Legal Information: Federal

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 can be extremely complicated. Here we provide some basic information about immigration benefits available to victims of domestic violence. WomensLaw.org strongly recommends that you consult with an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA before applying for any type of immigration status to see if you qualify for these or other forms of immigration relief. 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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)

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Can men qualify for VAWA?

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)

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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)

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

Yes. 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).

1Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 U.S. ___ (2015)

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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.2  Note: 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)

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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)
3USCIS 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)

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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):

  • 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
  • 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.4  Note: 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
  • You have lived with the abuser at some point;6
  • 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.

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)

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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)

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

Possibly, yes. 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), 204(a)(1)(B)(iv)

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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

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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
4USCIS website – Glossary
5 INA § 212

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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. Here 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.2  Note: 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.

NoteHere 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 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

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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?

NoteHere 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

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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)

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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)

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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  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.3

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 INA §§ 101(a)(15)(U)(i)(II) & (III)

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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

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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  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.2  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.3  

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.4  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.5  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 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(1); see also USCIS website
3 See 8 C.F.R. § 214.14(d)(2)
4 Time approximation on waitlist is accurate as of 01/2018 as per ASISTA
5 INA § 214(p)(3)(B)

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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

NoteHere 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)
2 8 CFR § 214.14(b)(4)
3 INA § 212(d)(14)

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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.

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Can I apply for U visa status from another country?

Yes.  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)

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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.)

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

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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.

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)
5USCIS website – Glossary

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I am under 16 year 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.

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

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

Possibly, yes.  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

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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.

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

Yes. 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 ICE and CIS have set up a special system for expediting (speeding up) these cases if you are detained or likely to be removed swiftly. 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),(ii)

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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 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.1

1 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(2)

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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

NoteHere 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)

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

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 3 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

1 INA § 245(m)
2 INA § 245(m)(1),(2); 8 CFR § 245.24(b),(c)

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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)

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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.

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

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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)

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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)

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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

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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.3  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.2

1USCIS website – Glossary; see generally Cable, DOS, 10-State-017736 (Feb. 2010)
2 8 CFR § 245.24(j)
3 See generally USCIS website – Glossary

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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?"

NoteHere 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)

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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)

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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 you are 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)

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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 a T-visa and what does it do?

A T-visa gives temporary nonimmigrant status to victims of  "severe forms of human trafficking" on the condition that they help law enforcement officials investigate and prosecute crimes related to human trafficking.1  However, if the victim is under 18 years of age, the law does not require cooperation with police to obtain a T-visa.2

T-visas allow victims of severe forms of trafficking to stay in the United States for four years from the date the T-visa application is approved.  However, sometimes it can be longer than four years if a law enforcement authority certifies (officially states) that having the victim remain in the country for longer is necessary for investigating or prosecuting the crime.3

If a T-visa is granted, an employment authorization document (EAD) is also granted automatically, which means that the victim can legally work during his/her stay in the United States.  There is no need to apply for separate employment authorization.4  T-visa status may also be available for immediate family members of a T-visa applicant.  Immediate family members include spouses, children, and parents of applicants under 18.5

Note: T-visa status is also called “T-1 nonimmigrant status."

1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)
2 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(III)(cc)
3 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(p)(1)
4 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(l)(4)
5 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)

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What is human trafficking?

Human trafficking is the process by which one person (the “trafficker”) recruits another person (“the victim”) for the purposes of exploiting that person.  The victim is generally controlled and held captive by the trafficker against his/her will.  Traffickers use or threaten to use force, coercion, abduction, fraud, or deception to bring their victims under their control.  Traffickers also take advantage of the vulnerable social or economic status of their victims to keep power over them.

Trafficking is basically a modern-day form of slavery.  Generally, human trafficking victims are subjected to sexual exploitation, known as sex trafficking, or forced labor known as labor trafficking.1  Sexual exploitation could include acts such as forced pornography, mail-order bride selling, or prostitution.  Forced labor generally comes in two forms:

  • Bonded labor (also known as debt bondage): This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced to work indefinitely (without any reasonable limits on services or time) to pay off the person who smuggled her into the United States.  Generally, the victim has no way to know when his/her debt is going to be paid off or how much his/her debt has been reduced by the work s/he has already performed.2  The value of his/her work generally ends up being greater than the original amount of money "borrowed."3
  • Involuntary servitude/slavery: This is when victims are forced to work against their will, under the threat of violence or some other form of punishment.  Traffickers could threaten to physically harm to the victim or the victim’s family and loved ones, but may also threaten to report the victim to the police (for his/her immigration status, prostitution, etc.) if s/he does not continue to work for the trafficker.  The threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.”2  Forms of forced labor can include domestic servitude (i.e., being a housekeeper); agricultural labor; sweatshop factory labor; janitorial, food service and other service industry labor; and begging.3

1 This information was adapted from the Coalition to Abolish Slavery and Trafficking
2 22 USC § 7102(8)
3 National Human Trafficking Resource Center Fact Sheet

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Who is eligible for a T-visa

Am I eligible for a T-visa?

You may be eligible for a T-visa if you:

  • Are a victim of severe human trafficking;
  • Would face extreme hardship if forced to leave the United States; and
  • Are willing to assist law enforcement prosecute the people responsible.1

To obtain a T-visa, you must prove on your application that you meet all of the following four requirements:

(1) You are or have been the victim of a severe form of human trafficking;
(2) You are in the United States, American Samoa, or at a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking;
(3) You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave; and
(4) You satisfy one of the following three conditions:
  • You have cooperated and are willing to cooperate with reasonable requests for assistance by federal, state, or local law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking; or
  • You are excused by the attorney general from failing to cooperate with reasonable requests for assistance by federal, state, or local law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting crimes related to human trafficking because of physical or psychological trauma; or
  • You are under 18 years of age.1

Note: These above requirements are defined and explained in more detail in the next section, