want to obtain lawful permanent resident status (commonly referred to as having a “green card”), the USC or LPR has to file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) and may need to go with you to an interview with Immigration authorities.
Also, if your marriage is less than two years old when you obtain your LPR status, you would normally get what is called “conditional permanent residence,” (commonly known as a “conditional green card”). Your spouse would then normally need to file a joint petition with you to remove the “condition” so that you can obtain full lawful permanent residence.
However, in relationships of domestic violence, these requirements for the USC or LPR’s participation are often used by an abuser as a form of abuse, gaining power and control over the immigration status of the victim. Therefore, US immigration law allows certain noncitizen victims of abuse to get legal status on their own without involving the abuser to file anything for the victim.
Throughout this section, we will use the abbreviations USC and LPR. “USC” stands for US citizen. “LPR” stands for legal permanent resident. A legal permanent resident is also commonly referred to as someone who has a "green card” or who is a “green card holder.”
A derivative is a person who is not a citizen of the US that may be eligible to receive immigration status through the application for immigration status of another non-citizen who is the principal applicant. So, for example, an abused person applying for a VAWA self-petition may be able to apply for his/her children as derivatives on his/her application.
Inadmissibility grounds are reasons why people cannot be “admitted” into the US (for example, having to do with certain criminal convictions, with committing different types of fraud, among others). Inadmissibility grounds, in other words, are reasons why you may not be able to receive an immigration benefit. An immigration attorney with experience in VAWA can tell you if you fall under one or more of the inadmissibility grounds, and also if there are exemptions or waivers (pardons) available to you.
There are three possible forms of relief under VAWA that have their own set of requirements:
1) VAWA self-petition
You may be eligible to "self-petition” for lawful permanent residence without the assistance of the abuser if you are abused by:
Yes. Even though the law has the word “women” in the title, abused men may also apply for relief under VAWA as long as they meet the eligibility requirements.*
* USCIS website - Questions and Answers: Battered Spouses, Children and Parents under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA)