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Immigration

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Immigration

Immigration rules can be complicated, but the pages below will help give you an idea of your options and your rights. However, we strongly suggest that before taking any action, you consult with (and retain) a lawyer who specializes in the type of immigration remedy you are seeking. For lawyer referrals, please see the Immigration page on WomensLaw.org.

VAWA for Abuse Victims

Immigration laws are extremely complicated. Here we provide some basic information about immigration options for 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 kinds of immigration status. For national organizations with experience in general immigration law, please see our Immigration page. You can also find legal referrals on our Finding a Lawyer page.

Basic info and definitions

What is VAWA?

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 where there is 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.

What does USC mean? What does LPR mean?

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.”

What is a derivative?

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.

What do "inadmissibility grounds" mean?

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.

Can men qualify for VAWA?

Is a step-child considered to be a child for the purposes of VAWA?

Throughout these pages, we refer to the relationship between a child and a parent when it comes to eligibility for VAWA. It is important to know that under immigration law, a “child” includes:

  • a biological child;
  • an adopted child; or
  • a step-child.1

However, a step-child must have been under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent in order to be considered the “child” under immigration law. An adopted child must have been adopted before the age of 16.1

1 INA §101(b)(1)

If I am a victim of abuse, are there protections available for me under VAWA?

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:

  • your US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR) spouse (or if that spouse has abused your child);
  • your USC or LPR parent (including a step-parent); or
  • your USC adult son or daughter (not an LPR son or daughter).1

For more information on VAWA self-petitions, go to our VAWA self-petition page.

2) Battered spouse or child waiver
You may be able to apply for a “battered spouse or child waiver” if you have conditional legal permanent residence as a spouse (and in certain circumstances as a child) of a USC or LPR, and the USC or LPR has abused you.  With a battered spouse or child waiver, the abuser does not have to file the joint petition with you.2

For more information on battered spouse and child waivers, go to our Battered spouse or child waiver page.

3) VAWA cancellation of removal
If you are in removal proceedings (formerly known as deportation proceedings) before an immigration judge, and you are abused by your USC or LPR spouse or parent (or you have a child with the USC or LPR who is abused by him/her), it might be possible to apply for “VAWA cancellation of removal.”3  However, because in order to be eligible to apply for VAWA cancellation of removal you have to be in removal proceedings, it is extremely important that you have an immigration attorney with experience in VAWA to advise you and represent you.

For more information, go to our VAWA cancellation of removal page.

Note: Because immigration procedures are so complex, we strongly suggest you consult with an immigration lawyer who has experience with VAWA.  Our Immigration/ International page lists organizations working on the area of immigration law and our Finding a Lawyer page includes the contact information of legal organizations and lawyer referral services by state.

If you are a victim of domestic violence, but do not think that you qualify for immigration relief under VAWA, there may be other ways that you can obtain lawful immigration status in the United States.  For example, If you were not married to the abuser or the abuser was not a USC or LPR, you may still qualify for U nonimmigrant status - please see our U Visa Laws for Crime Victims page.  The best way to determine your eligibility is to discuss your personal situation with an immigration attorney with experience in VAWA.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A) & (B)
2 INA § 216(c)(4)(C)
3 INA § 240A(b)(2)

VAWA self-petition

What is a VAWA self-petition?

A self-petition is a way to apply for lawful status in the US on your own by submitting an application to the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) requesting lawful status in the US without the assistance of the abuser. This application is called a self-petition because you are applying for legal status by yourself and you are not sponsored by anyone. You may be eligible to self-petition for lawful permanent residence without the assistance of the abuser if you are abused by:

  • your spouse and s/he is US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR) (or if you are the spouse of a USC or LPR and s/he has abused your child);
  • a USC or LPR parent (including a step-parent); or
  • a USC adult son or daughter (not LPR son or daughter).1

Note: Please continue on to the next question (Who is eligible to self-petition?) because these categories are explained in more detail.

To determine if you qualify for a VAWA self-petition or another form of immigration relief, you should consult an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA. Our Immigration page lists national organizations working in the area of immigration law and our Finding a Lawyer page includes the contact information of legal organizations and lawyer referral services by state.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A) & (B)

Does a common-law marriage count as being "married" to the abuser for immigration purposes?

A marriage is valid under immigration law if it is valid in the jurisdiction where it took place unless there’s a U.S. national policy that over-rides it. For purposes of common-law marriages, a common-law marriage can be valid under immigration law as long as it was formed in a U.S. state or a country that recognizes common-law marriages under the law. In other words, you and your spouse must have lived in a state that recognizes common-law marriages and you must have met the legal definition of common-law marriage in that state. If a common-law marriage was properly, validly formed in a state that recognizes such marriages, it can be still be valid even if you are now applying for VAWA in a different state.1 For a list of U.S. states that recognize common-law marriage and each state’s legal requirements, click here.

Immigration officials may look at the following factors to determine if you have a valid common-law marriage:

  • When and where did the relationship begin?
  • What was the intent of you and the abuser with respect to what the relationship was to be?
  • Were you generally known as spouses by neighbors, friends, and the community?
  • Did either of you introduce one another as a spouse?
  • Did either of you purchase a life insurance policy describing one or the other as the beneficiary spouse?
  • Is there birth registration or school registration of your children showing each of you as the parents?
  • Is there a credit card account describing one of you as the spouse of the other?
  • Did either of you name the other one as the beneficiary spouse of the other’s pension rights?
  • Is there any other information that would tend to demonstrate that you both have, from the beginning, lived the type of existence that would be normal for a lawfully married couple?1

For help in gathering the necessary evidence to prove that you had a valid common-law marriage, please talk to an attorney who is properly trained in filing VAWA self-petitions – please do not attempt to apply for a VAWA self-petition on your own. For national organizations with experience in general immigration law, please see our Immigration page. You can also find legal referrals by state on our Finding a Lawyer page.

1 See USCIS website, Adjudicator’s Field Manual, section 74.2(e)(no longer available online); see also USCIS Policy Manual, Part G, Chapter 2(B)

Does a same-sex marriage count as being "married" to the abuser for immigration purposes?

A marriage is valid under immigration law if it is valid in the jurisdiction where it took place. Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is unconstitutional for states to ban same-sex marriages,1 any valid same-sex marriage performed in the United States should be recognized by USCIS (Immigration).

You can find information about LGBTQIA victims of abuse and what types of barriers they may face on our LGBTQIA Victims page.​

1Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S. Ct. 2584 (2015)

Who is eligible to self-petition?

Immigration law allows the following relatives of abusive US citizens (USC) and legal permanent residents (LPR) to self-petition for lawful status in the US (if they meet all other self-petitioning requirements under VAWA):

  • Abused spouses of a USC or LPR, and the abused spouse’s children if they are under 21 years old and unmarried (the children would be included in the spouse’s application as “derivatives”);1
  • Non-abused spouses of a USC or LPR if the USC or LPR spouse has abused your unmarried and under 21 child. The non-abused spouse’s children who are under 21 years old and unmarried may also be eligible (the children would be included in the spouse’s application as derivatives);1
  • Abused children (under 21 years old and unmarried) of a USC or LPR, and their children (under 21 years old and unmarried) as derivatives.2Note: It may be possible for an abused child between the ages of 21 and 25 to self-petition if s/he can show s/he qualified when she was under 21 and the abuse was at least one central reason for the delay in filing.3
  • Abused parents of a USC (not LPR) son or daughter (son/daughter must be over 21 years old).4
  • Note: In the following questions, you will find information about additional requirements for each of the above categories. It is important that you read these to fully understand what you may have to prove to qualify.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)
2 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iv), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(iii)
3 INA § 204(a)(1)(D)(v)
4 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(vii)

What are some additional requirements to self-petition under VAWA as the spouse of a USC or LPR?

In addition to meeting the abusive relationship requirement explained in Who is eligible to self-petition? you must meet all additional requirements listed below if you are self-petitioning as the spouse of an abusive US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR):

  • Marriage to a USC or LPR: You must meet one of the following:
    • be married to a USC/LPR (including common-law marriage);
    • your USC spouse (not LPR) died within the past 2 years;
    • your USC/LPR spouse lost his/her citizenship or residency within the past two years related to an incident of domestic violence;
    • you believed that you married a USC/LPR and a marriage ceremony was performed but you later found out that your marriage was not valid because your spouse was committing bigamy (s/he was already married when s/he “married” you); or
    • you were divorced from your USC/LPR spouse within the past two years and you can show a connection between the abuse that you suffered and the divorce.1
  • The marriage was a good faith marriage:2 You married in good faith and not only to obtain immigration benefits.3
  • Battery or extreme cruelty: During your marriage, your USC/LPR spouse must have battered (physically abused) you or your child or subjected you or your child to “extreme cruelty.”4 Extreme cruelty is any form of power and control, including but not limited to, the following:
    • being a victim of any act or threatened act of violence, including any forcible detention that results in physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, and acts that may not appear violent but are part of a pattern of violence.5 Note: You must have been abused in the United States, or if you were solely abused abroad, then your spouse must have been an employee of the US government or a member of the US uniformed services (the military).6
  • You must have lived with the abuser at some point;7 and
  • You are a person of “good moral character.”8 Note: Even if you believe you have committed an act which may affect your ability to prove good moral character (for example, certain crimes), please talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA to see if there is an exception available for your situation.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii), INA § 204 (a)(1)(B)(ii)
2 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(aa), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(aa)
3 USCIS website – Battered Spouse, Children & Parents
4 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(bb), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(bb). You can also read more information on what is considered extreme cruelty and how to prove it here. This information is provided by an organization called ASISTA and may include complicated legal terms that are not written in plain language.
5 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)
6 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(v), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(iv)
7 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(dd), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(II)(dd)
8 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(bb), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(bb)

What are some additional requirements to self-petition under VAWA as a child of a USC or LPR?

In addition to meeting the abusive relationship requirement explained in Who is eligible to self-petition?, you must meet all additional requirements listed below if you are self-petitioning as the child of an abusive US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR):

  1. You are a child abused by his/her USC or LPR parent:
    • You are the child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of a USC/LPR;
    • You are the child (unmarried and under 21 years old) of someone who was a USC/LPR but s/he lost his/her citizenship or residency within the past two years related to an incident of domestic violence;1 or
    • You are between the ages of 21 and 25 and can show you qualified before you turned 21 and that the abuse was at least one central reason for not filing a self-petition before turning 21 years old.2
  2. Battery or extreme cruelty: Your USC/LPR parent must have battered you or subjected you to “extreme cruelty.”3 Extreme cruelty is any form of power and control and includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • being a victim of, or threatened with, an act of violence, forcible detention that results in physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, and acts that may not appear violent but are part of a pattern of violence.4Note: You must have been abused in the United States, or if you were solely abused abroad, then your parent must have been an employee of the US government or a member of the US uniformed services (military) at the time; 5
  3. You have lived with the abuser at some point;6 and
  4. If you are over the age of 14, you must be a person of “good moral character.7 Note: Even if you believe that you have committed an act which may affect your ability to prove good moral character (for example, certain crimes), please talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA to see if there is an exception available for your situation.

Note: Another possible immigration remedy for a child who was abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). It is important to know that you can still be considered to be “abandoned” by one parent even if you are living with, and being supported by, your other parent. If SIJ classification is granted, you may qualify for lawful permanent residency. You can read more about the requirements on the USCIS.gov website. Please talk to a lawyer who specializes in SIJS for specific advice.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iv); INA § 204 (a)(1)(B)(iii)
2 INA § 204(a)(1)(D)(v)
3 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(bb); INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(bb)
4 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)
5 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(v); INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(iv)
6 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iv); INA § 204 (a)(1)(B)(iii)
7 8 CFR § 204.2(e)(2)(v); 8 CFR § 204.2(e)(1)(i)(F)

What are some additional requirements to self-petition under VAWA as a parent who has been abused by his/her USC son or daughter?

In addition to meeting the abusive relationship requirement explained in Who is eligible to self-petition?, you must meet all additional requirements listed below if you are self-petitioning as the parent of a US citizen (USC) son or daughter (son/daughter must be over 21 years old) who has abused you:

  • The USC (not LPR) son or daughter (son/daughter must be over 21 years old) abused his/her parent - You must be:
    • the parent of an abusive USC son or daughter who is still alive or who died within the past two years; or
    • the parent of a USC son or daughter who lost his/her citizenship within the past two years related to an incident of domestic violence.1
  • Battery or extreme cruelty - Your USC son or daughter (over 21 years old) must have battered you (physically abused you); or subjected you to “extreme cruelty.”1  Extreme cruelty is any form of power and control, and includes, but is not limited to, the following:
    • being a victim of, or threatened with, an act of violence, forcible detention that results on physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, and acts that may not appear violent but are part of a pattern of violence.2
  • You must have lived with your abusive son or daughter at some point;1 and
  • You must be a person of “good moral character.”1  Note: Even if you believe that you have committed an act which may affect your ability to prove good moral character (for example, certain crimes), please talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA to see if there is an exception available for your situation.

Note: This is the only category of self-petitioners where the abuser must be a USC – s/he cannot be an LPR.

1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(vii)
2 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)

Can I file for a VAWA self-petition if I am in another country?

Assuming that the abuser is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and you are living abroad (in another country), you can file for a self-petition if any of the following are true:

  • The abuser is an employee of the U.S. government, and while you are/were both living abroad, s/he subjected you (or your child) to battery or extreme cruelty;
  • The abuser is a member of the uniformed services (the U.S. military), and while you are/were both living abroad, s/he subjected you (or your child) to battery or extreme cruelty; or
  • You are living abroad and you (or your child) were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by the abuser while you were in the United States.1 (It does not matter if the abuser is living with you abroad or not.)

1 INA §§ 204(a)(1)(A)(v), (a)(1)(B)(iv)

What happens after my lawyer files my self-petition?

When a self-petition is accepted, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) sends a receipt to the address given on your petition (make sure that a safe address is used, such as your lawyer’s) stating the date when the application was received. While reviewing the application, the USCIS may request additional evidence from you. If the USCIS believes that you would meet all of the requirements if all of the information in your application were true, it will issue a “notice of prima facie case.” This notice is a letter that may allow you to qualify for certain public benefits (please consult with an attorney familiar with public benefits for immigrants to determine what public benefits you may be eligible for), but it is not a final approval notice. If the applicant establishes that s/he is eligible for self-petitioning under VAWA, the USCIS will grant the petition and issue an approval notice. All approved self-petitioners are eligible for work authorization.1

1USCIS website – Instructions for Form I-360; and National Immigrant Justice Center website – VAWA Self-Petition Flow Chart

If my self-petition is approved, what can I get?

Depending on each case, once your self-petition is approved, you may be able to apply for some of the following things:

  • Deferred action: This means that Immigration will probably not try to remove (deport) you until you are able to apply for legal permanent residence.1
  • Work authorization: This means permission to work legally in the country – it is often called a “work permit.”2
  • Some public benefits:3 Please consult with an attorney who is familiar with public benefits for immigrants to determine what benefits you might qualify for.
  • Legal permanent residence status: For more information, see If my self-petition is approved, when can I apply for legal permanent residence status (green card)?

1 See 8 CFR § 274a.12(c)(14)
2 INA § 204(a)(1)(K)
3 See generally National Immigrant Justice Center website – VAWA Self-Petition Flow Chart

If my self-petition is approved, when can I apply for legal permanent residence status (green card)?

If your self-petition is approved, the amount of time you will need to wait to apply for legal permanent residence (also known as “adjusting status”) depends on the family immigration system. The family immigration system is a set of immigration laws that allow someone to obtain an immigration benefit through family relationships.

You can apply immediately for LPR status if you are the:

  • spouse of a US citizen (USC);
  • unmarried child (under 21 years old) of a USC; or
  • parent of a USC who is over 21 years old.1

When other self-petitioners (spouses and children of legal permanent residents (LPRs)) are able to apply will depend on something called the “family preference system.”2 Because there is a limit in the number of people who can immigrate under certain categories each year, there is generally a waiting period until spouses and children of LPRs can apply for legal permanent residence.3 How long the wait is will depend on a number of factors such as the nationality of the self-petitioner, his/her relationship with the LPR, and his/her “priority date.”2 “Priority date” means the date when the self-petition was received by USCIS.4 If the abuser filed a family petition on your behalf before you filed the self-petition, the priority date may be the date of that earlier filing. Please check with an immigration lawyer for more information.

Additionally, if your self-petition was approved and you are applying for legal permanent residence status, you will have to demonstrate that you are not “inadmissible.”5 There are many “inadmissibility grounds,” which are reasons why people cannot be “admitted” into the US (for example, criminal and fraud-related grounds, among others).5 In other words, the inadmissibility grounds are reasons why someone may not be able to receive an immigration benefit, such as a green card. An immigration attorney can tell you if you fall under one or more of the inadmissibility grounds, and also if there are exemptions or waivers available to you.

1 INA § 201(b)(2)(A)(i)
2 See generally USCIS website – Visa Availability and Priority Dates
3 See generally INA § 203(a); and USCIS website – Green Card for a Family Member of a Permanent Resident
4 USCIS website – Glossary
5 INA § 212

Once I have permanent residency, when can I apply for my citizenship?

If you qualified for VAWA through marriage to an abusive U.S. citizen or due to being the child of an abusive U.S. citizen parent, you can apply for citizenship (naturalization) after having your legal permanent residency for three years. If you qualified for VAWA through marriage to an abusive legal permanent resident or due to being the child of an abusive legal permanent resident parent, you can apply for citizenship (naturalization) after having your legal permanent residency for five years.1

1 See USCIS website & USCIS Interoffice memorandum, 1/27/05

Battered spouse or child waiver

What is a battered spouse or child waiver? How does it work?

You may be able to apply for a “battered spouse or child waiver” if you have conditional legal permanent residence as a spouse (and in certain circumstances, as a child) of a USC or LPR, and the USC or LPR has abused you.1  Normally, when you have conditional permanent residence, you have to file a joint petition with your USC or LPR spouse to remove the “condition” during the 90 days immediately before the two-year anniversary of the date you got conditional resident status.2  However, if you meet the requirements for the battered spouse or child waiver as either the abused spouse or child (with conditional permanent residence) of a USC/LPR, you may ask that the condition be removed without the assistance of the abuser.1

To determine if you qualify for a VAWA self-petition or another form of immigration relief, you should consult an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA.  Our Immigration page lists national organizations working in the area of immigration law and our Finding a Lawyer page includes the contact information of legal organizations and lawyer referral services by state.

1 INA § 216(c)(4)(C)
2 INA § 216(c)(1)(A); INA § 216(d)(2)

What is conditional permanent residence status? How do I know if I have it?

To understand the battered spouse or child waiver, it is necessary to understand what conditional permanent residence is. If you get legal permanent residence status (a green card) through marriage to a USC or LPR, and the marriage is less than two years old when you obtain your residence, then you will obtain “conditional permanent residence.” Also, If your children received conditional residence through a petition filed by your spouse, then they will obtain conditional permanent residence as well.1 The reason why the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) gives conditional permanent residence when a marriage is less than two years old and then requires a joint petition or waiver to remove the condition later on is to prevent marriage fraud.2

One way to determine if you have conditional legal permanent residence may be to look at the expiration date of your green card. A conditional permanent resident will receive a green card that is valid for 2 years.3

1 INA §§ 216(a)(1), 216(g)
2USCIS website – Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986
3USCIS website – Conditional Permanent Residence

Who is eligible for a battered spouse or child waiver?

You may be eligible for a battered spouse or child waiver if you meet all of the requirements below:

  • you have conditional legal permanent residence as the spouse of a US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR) because your marriage was less than two years old when you obtained your residence; or you have conditional legal permanent residence as a child because your parent’s USC spouse filed a petition for you and the marriage was less than two years old when you obtained your residence;
  • the marriage that is the basis for conditional residence was a good faith marriage; and
  • during the marriage, the spouse or child was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by the USC or LPR abuser.1 “Extreme cruelty” is any form of power and control and includes, but is not limited, to the following: being the victim of or threatened with an act of violence, forcible detention that results in physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, and forced prostitution.2

1 INA § 216(c)(4)(C)
2 8 CFR § 216.5(e)(3)(i)

How does the battered spouse or child waiver process work?

Once the battered spouse or child waiver is submitted, US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) may request additional evidence. If the battered spouse or child waiver is approved, the condition in your conditional permanent residence will be removed. Note: If you are a conditional permanent resident through a marriage to an abusive USC or LPR, and you do not file a joint petition or a waiver before the end of the second anniversary of the date when you got conditional permanent residence, you may lose your permanent residence status and could be removed (deported) from the US.1

1 USCIS website – Instructions for Petition to Remove Conditions on Residence

If the battered spouse or child waiver is approved, what will my immigration status be?

If the battered spouse or child waiver is approved, the condition in your conditional permanent residence will be removed.1 That means you will have legal permanent residence and you will be able to remain in the US lawfully as long as you follow relevant immigration laws.2 Removing the condition in your conditional permanent residence is required so that you do not lose your permanent residence status and become removable (deportable) from the US.3

1 INA § 216(c)(3)(B)
2USCIS website – Green Card (Permanent Residence)
3 INA § 216(c)(2)

VAWA cancellation of removal

What is VAWA cancellation of removal?

If you are in removal proceedings (formerly known as deportation proceedings) before an immigration judge, and you are abused by your USC or LPR spouse or parent (or you have a child with the USC or LPR who is abused by him/her), it might be possible to apply for “VAWA cancellation of removal.”1  If an application for cancellation of removal is granted, the removal process can be ended and you can receive legal permanent residence.2  Because to be eligible to apply for VAWA cancellation of removal you have to be in removal proceedings, it is extremely important that you have an immigration attorney with experience in VAWA to advise you and represent you.  To determine if you qualify for VAWA cancellation of removal or another form of immigration relief, you should consult with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA.

To determine if you qualify for a VAWA self-petition or another form of immigration relief, you should consult an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA.  Our Immigration page lists national organizations working in the area of immigration law and our Finding a Lawyer page includes the contact information of legal organizations and lawyer referral services by state.

1 INA § 240A(b)(2), 8 CFR § 1240.11(a)(1)
2 INA § 240A(b)(2)(A)

Who is eligible for VAWA cancellation of removal?

You may be eligible to apply for cancellation of removal if you fall under one of the following categories and meet all other requirements for cancellation of removal:

  • You have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty by a spouse who is/was a USC or LPR;
  • You have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty by a parent who is/was a USC or LPR;
  • You and a USC or LPR have a child together and the child has been battered or suffered extreme cruelty by the USC or LPR parent;1 or
  • You have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty by a person who is a USC or LPR who you thought you had married, but the marriage is not legitimate because the USC or LPR committed bigamy (was already married at the time).2

1 INA §§ 240A(b)(2)(A)(i)(I)&(II)
2 INA § 240A(b)(2)(A)(i)(III)

If the VAWA cancellation of removal is approved, what can I get?

If your application for cancellation of removal is granted, the removal process can be ended and you can receive legal permanent residence.1

1 INA § 240A(b)(2)(A)

U Visa for Crime Victims

This page includes information about obtaining lawful status if you are the victim of certain crimes (including domestic abuse) and can obtain a certification that you are, have been or will be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. On our Videos page, you can see a vlog series (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, that provides basic information on these visas.

Basic info and definitions

What is U visa status?

U visa status (also known as U nonimmigrant status) was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. It is designed to provide lawful status to noncitizen crime victims who have assisted, are assisting, or are willing to assist the authorities in investigating or prosecuting crimes that were committed against them.1 The main purpose of the U visa is to encourage undocumented crime victims to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute crimes without fear of being deported.

The U visa status may be available to victims of domestic violence crimes, stalking, sexual assault or victims of certain other crimes (which can be crimes that have nothing to do with domestic abuse).

If you are a noncitizen victim of crime, you must meet ALL of these requirements:

  1. you have a certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency that you “have been helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution” of one of the categories of crimes listed in the U visa statute;
  2. you can show that you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from the crime certified;
  3. you can show that you have information regarding the criminal activity, usually explained in the certification; and
  4. the criminal activity violated U.S. law; or occurred in the U.S. (including Indian [Native American] country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S., also usually explained in the certification.

U visa applicants also must show that they are “admissible” or that they qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility if they are not.2Note: See more information about eligibility requirements under Am I eligible for U visa status? What crimes could qualify me?

Immigration laws are complicated and the pages below will help give you some basic information about U visa status. WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you consult with an immigration lawyer familiar with U visas before applying to see if you qualify for this or other forms of immigration relief. Please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration/International page. For general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys, go to our Finding a Lawyer page. Remember to ask the lawyer you are considering working with whether s/he has filed for U visas or has been trained on how to file for U visas, since this may be something immigration lawyers or other lawyers are not normally trained to do. For assistance, your attorney can contact ASISTA.

Note: On our Videos page, you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa, what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1464 (2000) (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act of 2000, Pub. L. No. 106-386, 114 Stat. 1518 (2000))
2 USCIS website - Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status

What is a principal applicant? What is a derivative?

A principal applicant is the person who applies for an immigration benefit, such as U visa status.

A derivative is another person (usually a family member) who may also receive lawful status through the principal applicant’s status. Since the family member’s status is “derived” from the principal applicant’s status, the family member is known as a “derivative” under immigration law.1 Although U visa derivatives do not have to meet all of the eligibility requirements for principal U visa applicants, they do have to show they are admissible or they have to file a waiver if they are inadmissible.

To read about principal applicants (known as U-1) and derivatives (known as U-2, U-3, U-4, U5) in the context of U visa status, see What family members may be considered derivatives?

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what other people you can include on your U visa petition as derivative family members, among other topics.

1USCIS website – Glossary

Is a step-child considered to be a child for U visa purposes?

It is important to know that under immigration law, a “child” includes:

  • a biological child;
  • an adopted child; or
  • a step-child.1

However, a step-child must have been under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent in order to be considered the “child” under immigration law. An adopted child must have been adopted before the age of 16.1

1 INA §101(b)(1)

What are the grounds of inadmissibility?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you are not in violation of the immigration law’s “inadmissibility” grounds or, if you are, that a waiver is filed to ask that those violations be excused.1  The inadmissibility grounds are reasons why someone may not be able to receive an immigration benefit, like being able to enter the U.S. or receive a green card.  Some of the inadmissibility grounds include:

  • unlawful presence (being in the U.S. without permission and then leaving the U.S.);
  • certain crimes;
  • entering the U.S. without permission;
  • having lied to immigration;
  • falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen for any benefit; and
  • security grounds (related to terrorism).2  Note: This is not a complete list.

1 INA § 212(d)(14)
2 INA §§ 212(a)(9)(B), 212(a)(2), 212(a)(6)(A)(i), 212(a)(6)(C)(i), 212(a)(6)(C)(ii), 212(a)(3)

What is a waiver?

A waiver is a form that your lawyer can fill out to ask Immigration to forgive something that makes you inadmissible.  For people applying for U visa status, all grounds of inadmissibility can be waived except for participation in Nazi persecution, genocide, or having committed any act of torture or extrajudicial killing. This waiver is discretionary, which means that your request may or may not be approved – it is up to Immigration officials.1  If you are inadmissible under the crime-related grounds, Immigration officials will consider the number and the seriousness of the offenses you were convicted of.  In cases involving violent or dangerous crimes or involving the security grounds (related to terrorism), Immigration will only approve the waiver in extraordinary circumstances.2

An immigration attorney should be able to determine if you fall under any of the inadmissibility grounds, and if there are exceptions or waivers available to you. To find help, please go to the Immigration organizations listed on our National Organizations page.  You can also find the contact information of general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.  Please make sure that your lawyer is employed by (or gets help from) a national organization with expertise in U visas, since U visa waivers are different than most other waivers. Your lawyer can call ASISTA, a national organization that specializes in immigration training for professionals.

1 INA § 212(d)(14)
2 8 CFR § 214.1(b)(2)

What is the law enforcement “certification”?

To complete your application for U visa status, your advocate or your attorney will have to get law enforcement or the proper certifying agency to fill out a U visa status certification. This certification is a form that states that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to the authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity.1 From the moment you start to cooperate with the authorities, you will have to continue that cooperation without refusing or failing to provide information and assistance that has been requested in a reasonable way.2 The definition of a “reasonable request” depends on the circumstances of each case and on factors such as the age of the victim, the trauma s/he suffered and if the victim’s cooperation puts his/her security at risk. The certification also confirms that you are a victim of one of the U visa-eligible crimes and that you have provided useful information when requested.2 Law enforcement agencies are not required to sign the certification, and they can withdraw it at any time after signing. In addition, the Department of Homeland Security encourages law enforcement agencies to run background checks on U visa applicants before signing a certification.3 For more information on who can sign a certification, see Which government officials and agencies may be able to provide the law enforcement certification that is required?

If you are under 16 years old, your parent, guardian, or “next friend” who has information about the criminal activity can be the one that has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful to the authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity for purposes of the certification.4

Note: Here you can find a series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is the certification and how do you get one, among other relevant topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(III); 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(2)(i)
2 See the certification form, I-918 Supplement B
3 See the U Visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide issued by the Department of Homeland Security
4 INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)

How much does it cost to apply for U visa status?

There are no fees for the application for you and your derivative family members.1 Some of the related forms do have fees (i.e., employment authorization for derivative family members, inadmissibility waiver, biometrics, etc.) but those fees can be waived.

1 See USCIS website – Forms

How long does it take to get the U visa? What legal status do I have while I am waiting for my U visa?

From the day that you apply for a U visa until you actually have the U visa in your hand, it could take up to 5 years or more. This long delay is for two reasons. First, there is a processing delay for U visas and so the US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) won’t even look at your application for a few years. As of January 2018, USCIS is currently reviewing applications that were filed in August of 2014, which means that there is a nearly a 3½ year wait before USCIS is even looking at the applications that are filed.1

While you are waiting for your U visa application to process, you do not have legal status and could be subject to detention or even deportation. If you are in detention or in deportation (removal) proceedings while awaiting a U visa, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and lawyers will look at the “totality of the circumstances” to decide whether a stay of removal or terminating the removal proceedings is appropriate.2 For more information, see Can I apply for U visa status if I am in removal proceedings (deportation)?

The second reason for the delay is that USCIS can only grant 10,000 U visas per year, which is commonly known as the “U visa cap.” Once USCIS grants the 10,000 applications, they cannot issue any additional U visas for the rest of the calendar year.3 However, USCIS does continue to work on U visa applications that have been filed. If an applicant would be eligible to receive a U visa (but can’t get one since the cap has been met), USCIS places that “approvable application” on a waitlist until it is his/her turn to be issued a U visa.4

While your approvable application is on the waitlist, USCIS puts you in “deferred action” status. Deferred action is not actually a legal status but it means that USCIS knows that you are in the country and you are eligible to apply for a work permit, which lasts for two years but can be renewed.3

Applicants can expect to remain on the U visa waitlist for three years or more until a visa is available.5 Once you get your U visa (if it is ultimately approved), you will get a four-year work permit since the U visa duration is a four year period.6 After you have had your U visa for three years, you can apply for lawful permanent residence (your “green card”) if you meet certain requirements.

1 Information from ASISTA
2 See ICE Directive 11005.1, as explained on the Revision of Stay of Removal Request Reviews for U Visa Petitioners Fact Sheet
3 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(1); see also USCIS website
4 See 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(2)
5 Time approximation on waitlist is accurate as of 01/2018 as per ASISTA
6 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)

What happens if USCIS denies my U visa application?

If USCIS denies your request for U visa status, then your status is still the same as it was before you applied. This means that, if you are in the country without legal documentation, you might be subject to detention and even deportation.

If your U visa was denied, it might be possible to appeal that decision. You should contact an immigration attorney with experience in U visas to determine what options you may have. The attorney may want to connect with a national organization with immigration expertise, such as ASISTA. Other national organizations can be found on our National Organizations - Immigration page.

Eligibility

Am I eligible for U visa status? What crimes could qualify me?

Victims of certain crimes may qualify for U visa status. These are the basic eligibility requirements - you must meet all of them:

  • You have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of being the victim of one (or more) of the following criminal activities (or similar activities) that violate federal, state, or local criminal law:
    • rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; stalking; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above-mentioned crimes;
  • You have information about the criminal activity (or if you are under 16 years old, that your parent, guardian, or “next friend” has information about the criminal activity);
  • You can provide a certification from a law enforcement authority that states that you have been helpful, are being helpful, or are likely to be helpful to the authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity (or if you are under 16 years old, that your parent, guardian, or “next friend” has been helpful, is being helpful, or is likely to be helpful);
  • The criminal activity:
    • violated U.S. law; or
    • occurred in the U.S. (including Indian country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S.;1 or
    • violated a U.S. federal law outside of the U.S. but the law allows for the criminal to be prosecuted in U.S. federal court;2 and
  • You are not in violation of the immigration law’s inadmissibility grounds or, if you are, that a waiver can be (and is) filed to ask that those violations be excused.3

Note: Another possible immigration remedy for a child who was abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). It is important to know that you can still be considered to be “abandoned” by one parent even if you are living with, and being supported by, your other parent. If SIJ classification is granted, you may qualify for lawful permanent residency. You can read more about the requirements on the USCIS.gov website. Please talk to a lawyer who specializes in SIJS for specific advice.

Note: On our Videos page, you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa, what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(4)
3 INA § 212(d)(14)

What is the first step in applying for U visa status?

Your first step should be to get an attorney familiar with U visa status applications.  It is very important that you work with an attorney (or initially with an advocate) familiar with U visa status.  This is much safer than you applying on your own!  The forms and laws are confusing and it can be easy for anyone to make a mistake or leave something out that could result in USCIS denying your application. There are forms for you (and possibly some of your family members) and for a law enforcement officer to fill out – an attorney or advocate can make sure they are filled out correctly.  You will have to tell your own story in a document called a “declaration.”  In addition, a declaration from a crime victim advocate about the harm you suffered may be very helpful.

Also, many applicants may have done something in their past (known as grounds of inadmissibility) that are barriers to getting lawful status. For the U visa, most of these may be waived (excused) if it’s “in the national or public interest.”  A lawyer can help to identify any inadmissibility grounds that apply to you and help you ask for a waiver so that you may obtain U visa status.  We encourage your lawyer and advocate to call a national organization that specializes in immigration training for professionals such as ASISTALet those immigration lawyers help your lawyer make sure that s/he has done everything correctly. 

To find help for yourself, please go to the Immigration section of our National Organizations page.  You can also find the contact information for general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.

Can I apply for U visa status from another country?

You are not required to be physically present in the U.S. to qualify for U visa status.1 However, the criminal activity you were a victim of must have:

  • violated U.S. law; or
  • occurred in the U.S. (including Native American tribal lands (called “Indian country” in the law) and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S.;2 or
  • violated a U.S. federal law but the law allows for the criminal to be prosecuted in U.S. federal court (known as “extraterritorial jurisdiction”).3

Practically, however, it may be more difficult to navigate the process from another country. Regardless of where you are applying from, the U.S. or abroad, a special unit of the USCIS in Vermont will process your application. If your U visa status application is approved while you are abroad (or if it was approved while you were in the U.S. and then you left the U.S.), you will need to apply for an actual U visa at a U.S. consulate or embassy to enter the U.S.4 (Remember that the actual name for U visa status is U nonimmigrant status and getting this status doesn’t initially involve receiving an actual visa.) See I have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one? for more information on getting an actual visa.

Your attorney should consult with a national organization with expertise in U visas such as ASISTA on this process, since many consulates are still unfamiliar with the U visa and may give inaccurate information to those processing abroad. Other national organizations can be found on our Immigration page.

1USCIS website – Victims of Criminal Activity: U Nonimmigrant Status
2 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(IV)
3 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(4)
4Cable, DOS, 10-State-017736 (Feb. 2010)

In the list of eligibility requirements, what does “substantial physical or mental abuse” mean?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of certain crimes.1 “Physical or mental abuse” means injury or harm to your body, or harm to your emotional or psychological well-being.2

In addition, whether the abuse you suffered is “substantial” depends on a number of factors, including but not limited to:

  • the nature of the injury you suffered;
  • the severity of the abuser’s conduct;
  • the severity of the harm you suffered;
  • for how long you suffered the harm; and
  • the extent to which there is permanent or serious harm to your appearance, health, or physical or mental health, including if a pre-existing condition was made worse.

No single factor is required to show that the harm you suffered was substantial. Also, a series of acts taken together may be considered substantial physical or mental abuse, even when each act by itself would not be considered substantial.3 Your statement (declaration) will be key in showing this requirement and, if the harm is not physical, a statement from a victim advocate can be very helpful. (If you are a victim advocate, please contact our Email Hotline for more information on how to best prepare such a statement.)

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa and what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(8)
3 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(1)

Who can be considered a “victim of crime” to be eligible for U visa status?

One of the basic requirements to obtain U visa status is that you are the “victim” of certain crimes.1 This definition includes what is known as “direct victims” and “indirect victims.”2

Direct victims are people who have suffered direct and proximate (immediate) harm as a result of a crime.3

Indirect victims include certain relatives of direct victims when the direct victim is:

  • dead due to murder or manslaughter; or
  • incompetent or incapacitated and cannot provide information about the crime or be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

If your U.S. citizen child is the victim, and you are undocumented, you may be able to apply for a U visa as an indirect victim. For more information, see If my U.S. citizen child is a victim of a crime, can I (the undocumented parent) qualify for a U visa?

The relatives that may qualify as “indirect victims” include:

  • the direct victim’s spouse; and
  • the direct victim’s unmarried children under 21 years old.
  • If the direct victim is under 21 years old, his/her parents and minor siblings (under 18 years old) may also be considered indirect victims.

Note: When determining possible indirect victims, USCIS will look at the age of the victim at the time the crime was committed.4

Please note that no matter if you are applying as a direct victim or as an indirect victim, you will be considered a “principal applicant,” and not a “derivative.” A “principal applicant” is a person who applies for an immigration benefit and from whom another person (usually a family member) may also receive lawful status as a “derivative” under immigration law.5 Note: Do not confuse derivatives (who do not have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements but must show they are admissible) with indirect victims who do have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements. As principal applicants, both direct and indirect victims will have to prove they meet the eligibility requirements for U visa status.

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa and what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(I)
2 8 CFR §§ 214.14(a) & (a)(i)
3 8 CFR § 214.14(a)
4 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
5 USCIS website – Glossary

I am under 16 years old. What does it mean that a “next friend” can help me?

If you are under 16 years old, incapacitated, or incompetent, a “next friend” is generally someone who appears in a lawsuit to act on your behalf but the next friend does not actually apply for U visa status. In the case of applying for U visa status, a next friend would primarily stand in for you in working with law enforcement. You would still have to show you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being a victim of a crime.1 The next friend is not a party in the proceedings and is not appointed as a guardian for immigration purposes, though s/he may be an appointed guardian helping you in other matters.2 Next friends can be used to supply information on behalf of children who are applying, but can’t supply all of the information or helpfulness themselves.

Note: Another possible immigration remedy for a child who was abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent is Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). It is important to know that you can still be considered to be “abandoned” by one parent even if you are living with, and being supported by, your other parent. If SIJ classification is granted, you may qualify for lawful permanent residency. You can read more about the requirements on the USCIS.gov website. Please talk to a lawyer who specializes in SIJS for specific advice.

1 INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(7)

If my U.S. citizen child is a victim of a crime, can I (the undocumented parent) qualify for a U visa?

If your U.S. citizen child was the victim of one of the qualifying crimes, explained here, you as the undocumented parent may be able to apply as in indirect victim. In general, when the crime victim is a child (under 21 years old), his/her parents and minor siblings (under 18 years old) may be considered indirect victims. When determining possible indirect victims, USCIS will look at the age of the victim at the time the crime was committed.1 For the definition of an indirect victim, go to Who can be considered a “victim of crime” to be eligible for U visa status?

Note: If you (the undocumented parent) are applying as the indirect victim of the crime, this means that you (the parent) are the one listed as the indirect victim of the crime against your child on the law enforcement certification.

If you are applying as an indirect victim, you will be considered a “principal applicant,” and not a “derivative.” A “principal applicant” is a person who applies for an immigration benefit and from whom another person (usually a family member) may also receive lawful status as a “derivative” under immigration law.2 Note: Do not confuse derivatives (who do not have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements but must show they are admissible) with indirect victims who do have to meet all U visa status eligibility requirements. As principal applicants, indirect victims will have to prove they meet the eligibility requirements for U visa status.

1 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
2USCIS website – Glossary

I think I may be eligible. Should I go to my local USCIS (Immigration) office?

No.  Local USCIS offices do not process U visa status applications, nor does ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).  Like VAWA, all U visa applications are processed by a specially trained unit in Vermont.  There are no interviews; everything is done by filing papers. Going to USCIS or ICE in person without an attorney with you may result in your removal (deportation).  Most local offices and ICE have not been trained on U visas and may not give accurate advice.  Moreover, if you have any existing immigration issues, going to them may result in your deportation, not help you in applying for status.

In all cases, you should consult with an immigration expert with experience in U visas.  S/he can help you figure out if you are likely to qualify for this or any other form of immigration relief, and if there is a risk of being put in removal proceedings (being deported).  To find help, please go to the Immigration page in our National Organizations section.  You can also find the contact information for general legal services organizations, not immigration-specific, and referral services to private attorneys here: Finding a Lawyer.

Can I apply for U visa status if I am in removal proceedings (deportation)?

If you are in removal, exclusion, or deportation proceedings, or if you are the subject of a final order of removal, deportation, or exclusion, you may still apply for U visa status.1 You can request a stay of removal or to terminate the removal proceedings. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents and lawyers will then consider the “totality of the circumstances” when deciding whether to grant the request. In other words, ICE will consider any favorable or unfavorable factors, and any federal interests when deciding what to do.2

Please contact an immigration attorney with experience in U visas to determine the procedures you would have to follow to apply for U visa status in your case. They should work with the national organizations with U visa expertise to ensure your case is considered and resolved quickly by Immigration - one such organization is ASISTA, which offers immigration training for professionals. Other national organizations can be found on our Immigration page.

1 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(1)(i), (c)(1)(i)(ii)
2 See ICE Directive 11005.1, as explained on the Revision of Stay of Removal Request Reviews for U Visa Petitioners Fact Sheet

Which government officials and agencies may be able to provide the law enforcement certification that is required?

As explained throughout this section, one requirement for getting U visa status is that you must have a certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency that you “have been helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution” of one of the categories of crimes listed in the U visa statute. The law enforcement agency has the discretion whether or not to sign your certification, they may run a background check on you before they sign, and they can withdraw their support at any time.1

The following officials and agencies may be able to provide the U visa status certification:

  • federal, state, or local law enforcement agencies;
  • prosecutors;
  • judges; or
  • other authorities that are responsible for the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. This includes agencies that have criminal investigative authority in their respective areas of expertise, such as Child Protective Services, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the National Labor Relations Board, and the U.S. Department of Labor.2

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa and what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 See the U Visa Law Enforcement Resource Guide issued by the Department of Homeland Security
2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(2)

Benefits of U visa status

How long does U visa status last?

If your U visa status application is approved, you will be able to be in the U.S. lawfully with your U visa status for up to four years.1 After three years with U visa status in the U.S., you will be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence (commonly called a “green card”) if you meet all of the necessary requirements.2

The four years of U visa status may be extended if the law enforcement agency that fills out the certification confirms that your presence in the U.S. is required to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The four years may also be extended if the additional time is necessary due to exceptional circumstances.3

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what what happens when you get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 INA § 214(o)(7)(A)
2 INA § 245(m)
3 INA § 214(o)(7)(B)

Can I get lawful permanent residence (a green card) if my U visa status application is approved? What about citizenship?

If your U visa status application has been approved, you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident later on.1 If you apply for lawful permanent residence, you may receive it if you meet all of the following requirements:

  • You have been physically present in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least three years since the date you were admitted under U visa status;
    • The continuous physical presence is broken if you are outside of the U.S. for 90 days in a row or 180 days in total, unless:
      • the absence was necessary to assist in the investigation or prosecution of the crime; or
      • if the law enforcement official investigating or prosecuting the crime certifies that the absence was justified;
  • You were lawfully admitted to the U.S. as a principal or derivative with U visa status;
  • You continue to have U visa status at the time you apply for lawful permanent residence (the U visa status has never been revoked);
  • You are not inadmissible due to your participation in Nazi persecution, genocide, or as someone who committed an act of torture or an extrajudicial killing;
  • After receiving U visa status, you have not unreasonably refused to provide assistance to an official or law enforcement agency investigating or prosecuting the person(s) who committed the crime that made you eligible for U visa status; and
  • Your continued presence in the U.S. is justified on humanitarian grounds, to ensure family unity, or it is in the “public interest.”2

After five years as a legal permanent resident, you can apply for naturalization (to become a citizen), assuming that you meet all of the other citizenship requirements.3

1 INA § 245(m)
2 INA § 245(m)(1), (m)(2); 8 CFR § 245.24(b), (c)
3 See USCIS website

Can I get a work permit if my U visa status application is approved?

Yes.  When you apply for a U visa as a principal applicant or as a derivative family member, you can get a four-year work permit once your U visa has been granted.1  However, you can get a work permit even before you get your U visa once your application is considered “approvable” and you are placed on the U visa waitlist (based on deferred action) – this usually takes about 3 ½ years to from the time you apply until you may be put on the waitlist.2  During that approximately 3 ½ year wait, you will not have a work permit. 

Note: If you are a principal applicant or a derivative applicant and you applied from abroad, you will be eligible to apply for a work permit only after you enter the U.S. once your U visa is granted.3

1 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)
2 Time approximation to get on waitlist is accurate as of 01/2018 as per ASISTA
2 8 CFR § 214.14(c)(7), (f)(7)

U visas and domestic violence

Can I get U visa status even if the abuser is undocumented? What if we are not married?

Yes. The immigration status of the abuser does not matter for U visa status (unlike protections offered under VAWA). The abuser can be undocumented, or s/he can be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Also, unlike VAWA, you do not have to be married to the abuser to be eligible for U visa status.1 If you were abused by an intimate partner, the only thing that matters is that you meet the qualifications for getting U visa status as explained in the Eligibility section.

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what is a U visa, what are the requirements to get a U visa and what crimes qualify someone to get a U visa, among other related topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

If I have been the victim of domestic violence, do I apply for VAWA or for a U visa?

It depends.  You may be eligible for both and then it’s up to you and your attorney which one you want to pursue (or both).  You may be eligible to obtain lawful status through a VAWA self-petition if:

  • Your spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and has abused you;
  • Your spouse is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and has abused your child;
  • You are a child (under 21 years old and unmarried) of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who has abused you; OR
  • You are the parent of a U.S. citizen who has abused you.1

(Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by a spouse who is not a U.S. citizen nor a lawful permanent resident, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA.  For more information on eligibility requirements for VAWA, see VAWA self-petition.)

You may also be able to file for U visa status if you have been, are being, or will be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of a crime, including domestic violence, and meet all other requirements regardless of the immigration status of the abuser.2

You should discuss your options with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA and U visas before you file papers with USCIS to determine what would be the best option in your case.  To find help, please go the Immigration page of the National Organizations section.  If your lawyer needs assistance, s/he can call ASISTA for help.
 
1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A) & (B)
2 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

I got U visa status based on a crime committed against me by my spouse but now we have gotten back together. Can I apply for the abuser (my spouse) to get status as a derivative?

No. The person who has committed the crime for which you are applying for U visa status will not qualify for U visa status.1

1 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(iii)

Traveling outside of the U.S.

Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my U visa status application is approved?

It depends.  It is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visa status before traveling to determine if you can travel outside of the U.S.  Here we discuss some major concerns with traveling:

First, if you were granted U visa status in the U.S., you will have to go to a consulate to get an actual U visa to re-enter the U.S.  You are not automatically granted this visa (needed for traveling) when you are approved for U visa status. (Remember, U visa status is technically called U nonimmigrant status and do you do not automatically get an actual visa when you are granted this status.)  See I have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one? for more information.

Second, be aware that being outside of the U.S. for more than 90 days at one time or more than 180 days in combined trips may prevent you from getting lawful permanent residence.  This is the “continuous physical presence” requirement for U lawful permanent residence.1

Third, if you leave the U.S. and then return, you may trigger new grounds of inadmissibility that you did not get waived when you applied for U visa status (most likely, it would be the “unlawful presence” ground which is only triggered when you leave the U.S.).2  Immigration will, however, quickly consider and grant a new waiver for you, so you should ensure your lawyer has set this up before you leave the U.S.  If your attorney does not know about this protocol, s/he should contact a national organization that works on U visas such as ASISTA for help working with Immigration to get the new waivers quickly.

Fourth, if you already have U visa status, and you submitted an application to obtain lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request “advance parole” before leaving the U.S.3  Advance parole will allow you to preserve your application for lawful permanent residence when you leave the country.4  If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., your application for lawful permanent residence will be considered abandoned and it will be denied.3

Finally, if you come into the U.S. with a different kind of visa after being granted U visa status or if you come in without permission, your U visa status may be revoked.  This may happen because the consulates are not sufficiently trained on U visas and may delay giving you a U visa or may give you bad advice and information.

For all these reasons, it is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in U visa status before traveling to determine if you can safely travel outside of the U.S.  An immigration attorney with experience in U visa status should be able to determine if any of these risks apply to you by working with the national organizations with expertise in U visas such as ASISTA.  To find the contact information of organizations working in the area of immigration law, please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration page.

1 8 CFR § 245.24(a)(1)
2 INA § 212(a)(9)(B) & (C)
3 8 CFR § 245.24(j)
4 See generally USCIS website – Glossary

I have U visa status, but never received an actual visa. How do I get one?

If you are approved for U visa status, you will not actually receive a visa (a document that allows a person to enter the U.S.) until you travel and re-enter the United States. Visas are issued at U.S. consulates and embassies outside of the U.S.1 Instead, when you are approved for U visa status, you will receive work authorization (often called a “work permit”) and another immigration document that shows your status. You may never need an actual visa unless you plan to leave the U.S.

Whether or not you have already been approved for U status, you should consult with your U visa immigration attorney before traveling and to find out what steps to take to get a visa. To find the contact information of organizations working in the area of immigration law, please see the national organizations listed on our Immigration page. Also, please read about all of the important concerns with traveling in Can I travel outside of the U.S. if my U visa status application is approved?

Note: If you already have U visa status, and if you submitted an application to obtain lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request “advance parole” before leaving the U.S.2 Advance parole will allow you to preserve your application for lawful permanent residence when you leave the country.3If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., your application for lawful permanent residence will be considered abandoned and it will be denied.2

1 USCIS website – Glossary
2 8 CFR § 245.24(j)
3 See generally USCIS website – Glossary

U visa status for family members

How can my family member(s) benefit from my U visa status?

If you are eligible for U visa status, there are a number of ways in which your family members may also be able to obtain lawful status for themselves:

  • They may be able to receive U visa status as derivatives by proving they meet a specific relationship requirement with you.1 To read more about this, please see What family members may be considered derivatives?
  • They may be eligible to obtain U visa status if they are considered indirect victims of the crime, by proving they meet the U visa status eligibility requirements.2 To read more about this, please see Who can be considered a “victim of crime” to be eligible for U visa status?; or
  • Later on, once you apply for lawful permanent residence status, your family member(s) may be eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence (not U visa status) if they are considered to be “qualifying family members.” A qualifying family member is someone who:
    • was never a derivative; (if your family member was included in your U visa application as a derivative, s/he would file his/her own petition for lawful permanent residence - you don’t apply for lawful permanent residence status for that person);
    • can prove a specific relationship requirement with you at the time you are applying for lawful permanent residence; and
    • can show that receiving lawful permanent status is necessary to avoid extreme hardship.3 To read more about this, please see What family members may be considered “qualifying family members?”

Note: Here you can see our series of vlogs (videos) in Spanish, with English subtitles, where we discuss what other people you can include on your U visa petition as derivative family members, among other topics.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(ii)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(i)
3 8 CFR § 245.24(g)

What family members may be considered derivatives?

If you are granted U visa status as a principal applicant (U-1), some of your family members may also qualify for U visa status as derivatives.1  A “principal applicant” is the person who applies for an immigration benefit, such as U visa status.  A “derivative” is another person (usually a family member) who may also receive lawful status through the principal applicant’s status.2  As a principal applicant, you can file a petition on behalf of your derivative family members at the time you apply for U visa status or later.3

If you are 21 years or older, then the following family members may qualify for U visa status as derivatives:

  • Spouse (U-2); and/or
  • Unmarried children under 21 (U-3).1

If you are under 21 years old, then the following family members may qualify for U visa status as derivatives:

  • Spouse (U-2);
  • Unmarried children under 21 (U-3);
  • Parents (U-4); and/or
  • Unmarried siblings under 18 (U-5).1

Note: The ages of the principal applicant and the derivative family members are determined at the time you (as the principal applicant) file the U visa status application.4

As a principal applicant, you will have to prove that your family members meet one of the particular family relationship requirements described above and that they are not inadmissible or that they qualify for a waiver (exception).  They do not need to prove that they meet the other eligibility requirements that principal applicants need to prove.5

Please note that if your family member was the person who committed the crime against you, then s/he will not be eligible to obtain U visa status as a derivative.5

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(ii)
2USCIS website – Glossary
3 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(2)
4 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(4)
5 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(1)

When I apply for lawful permanent resident status, what family members may be considered “qualifying family members” to also become lawful permanent residents?

If you have U visa status as a principal applicant, and have submitted an application to become a lawful permanent resident (after at least 3 years of U visa status), you may be eligible to ask that your “qualifying family members” receive lawful permanent residence as well.1

Qualifying family members include your spouse, child, and parent (if the principal applicant is a child) who were never derivatives, and all of the following requirements must be met:

  • You have U visa status as a principal applicant (U-1);
  • Your application for lawful permanent residence was approved, is still pending, or is filed at the same time as the application for your qualifying family member;
  • Your qualifying family member never received U visa status as a derivative;
  • The relationship with your qualifying family member existed when you received lawful permanent residence and it continues to exist at the time your qualifying family member receives lawful permanent residence; and
  • You or your qualifying family member would suffer extreme hardship (see below) if your qualifying family member is not allowed to stay in, or enter, the U.S.2

Extreme hardship is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the particular facts and circumstances of each case. Some factors that may be considered include, but are not limited to:

  • The type and degree of the physical or mental abuse suffered as a result of being a victim of crime;
  • The effect of losing access to the U.S. courts and criminal justice system;
  • The probability that the criminal’s family, friends, or others acting on behalf of the criminal in the home country would harm the applicant or the applicant’s children;
  • The need for social, medical, mental health, or other supportive services for victims of crime that are not available or accessible in the home country;
  • In domestic violence cases, whether there are laws and social practices in the home country that punish the applicant or the applicant’s children because they have been victims of domestic violence or have taken steps to leave an abusive home;
  • The criminal’s ability to travel to the home country and the ability and willingness of authorities in the home country to protect the applicant or the applicant’s children;
  • The applicant’s age, both at the time of entry into the U.S. and at the time the applicant applies for lawful permanent residence; and
  • Evidence, including a signed statement from the qualifying family member and other supporting documentation that explains that discretion should be exercised in his/her favor.3

1 INA § 245(m)(3)
2 INA § 245(m)(3), 8 CFR § 245.24(g)
3 8 CFR § 245.24(h)(1)

T Visa for Trafficking Victims

The following information should not be considered as a legal opinion on specific facts or as a substitute for legal counsel. Circumstances around human trafficking and applying for a T visa are usually complicated and need a case-by-case analysis. Please consult an attorney who understands the unique issues surrounding human trafficking BEFORE submitting anything to USCIS. For more information about services for trafficked victims prior to obtaining T visa status, you can contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.

Basic information and definitions

What is trafficking and how does it relate to T visas?

Trafficking is slavery in our midst. Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims and force them to provide sex (“sex trafficking”) or labor (“labor trafficking“)whether the victims want to or not.1 Traffickers often control victims so much that they can’t leave, sometimes through:

  • threats or violence against the victims’ family in the homeland;
  • threats or violence to the victims themselves;
  • taking the victims’ passport, identification, and money; or
  • physically locking the victims in the building where they are being held.

Traffickers often use victims’ social or economic status to lure them in and keep power over them.

A T visa allows trafficking victims to live and work legally in the United States for four years.2 After having T visa status for three years (or sooner if the trafficking investigation or prosecution is over) you may request “lawful permanent residence,” commonly called a “green card.”3 You must, however, apply before your T visa status runs out.4

1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(1)
3 INA § 245(l)(1)(A); 8 U.S.C. § 1255(l)(1)(A)
4 8 C.F.R. 245.23(a)(2)(ii)

Will I be able to work legally with a T visa?

When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services gives a person T visa status, they also automatically send the trafficking victim an Employment Authorization Document (often referred to as a “work permit”).1 Once a person has a work permit, s/he can work legally in the U.S.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)

Will I be deported if my T visa application is denied?

If your T visa application is denied, USCIS may put you into immigration proceedings known as “removal” or deportation proceedings. The government began doing this in the summer of 2019.1 Since immigration judges do not have the power to give people T visa status, there may be no way to avoid deportation (removal). In the removal proceedings, you would have to try to explain to an immigration judge why you should not be deported but this can be very hard to do. For instance, you may be able to ask for VAWA cancellation of removal from an immigration judge, either because you have been here for ten years or more or because you or your child have been abused by your spouse who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.2 There are other requirements for these applications, however, and they may be very hard to win.

To avoid having your T visa application denied and ending up in removal proceedings, it is more important than ever that you file a good, complete T visa case to start with, including all of the forms and documentation that help to prove all four requirements. This is hard to do without help from an attorney with experience in trafficking cases. Use our Finding a Lawyerpage to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organizations listed on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.

1 USCIS Policy Memorandum 602.0050.1
2 INA § 240A(b)(1), (b)(2)

How does USCIS determine if I am a victim of a "severe form of human trafficking"?

When deciding whether someone is a trafficking victim (known under the law as a victim of a “severe form of human trafficking”), the government looks at whether the traffickers used or threatened to use force, coercion, or fraud to control the victim. Here are some examples of what this means: Traffickers may physically take people and force them to provide sex or labor they don’t want to do (“force,” which includes abduction); they may persuade someone to provide sex or labor they don’t want to do because they threaten them or people they care about (“coercion”); or they may promise freedom and legal work but in reality force them to provide sex or work against their will (“fraud,” which includes deception).

Many traffickers keep their victims working by threatening to hurt or punish them. The threat could be made to the victim directly or actions can be taken against another trafficking victim as a warning of what could happen. For example, a trafficker may rape a fellow worker to show that “this is what will happen to you if you don’t do what I want.” Traffickers may also make threats to harm the victim’s family members and loved ones, such as threatening to send someone to the victim’s homeland to rape, kill, or harm his/her family. Traffickers often threaten to call the police or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to get victims who challenge them deported. Threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.” Keeping people in a trafficking situation this way is “involuntary servitude or slavery.” 1

For more information, you can go to the website of the government agency that decides T visas, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

1 22 U.S.C. § 7102(7)

What about my family? Can they get T-visa status along with mine?

The government may also give T visa status to close relatives of trafficking victims (“derivatives”). A trafficking victim over 21 can ask for T visa status for his/her spouse and children. A trafficking victim under 21 can ask for T visa status for his/her spouse, children, unmarried siblings, and parents too.1 Note: “Children” includes some but not all step-children. A step-child must have been under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent in order to be considered a “child” under immigration law.2

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)
2 INA §101(b)(1)

What does it mean to have “continued presence”? Is it the same as having T visa status?

“Continued presence” is a way for law enforcement to ensure trafficking victims get the services they need as quickly as possible while allowing them to stay legally in the United States to help with a criminal investigation or prosecution.1 Continued presence is not the same as T visa status and it usually ends once the criminal case is over. Trafficking victims who wish to stay in the U.S. should work with an attorney to get T visa status while they have continued presence.

Only federal law enforcement can seek continued presence on your behalf. Therefore, you must either work with a federal officer or ask your local law enforcement or other agency to contact federal law enforcement for help getting continued presence.2 For information on contacting a federal law enforcement agency, see If I think I am a victim of severe human trafficking, how do I contact law enforcement for help?

1 22 U.S.C. § 7105(c)(3)(A)(i)
2 22 U.S.C. § 7105(c)(3)(C)

Contacting law enforcement

If I think I am a victim of severe human trafficking, how do I contact law enforcement for help?

To get T visa status, you must be willing to help law enforcement, unless you are under 21 years old or you get a trauma exception. Often times you may come into contact with law enforcement while you are still being victimized, in the course of the trafficking. For instance:

  • law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) may raid your workplace;
  • law enforcement may arrest you for prostitution or some other crime the trafficker forces you to participate in; or
  • a state or federal agency may send officers to investigate workplace violations or other issues in the workplace.

If you have come into contact with law enforcement in any of these ways, you could find a way to safely report your situation to them. Even if the agency you report it to can’t investigate, they should know which law enforcement agency can help you and should report your situation to them.

You do not have to wait for law enforcement to find you, however. If you can safely do so, you may report your situation to law enforcement or find someone in a safer situation to do it for you. You can report trafficking to:

There are other ways to report your situation too. The following agencies will help you figure out what can you do in your situation and refer you to law enforcement in as safe a way as possible:

Be aware that contacting law enforcement on your own may be risky. Some law enforcement agencies may get Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) involved. If that happens, you should ask to speak to an ICE Homeland Security Investigator specializing in human trafficking.

Since ICE’s main job is to identify, detain, and deport people who are not in the U.S. legally, you may end up detained or deported. Therefore, the safest way to report your situation is through an immigration lawyer who does human trafficking work. Use our Finding a Lawyer page to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organization on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.

It is also important to know that a significant number of trafficking victims may report their situation to law enforcement but law enforcement may decide not to investigate their case for a variety of reasons. For example, law enforcement may believe that their resources are better spent on large trafficking rings rather than one individual’s case; or they may think other victims will be better witnesses in their case, etc. The fact that they don’t want or need your help doesn’t mean you aren’t a real victim of trafficking or that you shouldn’t get T visa status.

How do I prove that I contacted law enforcement?

Ask the law enforcement agency you contact to give you (or your lawyer) a “law enforcement agency (LEA) endorsement,” which is also known as a “declaration of law enforcement officer for victim of trafficking in persons,” on Form I-914 Supplement B. This is a statement from law enforcement saying that you have cooperated with their requests in investigating or prosecuting the case.

Getting the LEA endorsement can be very helpful to strengthen your T visa application. However, having an LEA endorsement does not guarantee that you will get T visa status. It’s possible that you can get T visa status if you show you tried to be helpful but still couldn’t get an endorsement from law enforcement.1

For more information on all four requirements that you will have to prove, go to What must I prove to be eligible for T visa status?

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(f)

Eligibility for T visa status

What must I prove to be eligible for T visa status?

To get a T visa, all of the following must be true:

  1. You are a victim of one of the two “severe forms of human trafficking,” sex trafficking or labor trafficking.
  2. You tried to be helpful to law enforcement officials investigating or prosecuting human trafficking crimes, such as the FBI, state or local police, district attorneys, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations. However, trafficking victims who are under 18 or too traumatized to cooperate with law enforcement may be excused from showing they helped in an investigation.
  3. You are in the United States, a U.S. territory, American Samoa, or at a port of entry to the United States, a U.S. territory, or American Samoa because of human trafficking.
  4. You would suffer “extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm” if you were removed (deported) or forced to leave.1

Note: These above requirements are defined and explained in more detail in the next section, Proving your case: T visa requirements.

1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)

I think I am eligible for a T visa. Will I definitely get one if I apply?

Congress limited the number of T visas that USCIS is allowed to give each year to 5,000,1 but that limit is rarely reached. Most T visas are denied because the trafficking victim applicant:

  • did not provide enough information;
  • couldn’t show one of the requirements to get a T visa; or
  • didn’t file the right forms.

Working with an attorney with experience in human trafficking cases will help you avoid these problems, but even then USCIS may deny your case.

For more information on how to apply for a T-visa, see How do I apply for a T visa?

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(j)

Proving your case: T visa requirements

Requirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a "severe form of trafficking"

In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T-visa? we list four requirements that you have to meet. In this section, we explain the first requirement in detail.

Human traffickers recruit or kidnap their victims to provide sex or labor whether the victims want to or not, known as sex trafficking and labor trafficking. These are the two “severe forms” of trafficking recognized by the government.

Sex trafficking includes forcing people to participate in creating pornography, selling or buying women as mail-order brides, or forcing women or men to be prostitutes by providing sex in exchange for money or other valuable things. This can take place in many locations, including brothels, massage parlors, and family homes; for instance, a trafficker may force his spouse to prostitute herself to his friends.

Labor trafficking can be seen in many kinds of “workplaces.” For instance, domestic workers may be victims of trafficking if they are forced to work in someone’s home, as a maid, nanny, etc., when they do not want to. Labor trafficking may take place in many industries, including agriculture, processing plants, factories, janitorial and food services, nail salons, and more. Traffickers may even force trafficking victims to beg on the streets. 1

Labor and sex trafficking often involve what is called “debt bondage,” which is when are forced to work to “repay” a debt to the trafficker. However, you are never actually able to repay the debt because the trafficker says you “owe too much” or keeps adding on new “expenses.”2 For instance, traffickers typically “charge” victims for their transportation to the United States and for their food and lodging once they are here. The traffickers make sure they charge so much that their victims will never be able to repay them. 3 As long as you owe this debt, the trafficker will not let you go, which often means there is no end in sight to being forced to do work you do not want to do.

To understand how the government decides if you are, in fact, a victim of a severe form of human trafficking, go to How does USCIS determine if I am a victim of a “severe form of human trafficking?

1 National Human Trafficking Resource Center Fact Sheet
2 22 U.S.C. § 7102(7)
3 22 U.S.C. § 7102(8)

Requirement 2: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.

In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T-visa?, we list all of the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the second requirement in detail.

It is important to know that you do not need to prove this requirement if:

  • you are under 18. Minors do not have to cooperate with authorities although you can if you want to;1 or
  • you have suffered psychological or physical trauma, and are unable to cooperate with law enforcement because of that trauma. In this case, you may qualify for the “trauma exception” to this requirement.2

Everyone else must show that they at least tried to be helpful with any “reasonable requests” from law enforcement.3 Whether a request is “reasonable” depends on the particular situation. Things that will be considered include:

  • general law enforcement practices (what law enforcement usually does when catching and prosecuting criminals);
  • your experiences (what you were subjected to by the trafficker); and
  • your circumstances regarding fear, physical and mental trauma, and your age and maturity.4

For example, if law enforcement asks you to do something that puts your life in jeopardy, this could be seen as an unreasonable request. However, it is ultimately up to USCIS to decide if what law enforcement asked you to do is reasonable or not.

If you are working with law enforcement, the easiest way to fulfill this requirement is with the law enforcement endorsement. If, however, law enforcement has asked you to do something unreasonable, you can still meet this requirement if you show you were willing to provide other help.

Note: A significant number of trafficking victims may report their situation to law enforcement, but law enforcement may decide not to investigate the case for a variety of reasons. For example, law enforcement may believe that their resources are better spent on large trafficking rings rather than one individual’s case; or they may think other victims will be better witnesses in their case, etc. The fact that law enforcement doesn’t want or need your help doesn’t mean you aren’t a real victim of trafficking or that you shouldn’t get a T visa. USCIS recognizes this, and the law explains how you can still meet this requirement without a law enforcement endorsement. For example, a victim may be able to offer evidence such as trial transcripts, court documents, police reports, and other evidence if s/he can’t get a law enforcement endorsement.5 This is, however, another place where an experienced attorney can help you. S/he can help you contact law enforcement to offer your help, can “create a record” that you tried to be helpful, and pester law enforcement for a response, which the attorney will document in writing and share with USCIS.

To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is safer for you and your family to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases. Use our Finding a Lawyer page to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organization on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)(i)
2 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(III)(bb); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)(ii)
3 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i); 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(b)(3)
4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(h)
5 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(f)(1)(iii)

Requirement 3: You are in the United States, a U.S. territory, American Samoa, or a port of entry of any of these because of human trafficking.

In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T visa?, we list all of the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the third requirement in detail.

You must prove that you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion, or fraud and you are now being forced to work or perform sex acts for money. If you came to the U.S. on your own and then sometime later you were forced or tricked into labor or prostitution, you may not meet this eligibility requirement.1 USCIS often denies T visas because victims can’t show they are here because of (“on account of”) the trafficking, so please talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure you can show you came to the U.S. because of human trafficking. You can find free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page.

As long as you are here because you were trafficked to the U.S., you may be able to get T visa status even if you are no longer being forced to work or provide sex. This is especially true if you recently escaped or were released from the trafficking situation. If you escaped the trafficking a long time ago, you must show you are still in the United States because of the severe trafficking you experienced. For example, if you are frightened to leave the U.S. because the traffickers are threatening to hurt you in your homeland, you may be able to get T visa status even though you are no longer under their physical control. If USCIS believes you could have left the U.S., however, they may decide that you no longer qualify for a T visa.1

To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is safer for you and your family to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases. See our Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal services.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(g)

Requirement 4: You would suffer "extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm" if removed or forced to leave.

In the question called What must I prove to be eligible for a T visa?, we list all of the requirements that you have to meet to be eligible to apply for a T-visa. In this section, we explain the fourth requirement in detail.

USCIS has a particular set of things they look at to decide whether someone would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if sent back to their home country.1 Most trafficking victims would likely meet these factors since they are based on typical trafficking victims’ experience.

To show extreme hardship, it is not enough to just show that if you get sent back, you will suffer:

  1. economic harm, such as not having enough money to survive; or
  2. social harm, such as being considered not suitable for marriage or employment.1

You must show more than these two things. Generally, you will need to show that you will suffer serious physical or psychological harm if you get sent back. Having better job or social opportunities in the U.S. will not be a significant positive factor by itself.

When preparing your case, focus on how you can show the facts below:

  • the details (“nature and extent”) of the physical and psychological harm you experienced from the trafficking;
  • the support and medical care you need for these physical or psychological consequences of trafficking that are available in the U.S. but not in your home country;
  • your ongoing need for help from the U.S. civil and criminal court systems, such as your need to:
    • sue to get money to cover your medical expenses and compensate you for your suffering (“restitution”);
    • get protection from the traffickers; or
    • help with the prosecution of thee traffickers;
  • laws, social practices, and customs in your home country that will likely harm you because you were a victim of trafficking; for example, the traffickers are powerful in your home country; or you will be excluded, hated, or harmed because you helped hold the traffickers accountable by cooperating with law enforcement;
  • the likelihood that you will be re-trafficked if you go back and the inability or unwillingness of your home country to protect you from that;
  • the likelihood that the traffickers or those working with them will harm you if you go back, regardless of whether the home country’s government will try to protect you;
  • your safety will be threatened by civil unrest or armed conflict; and
  • how your age, maturity, or particular circumstances make it dangerous for you to go back. 1

As you can see, the list above mostly focuses on two things:

  1. What do you need in the U.S. to cope with being a victim of trafficking that you can’t get in your home country?
  2. What will happen if you go back to your home country?

If you have children who are also seeking T visas, it may be useful to also emphasize why they need ongoing support and care here that they cannot get in your home country.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(i)

Applying for a T visa

After I apply for a T-visa, what are the first documents that I will receive?

When U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives your application, they will send you a receipt notice. Once USCIS has looked at your evidence and decided whether you qualify for T visa status, they will send a “notice” that they have approved or denied your case.1 If they give you T visa status, they will also give you a work authorization card.2

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(3), (d)(8)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)

What needs to be included in my T visa application?

**Please note that reading this section is not enough to be sure you are filing everything you need. We strongly encourage you to find an attorney with experience working with trafficking victims to help you.***

The first step is to get a lawyer, if possible, with experience doing T visas. Next, you will fill out, with the attorney’s help, an “Application for T Nonimmigrant Status,” which is called Form I-914. You can find the necessary forms including the I-914 and I-914 Supplement B at the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website.

Along with the completed Form I-914, you must send USCIS a personal statement describing how you were a victim of trafficking; and ​supporting evidence (“corroboration”) to show that you meet the eligibility requirements.1

You are also encouraged to submit a “Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons,” which is Form I-914 Supplement B. This form is also known as a law enforcement agency (LEA) endorsement.

In addition, there are other forms and T visa requirements that require an expert in immigration law to do correctly.

Note: Your personal statement and other documents must show that you are in the U.S. because of the trafficking. This means that you must show: (1) you are here in the U.S.; and (2) the circumstances of your entry. If you weren’t physically trafficked into the U.S., you must explain how the trafficking caused you to be here (the “because of” requirement). Some questions that USCIS will be looking for in your T visa application are:

  • If you had the chance to leave the U.S. already, why didn’t you?
  • What acts or threats or other circumstances related to the trafficking prevented you from leaving the U.S.?

All of your reasons must be related to the trafficking experience or threats and acts by the trafficker. For example, you may have been prevented from leaving due to trauma, injury, lack of resources, or because your travel documents were seized by the traffickers. If you did leave the U.S. and come back, your return to the U.S. must be because of ongoing victimization or a new incident of severe trafficking. If not, USCIS will deny your application.

What do I need to know about the personal statement and corroboration included in my application?

The personal statement is very important. It is the only opportunity you have to tell your story in your own words and for USCIS to hear your “voice.” Your attorney or a crime victim advocate can help you organize your story but it should be in your own words. If you can’t get a law enforcement endorsement, you must explain in your statement how you tried to be helpful and what response, if any, you got back from law enforcement. You should also use your statement to explain why you meet the other eligibility requirements, especially if you don’t have a lot of other documents to support your case.

Similarly, if you are seeing a mental health therapist or other counselor to deal with the consequences of the trafficking, a statement from that therapist or counselor may be very helpful. S/he can describe both the facts of the trafficking, as you told them to him/her, and how the trafficking affected you. You may not be able to, or may not want to, explain all of this again in your personal statement and so having the therapist or counselor to do that for you may be easier. Trafficking victims are often raped or tortured, and it is reasonable for victims to prefer to supply details of that experience through their therapist or counselor. The goal of the law is to help trafficking victims, not re-traumatize them.

Other evidence that may support your case (“corroboration”) includes any documents or evidence from medical, legal, or social service systems that supports your own story and shows that you meet the T visa requirements. USCIS likes evidence from other “systems” because those systems are assumed to have expertise in their areas. They will, however, look at evidence from other sources too, especially if you and your lawyer explain why you couldn’t get “systems” evidence and why this source (your counselor, for instance) is believable, trustworthy and knowledgeable.

What do I need to know about the law enforcement agency (LEA) endorsement included in my application?

Although it is not required, you are encouraged to submit a “Declaration of Law Enforcement Officer for Victim of Trafficking in Persons,” which is Form I-914 Supplement B. This form is also known as a law enforcement agency (LEA) endorsement. A federal, state, or local law enforcement authority can fill out a Form I-914 Supplement B. A completed Form I-914 Supplement B acts as proof that you:

  • are a victim of a severe form of trafficking; and
  • have complied with reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation or prosecution.1

If you were previously granted “continued presence status” as a survivor of human trafficking, you should include the documents you have showing that.2

Law enforcement may decide not to investigate a significant number of trafficking victims’ reports for a variety of reasons. If you can’t get a law enforcement endorsement, you must explain in your personal statement the details of your attempts to help law enforcement. Also you must submit any medical, legal, or social systems evidence of your attempts to cooperate.3 For instance, if you called a law enforcement agency and they took down a report, work with your lawyer to get a copy of that report, even if law enforcement did nothing with it afterwards.

1 See Instructions for Form I-914, “Application for T Nonimmigrant Status”
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(3)(iii)
3 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(f)(1)(iii)

What do I need to know about the other forms and requirements included in my application?

There are other forms and T visa requirements that require an expert in immigration law to do correctly. It is easy to lose your case just because you didn’t know you had to send in a particular form, you didn’t understand the “lawyer-speak” questions on the forms you did send in, or you didn’t know that past behavior unrelated to your trafficking experience came under one of the “grounds of inadmissibility.” An experienced immigration lawyer will help you avoid these pitfalls and help you address all of these barriers before you file. Again, remember that reading this description of what you need to file is not enough to file a successful T visa application. To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is safer for you and your family to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases.

To locate a local attorney, please visit our Finding a Lawyer page and enter your state. For national immigration organizations, go to our National Organizations - Immigration page.

How much does it cost to apply for a T visa? Can I get a fee waiver?

The basic application forms for victims of trafficking, which are called Form I-914, and Form I-914 Supplements A or B, are free. However, there are some significant fees for both trafficking victims and their family members who will be applying as derivatives. The biggest fees are:

  • $930 fee for the form required to overcome the general barriers to getting status (“grounds of inadmissibility”); and
  • $410 fee for each family member (derivative) applicant who wants work authorization.1

Note: These costs are accurate as of September 1, 2019.

Since USCIS sometimes changes its fees and forms, make sure that you and your lawyer double check that you have the latest information and are using the latest forms.

It’s possible that you can get a fee waiver so you don’t have to pay the fees. Whether USCIS will grant a fee waiver depends on the family’s economic circumstances. If USCIS decides not to waive the fee, they will deny the case unless the fee is paid in a short period of time.

1 USCIS website - Forms

When I apply for a T visa, can I include my family members?

If requested, the government may also give T-visas to close relatives of trafficking victims.1 If the trafficking victim is over 21, s/he can ask for T visa status for his/her:

  • spouse; and
  • children.2

If the trafficking victim is under 21, s/he can ask for T visa status for his/her:

  • parents;
  • unmarried sisters and brothers under 18; and
  • spouse; and
  • children.

Under immigration law, “children” includes step-children who were under 18 years old at the time of the marriage between the parent and step-parent.3

Unlike the main T visa applicant (“principal applicant”), family members must ask for and pay for work authorization; they do not get it automatically when USCIS gives them T visa status.4 There is a hefty fee for this application, although fee “waivers” are available. There also are separate forms for family member (“derivative”) T visa applications and they must meet eligibility requirements themselves.5 For instance, like all T visa applicants, family members may have to explain why USCIS should give them a T visa status even if they committed prior acts that Congress has said are barriers to getting status in the U.S. (“grounds of inadmissibility”). Overcoming these grounds of inadmissibility is complicated and very difficult to do without help from an attorney with experience in immigration law.

To avoid USCIS denying your case and possibly putting you or your family members into immigration court proceedings, it is important to work with an attorney with experience in T visa cases. You can go to our Finding a Lawyer page to find a lawyer in your state. You can also ask one of the national immigration organizations on our National Organizations - Immigration page to help find you a lawyer.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(1)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(1)(i)
3 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(1)(ii); INA § 101(b)(1)
4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(10)
5 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(2)

Do I need a lawyer to apply for a T visa or can I find the forms online?

You can download the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services application forms from the USCIS website. However, we strongly encourage you to contact an immigration attorney to assist you in completing and submitting an application for a T-visa to the USCIS.

It is very important that you work with an attorney (or initially with an advocate) familiar with T visas. The forms and laws are confusing and you may make a mistake or leave something out that results in USCIS denying your application.

It is important to know that starting in the summer of 2019, USCIS started putting some denied T visa applicants into immigration proceedings (known as “removal” or deportation proceedings). Immigration judges have no power to give people T visa status, so once you are in removal proceedings, you may be deported quickly, especially if you don’t have an attorney with experience in immigration law and human trafficking. Because of the risks of being deported if your T visa application is denied, it is more important than ever that you contact an immigration attorney before filing an application. To find an immigration attorney, see our Immigration listings under National Organizations and / or our Finding a Lawyer page for a lawyer near you.

Where do I send my T visa application?

According to the Instructions for Form I-914, you can send your T-visa application to:

USCIS
Vermont Service Center
ATTN: VAWA / T-Visa Unit
75 Lower Welden St.
Saint Albans, Vermont 05479-0001

Again, we strongly suggest that it is your lawyer, not you, sending in your application for all of the reasons mentioned throughout this section. In addition, USCIS cannot communicate with you, the trafficking victim, directly. They will only speak to your legal representative.

After you have T visa status

How long does my T visa status last and what happens when it expires?

T visa status lasts for four years.1 You must leave the United States at the end of the four years unless:

  • a law enforcement authority certifies that an extended stay is necessary for an ongoing investigation;
  • you show “exceptional circumstances” justifying a longer stay; or
  • you have applied to become a legal permanent resident (to get your “green card”).2

For more information, see Now that I have my T-visa, can I apply for permanent resident status?

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(c)(1)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(l)

I have T visa status. Can I work legally in the U.S.?

If the government gives you T visa status, you are automatically granted an employment authorization document (EAD) and you can legally work in the U.S. You do not need to fill out separate paperwork to get employment authorization; your T-visa application also acts as an application for employment authorization.1

If you asking for your family members (“derivatives”) to also get T visa status, work authorization does not come automatically with derivative T visa status. They will have to ask for work authorization and pay a fee for each family member’s work authorization.2 See How much does it cost to apply for a T visa? Can I get a fee waiver? for information about the fees.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(d)(11)
2 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(k)(10)

Can I travel outside the U.S. after my T visa status is approved?

It is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in T visas before traveling. Here are some problems with traveling:

  1. Even if USCIS approved your T visa application, you cannot come back into the US unless and until you go to a consulate to get an actual “T visa” to re-enter the U.S. You do not automatically get an actual T visa (needed for traveling) when you are approved for T-visa status.1
  2. If you come back into the U.S. with a different kind of visa, such as a visitor’s visa, after being granted T visa status, or if you come in without permission, USCIS may take away your T visa status. This may happen because the consulates are not sufficiently trained on T visas and may delay giving you a T visa or may give you bad advice and information.1
  3. Being outside the U.S. for more than 90 days at a time, or more than 180 days in combined trips, may prevent you from getting lawful permanent residence. This is the “continuous physical presence” requirement for T lawful permanent residence status.2 See Now that I have T visa status, can I apply for permanent resident status? for more information.
  4. If you leave the U.S. and then return, you may trigger new immigration law barriers (“grounds of inadmissibility”) that you did not need to deal with when you applied for T-visa status.3 If you leave the U.S., you should have your lawyer’s contact information in case you can’t get back into the U.S. without filing new forms. Your attorney could contact a national organization that is familiar with T-visas such as ASISTA for help getting these forms approved quickly.
  5. If you have T visa status and you already submitted an application for lawful permanent residence that is still pending, then you will need to request permission, called “advance parole,” before leaving the United States. If you do not request advance parole before leaving the U.S., USCIS will assume you have dropped your lawful permanent residence application and deny it.4

For all of these reasons, it is extremely important that you talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in T visas before traveling. An immigration attorney with experience in T visas should be able to determine if any of these risks apply to you. To find an immigration lawyer, visit our National Organizations - Immigration page and/or our Finding a Lawyer page.

1 See the Visas for Victims of Human Trafficking page from the U.S. Dept. of State
2 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(a)(3); See USCIS website, Instructions for I-485, Supplement E
3 INA § 212(a)(9)(B) & (C)
4 See 8 C.F.R. § 245.23(j); see Form I-131 and Instructions

Now that I have T visa status, can I apply for permanent resident status?

Someone granted T visa status may apply for permanent residence if s/he:

  1. has been in the United States for whichever amount of time is shorter:
    • a continuous period of at least three years after getting T visa status; or
    • a continuous period during the investigation or prosecution of a criminal case against the traffickers;
  2. has been a person of “good moral character” since first being granted T visa status;
  3. has complied with law enforcement’s reasonable requests since first being granted T visa status or would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if s/he were removed from the United States; and
  4. has not committed acts that trigger immigration law barriers to status (“grounds of inadmissibility.”)1

To apply for permanent residence, which is known as “adjusting your status,” you must file Form I-485, available at the USCIS website here.

Note: “Good moral character” is defined by a list of certain behaviors. The law spells out acts and crimes that, if committed, could prevent an immigrant from getting many kinds of lawful status, including lawful permanent residence for those with T visa status and naturalizing to become a U.S. citizen. The most common barriers to showing good moral character are based in criminal behavior.2 A lawyer may be able to rely on prior decisions (known as “case law”) by the immigration and federal courts to overcome these barriers. This is, again, an area that requires attention from an experienced immigration lawyer. To find an immigration lawyer, visit our National Organizations - Immigration page and/or our Finding a Lawyer page.

1 8 C.F.R. § 245.23
2 INA §101(f)

What specific federally-funded benefits are available to me?

Once you have obtained certification related to continued presence or approved T visa status, or a letter of eligibility if you are under 18 you may receive benefits from any federal program or federally-funded state program. Possible benefits you may be eligible for appear below. To apply for any of these benefits, be sure to bring your certification or letter of eligibility, with you. (The service provider will verify your certification or eligibility letter by calling the Trafficking Victim Verification line at (866) 401-5510.)

Before seeking any of these federal benefits, however, you should make sure to first consult with your attorney or advocate so that they can check that the agency you approach won’t turn you away or call ICE to detain you.

1. Financial Help
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
– TANF provides assistance and work opportunities to needy families with children under 18 years of age. State agencies implement the program. Apply through your local social services agency.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as “SNAP” or food stamps) – You use food stamps like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores. Apply through your local Social Security office. Here you can find your closest Social Security office.

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) – WIC provides nutrition assistance and education to pregnant women and families with children under five years of age. You can use WIC checks to purchase certain types of food and infant formula. You are automatically eligible for WIC if you are eligible for TANF, food stamps, or Medicaid.

Supplemental Security Income (SSI) – SSI provides benefits for people who are blind, have severe disabilities, or are at least 65 years old and have limited income and resources. Apply through your local Social Security office. Here you can find your closest Social Security office.

Refugee Cash and Medical Assistance (RCA & RMA) – If you are ineligible for TANF, SSI, and Medicaid, you may be eligible for RCA and RMA, which provide cash and medical assistance for the first eight months following certification or eligibility.

Matching Grant Program – Volunteer Agencies (called VOLAGs) administer the Matching Grant Program as an alternative to refugee cash assistance. It provides employment services, living assistance (including food or food subsidies, housing assistance, and transportation), and cash allowance.

2. Health Care
Torture Treatment Program – HHS-funded social, legal, health, and psychological services for victims of torture. Here you can find survivor resources.

State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) – SCHIP (also called CHIP) is a public health insurance program available to low-income, uninsured children under 18 years of age who do not qualify for Medicaid. Because state agencies administer the program, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. Note: There is a five-year waiting period after receiving T visa status before trafficking victims can access SCHIP.1

Medicaid – Medicaid is a government-funded health insurance program for people with low income and limited resources. Because state agencies administer the program, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. Note: There is a five-year waiting period after receiving T visa status before trafficking victims can access Medicaid.1

3. Social Services
Unaccompanied Refugee Minors Program – This program provides resettlement and foster care services for unaccompanied minor refugees and trafficking victims. For more information, click here.

4. Employment
One-Stop Career Center System
- If you are looking for employment, Career One-Stop may be able to assist you. Local centers provide information and assistance for finding employment and obtaining education and training. To locate a One-Stop career service center near you, click here.

Job Corps – The Department of Labor oversees this free job training and education program for youths between the ages of 16 and 24. Here you can learn more about Job Corps.

5. Housing
Certified victims of human trafficking may be eligible for public housing assistance. Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in locating the proper public housing authority.

6. Other
State-Specific Programs
– States may have additional programs for certified victims of human trafficking. Your local social services agency may be able to assist you in figuring out what may be available to you.

Note: The above information is adapted from the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families Victim Assistance Fact Sheet. The fact sheet is also available in the following languages:

You can find additional information in HHS’s Resource Guide. In addition, the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project created a “map” where you can look up each type of benefit to see if an immigrant is eligible for that particular benefit in a particular state. The map includes cash assistance (TANF), child care, housing, driver’s licenses, and more. You can access this map feature on the NIWAP website. Also, they offer this information about all of the benefits that an immigrant can qualify for in every state displayed in a state-by-state list.

1 U.S. Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services

What steps do I need to take to get federal benefits that I am entitled to?

If you are an adult victim of human trafficking (18 years of age and over), you can get “certified” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to be eligible for certain federally-funded benefits.1

“Certification” is available to victims of human trafficking (as defined by the Trafficking Victims Protection Act) who are willing to assist law enforcement in the prosecution of trafficking crimes and either:

  1. have completed a bona fide application for a T-visa; or
  2. have received continued presence status from the Department of Homeland Security.2 See What does it mean to have “continued presence”? Is it the same as having T visa status? for more information.

Child victims are automatically eligible for benefits once the HHS receives proof that the child is a victim of human trafficking; they do not have to prove either of the two requirements above. The HHS will then provide the child victim or the child victim’s representative with a “letter of eligibility,” which can be used to prove to social service providers that the child is eligible for benefits.3

If you have not yet been certified by the HHS (but you have reported the trafficking crime), you may still be eligible for certain federally-funded services and benefits including crisis counseling and short term shelter or housing assistance. To locate service providers for uncertified victims of human trafficking, contact the National Human Trafficking Resource Center’s Hotline at 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.

1 22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(1)
2 U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Trafficking in Persons, Certification Letters
3 22 U.S.C. § 7105(b)(1)(C)(ii)(l); Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Victim Assistance Fact Sheet

Additional information and where to get help

Where can I find more information on T visas?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website provides information, instructions, and forms for T-visa applicants. Here you can view the USCIS T-visa page.

Where can I find services and help for victims of trafficking?

For services and help, please consider contacting the following resources:

  • The Office for Victims of Crime (“OVC”) website provides an extensive list of resources for victims of human trafficking. To visit the OVC website and see those resources, click here. To see a list of OVC resources by state, click here.
  • The Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Refugee Resettlement provides information and links to federal resources for victims of human trafficking.
  • The National Human Trafficking Resource Center is a non-government organization that assists victims of human trafficking. If you are not ready to contact government authorities, but would like more information about resources available to trafficking victims, call their hotline at: 1-888-373-7888 or you can send a text to 233733, which corresponds with the letters BeFree on your phone.

Asylum

If you are afraid to return to your home country due to a fear of persecution (mistreatment/abuse), you may be eligible for asylum, which would allow you to stay in the U.S. legally.

Basic information

What is asylum?

Asylum is for people who are afraid to return to their home countries. It is like refugee status except that you apply from inside the U.S. as opposed to filing from your country of origin. It is not an easy or fast process, and it is not something you should do without help from a lawyer who knows how to do asylum cases. If you fear going to your home country because of domestic violence or sexual assault that you experienced there, make sure your attorney has experience applying for asylum for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors; not all immigration attorneys do.1

The biggest problem for getting asylum status for those who experienced domestic or sexual violence in other countries is that the law was created before violence against women was generally recognized as problems or crimes. Although our government has granted asylum on the basis of domestic or sexual violence that was committed in another country, it is still very difficult to win this type of asylum claim because of the way the law was written.

Because asylum is complicated and the rules change a lot, this section will not tell you how you can win an asylum case; it will only outline some of the main things the government says you must show.

1 The Center for Gender and Refugee Studies is a good resource for lawyers, domestic and sexual violence advocates, and asylum-seekers who have questions regarding asylum based on domestic or sexual violence.

Who qualifies for asylum? Will being a victim of domestic or sexual violence qualify me?

To be eligible for asylum, you must show that:

  1. you were or will be “persecuted” in your home country; and
  2. at least one central reason for the persecution is your race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.1

It is not enough to just prove that you were the victim of domestic or sexual violence. You also must show that whoever abused you did it because of your race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or because you are in a group that is targeted for persecution (a “particular social group”). For example, perhaps you can show that the abuser justified his/her actions because of your race, religion, nationality, or political opinion.

In many cases, however, the abuser commits domestic or sexual violence because s/he believes that it is his/her right to treat the victim as property, as a second-class human being, or as a slave – and the abuse is one way to keep that person under the abuser’s control. If this is the case, this is not enough to get asylum. Our asylum system does not acknowledge that domestic and sexual violence are widespread weapons of “persecution” used against women to “keep them in their place.”

    To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.

    1 INA § 208(b)(1)(B)(i); 8 USC § 1158(b)(1)(B)(i)

    What does "persecution" mean? How do I prove that the government was unable or unwilling to protect me from persecution?

    Proving that you did or likely will suffer from persecution is a key element in proving asylum. However, the laws do not specifically define the term “persecution.” In past asylum court cases, it has been defined as causing (inflicting) suffering or harm upon those who differ in race, religion, or political opinion, in a way regarded as offensive.1

    Another important part of proving your asylum claim is proving that the source of the persecution is the government, a quasi-official group, or a person or group that the government is unwilling or unable to control.2

    If you are claiming asylum based on domestic or sexual violence, in order to show that your home country’s government is unable or unwilling to protect you, here are some points that you should discuss with your attorney and your domestic or sexual violence advocate:

    • Did you report the domestic or sexual violence to the authorities in your home country?
      • If you did report the abuse, what happened? What did the authorities do?
        • If you reported the domestic or sexual violence, and the authorities did try to help you but the abuser still threatened or harmed you, then this could be an example of your government being “unable” to protect you.
        • If you reported the domestic or sexual violence, and the authorities did not even try to help you, then this could be an example of your government being “unwilling” to help you.
      • If you didn’t report the abuse to the authorities, why not?
        • Sometimes it’s pointless or dangerous to report to authorities. If it’s well-known that they will do nothing for domestic or sexual violence survivors, for example, then the argument can be made that it’s pointless to report it and you should not have to do it.
        • Sometimes reporting abuse to authorities is not just pointless, it’s dangerous. For example, if it’s well-known that the authorities will tell abusers and rapists about the people who report them, it’s dangerous. Especially if the person who abused you is a powerful person in your community or works for the authorities, it may be very dangerous to report the domestic or sexual violence.
    • If it was pointless or dangerous to report abuse to your local authorities, you can work with your attorney and advocate to show that this is because your government can’t or won’t protect you against the person who abused you.

    1 See, for example, Guo v. Sessions, 897 F.3d 1208 (9th Cir. 2018)
    2 See, for example, Avetova-Elisseva v. I.N.S., 213 F.3d 1192 (9th Cir. 2000)

    Is being a woman enough to prove I am part of a "particular social group?"

    In order to prove membership in a “particular social group,” it is important to know that our asylum system does not yet acknowledge “women” and “gender” as “social groups.” Instead, victims of abuse must show they are in a smaller “social group” than just women; but our asylum system keeps changing its mind on what people must show to be in a “social group.” This makes it very hard to do an asylum application on your own, and it is one reason why you must work with an attorney who is up-to-date on the latest government policies and federal cases. It is also why you may want to talk to your lawyer about whether you were abused or raped because of, for instance, your “political opinion” that the abuser did not have the right to control you. Even if you can show this, however, you will have to show:

    • how you made that opinion clear;
    • that this is why you were abused or sexually assaulted; and
    • that your government would not or could not protect you. Note: This last requirement is an example of a requirement that was added by our government and is not in the statute.

    If I plan on coming into the U.S. by crossing the border, how do I ask for asylum?

    In order to ensure that people fleeing persecution who arrive at the U.S. border are not immediately turned away, Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers are supposed to ask people without a valid visa or immigration status if they fear persecution in their homeland. If you say “yes,” you should get what is called a credible fear interview. During the credible fear interview, you will be asked a series of questions about what fear you have related to returning to your homeland. If you “pass” the credible fear interview, which means that the officer finds that there is a “significant possibility” of winning on a claim for asylum, then you should receive a Notice to Appear (NTA) in immigration court and will be placed in removal proceedings before a judge where you can ask the immigration judge for asylum and try to prove your case.

    However, the government frequently makes changes to this system. Do not assume that anyone in our immigration system will ever ask you if you fear going back to your home country. Instead, be ready to say it for yourself, more than once if necessary, and say why you fear being sent back to your home country. Ideally, you should have the name and phone number of a lawyer handy who you met prior to arriving in the U.S. – if so, ask to call your lawyer or tell the officers to call your lawyer if they won’t let you call her or him.

    You can read more information about how to pass a credible fear interview on the Immigration Equality website.

    The asylum process

    How do I apply for asylum? How long after arriving in the U.S. do I have to apply?

      If you are not in immigration detention or involved in an immigration court proceeding, you can file your application at a local U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum office. This is known as an affirmative asylum process.

      If you are in immigration detention or involved in an immigration court proceeding, you can ask the immigration judge for asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S. This is known as a defensive asylum process.1

      Either way, you must apply for asylum within one year of the date of your last arrival in the U.S. However, there can be an exception to the one-year filing deadline if you can show that:

      1. there are:
        • “changed” circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum; or
        • “extraordinary” circumstances relating to the delay in filing; and
      2. you filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.2

      In order to know what circumstances can be considered “changed” or “extraordinary,” it’s important to work with an asylum lawyer who is up-to-date on the latest policies and court cases. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.

      1 USCIS website
      2 8 CFR § 208.4(a)(2); INA § 208(a)(2)(B), (a)(2)(D); 8 USC § 1158(a)(2)(B),(a)(2)(D)

      Can I request asylum if I am already in removal proceedings?

      How important is it to have an attorney help me?

      It is very important to have a knowledgeable immigration lawyer help you throughout the asylum application and court process. There are ways to see a lawyer even if you cannot afford one, and you should always try to contact a lawyer before applying to the USCIS. Your conversation with the attorney will be confidential, and s/he cannot report you to the USCIS.

      If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal aid. You will see a list of legal services offices on the Finding a Lawyer page for your state. In addition, please go to our National Organizations Immigration page. In many states, Catholic Charities may be able to provide you with legal assistance relating to immigration. Go to the Catholic Charities website and search for the contact information in your state. You do not have to be Catholic to receive their assistance.

      Will I get an interpreter if I don’t speak English?

      If you are applying for asylum at an asylum office, you will have to bring your own interpreter to the asylum interview. The government will not provide one for you. The interpreter cannot be your lawyer or representative, or a witness who will be testifying on your behalf, and must be at least 18 years old.

      If you are requesting asylum from an immigration court judge as a defense to removal proceedings, the government will provide an interpreter for you at the asylum hearing and in all court proceedings.1

      1 See USCIS website

      What happens if they deny my asylum request?

      If you apply for asylum at an asylum office and they say “no,” they will probably put you into removal proceedings and you will have to appear in immigration court. At that time, you can ask again for asylum from the immigration judge. If you ask for asylum as part of your defense in removal proceedings, and the immigration judge says that you do not qualify, you can appeal that decision to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which is the highest court in our immigration court system. If the BIA denies your request, you can appeal to a federal court. If you are still denied asylum by federal court – or if you do not file an appeal when the immigration judge denies your case – you will probably be deported. It is almost impossible to do any of this successfully without an attorney with experience in asylum.

      To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations Immigration page.

      Benefits of getting asylum

      What are the benefits of asylum status?

      If your asylum application is approved, you will be allowed to live and work legally in the U.S.1 You will be able to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) after you have been in asylum status in the U.S. for one year.2 Unfortunately, you will not qualify for public benefits.

      Note: When you apply for a green card (permanent residence), your spouse and children are also eligible to apply for a green card if they were admitted to the United States as asylees following your grant of asylum, or if they were already in the U.S. with you and were included in your grant of asylum.3

      For a more complete list of benefits, you can go to the USCIS website’s “Benefits and Responsibilities of Asylees” page.

      1USCIS website
      2 INA § 209(b); 8 USC § 1159(b); 8 CFR § 209.2(a)(1)(ii)
      3 USCIS website

      Can my family members get asylum?

      If you are granted asylum, you may apply for derivative asylum status for your spouse and/or unmarried minor children under age 21.1 “Derivative asylum status” means that your spouse and/or or children may be granted asylum status based on your own asylum status. You cannot apply for derivative asylum status for any other family members, such as your parents or siblings.

      Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include:

      • a stepchild who became your stepchild before s/he turned 18; and
      • an adopted child who was adopted before the age of 16.2

      To meet the definition of spouse, you need to be legally married according to your home country’s law. However, the U.S. will not recognize some legal marriages, even if they are considered legal marriages in your home country (for example, polygamous marriages.).

      In order to request asylum status for your family, you need to file the proper paperwork within the first two years of being granted asylum status. You may be able to sponsor your family members whether they are in the U.S. or in your home country.3 As always, before filing any forms, we suggest talking to an immigration attorney. You can find an attorney by going to our Finding a Lawyer page or our National Organizations Immigration page.

      1 8 CFR § 208.21(a); INA § 208(b)(3); 8 USC § 1158(b)(3)
      2 See 8 CFR § 208.21(b); INA § 101(b)(1)(B), (b)(1)(E)
      3 8 CFR § 208.21(c) & (d)

      When and how can I become a lawful permanent resident if I have asylum status?

      If you have asylum status, you may apply for lawful permanent residence one year after being granted asylum. You will have to show that:

      • you been in the U.S. for at least one year; and
      • you are not prevented from becoming a lawful permanent resident due to the “grounds of inadmissibility.”1Note: If the grounds of inadmissibility do apply to you, you can ask the government to “waive” them for humanitarian purposes, to assure family unity, or if it’s in “the public interest.”2 In other words, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will consider the pros and cons of your application to decide whether you should get lawful permanent residence despite the fact that you one or more of the grounds of inadmissibility apply to you.

      You must work with an immigration attorney to figure out whether the special “inadmissibility ground” barriers apply to you. Some of the inadmissibility rules do not apply to asylum applicants2 but the rules are very complicated and your lawyer will need to know what the immigration and federal courts have said about them to answer the government’s questions correctly. Plus, it is easy to file the wrong forms, fill them out wrong, or forget to include something you must include. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our National Organizations - Immigration page.

      1 INA § 209(b)(5); 8 USC § 1159(b)(5)
      2 INA § 209(c); 8 USC § 1159(c)

      Refugee Status

      If you are a not a U.S. citizen, are living outside of the U.S., and you are afraid to return to your home country due to a fear of mistreatment or abuse (persecution), you may qualify for refugee status, which would allow you to come to the U.S. legally. You can only apply for and get refugee status from outside of the U.S.

      Basic information

      Am I eligible for refugee status? Where would I apply?

      You may be eligible for refugee status if all of the following apply:

      • you are outside of your country of nationality;
      • you are outside of the U.S.;
      • you fear persecution in your home country based on your:
        • race;
        • religion;
        • nationality;
        • political opinion; or
        • membership in a “particular social group;” and
      • you are not barred from getting status by the “grounds of inadmissibility” or you qualify for a waiver that would excuse (“waive”) any “inadmissibility” barriers you face.1

      Those who fear persecution must get a referral from the United States Refugee Assistance Program (USRAP), which is usually done by a US embassy abroad, by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with refugees, or by the office of the United National High Commissioner on Refugees, often for those in refugee “camps.” You will receive help filling out your application and be interviewed, while abroad, by a U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) officer. The officer will determine whether or not you are eligible for refugee resettlement in the U.S.2

      If you get refugee status, the agency working with you will help you fill out a form that allows you to enter the U.S. You will, again, be “inspected” by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) when you enter the U.S. A Resettlement Support Center will help you and your family get accustomed to the U.S.

      1 INA § 101(a)(42)(A); 8 USC § 1101(a)(42)(A); see INA § 212
      2 See the USCIS website

      Can I apply for refugee status while I am in the U.S.?

      You have to apply for refugee status before coming to the U.S. If you are already in the U.S. and you fear going back to your home country, you would apply for asylum instead. Go to our Asylum page for more information.

      What are "grounds of inadmissibility"?

      Most people who want to enter the U.S. or get legal status in the U.S. must show they are not barred by a long set of rules called the “grounds of inadmissibility.”1 This is also true for refugees when they apply for refugee status, when they are “inspected” by Customs and Border Patrol to come into the U.S. as a refugee, and when they apply for lawful permanent residence. All of the rules don’t apply to refugees, however.2 These rules are very complicated and your lawyer will need to know what the immigration courts and federal courts have said about them to answer the government’s questions correctly.

      If you have a problem with one of the “grounds” on the list, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will consider the pros and cons of your application to decide whether or not to excuse (“waive”) the inadmissibility ground by granting you a waiver.3 If the USCIS denies you a waiver, they will deny your case and may put you into immigration proceedings, which may result in your deportation. This is one main reason you must work with an immigration lawyer or advocate who knows about refugee status and lawful permanent residence when applying.

      1 See INA § 212
      2 8 USC §§ 1157(c)(3); 1159(a)(2), (c)
      3 8 USC §§ 1157(c)(3); 1159(c)

      Benefits of getting refugee status

      What are the benefits of having refugee status?

      If your application is approved, you will be able to travel to the U.S. and enter the country legally. Also, with refugee status, you will be able to:

      • work legally in the U.S;1 and
      • apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) after one year of being in refugee status in the U.S.2

      If you didn’t include your family in your refugee application, you can apply to bring your husband or wife and unmarried children under 21 to the U.S. within the first two years of entering the U.S. as a refugee.1 This can include step-children and adopted children, but the rules are complicated.3

      1 See USCIS website Refugees page
      2 8 CFR § 209.1
      3 SeeINA § 101(b); 8 USC § 1101(b)

      How can my family members benefit from my refugee status?

      When you ask for refugee status, you may also ask that some of your close family members get refugee status too as “derivatives.”1 You must do this within the first two years of being granted refugee status.2 You can include your wife or husband, and children who are unmarried and who were under 21 when you filed your application. Included in the definition of “children” are step-children and adopted children, but the rules are complicated.​3

      Your family members must show that the special barriers to status known as the “grounds of inadmissibility” do not apply to them, or you must ask that U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services “waive” any barriers that do apply to them.4

      In addition, when you file for lawful permanent residence after being in the U.S. as a refugee for one year, you can also apply for your family members to get lawful permanent residence.5

      1 INA § 207(c)(2); 8 USC § 1157(c)(2)
      2 See USCIS website
      3 INA § 101(b)(1)(E); 8 USC 1101(b)
      4 INA sec. 207(c)(3); 8 USC 1157(c)(3)
      5 See the USCIS website

      How can I apply for lawful permanent residence once I am a refugee?

      If you are in the U.S. in refugee status, you are required by law to apply for lawful permanent residence (a “green card”) one year after you came into the U.S. To get lawful permanent residence, both of the following must be true:

      • you have not lost your status and have been physically inside the U.S. for at least one year after you came in as a refugee; and
      • you are not barred from getting status by the “grounds of inadmissibility” or you ask USCIS to “waive” any “inadmissibility” barriers you face​.1

      It is easy to file the wrong forms, incomplete forms, or put the wrong information in the forms, so you should work with a lawyer who can help you to file the correct documents. To find a lawyer, please go to the Finding a Lawyer page and select your state or our National Organizations - Immigration page.

      1 See USCIS website’s Green Card for Refugees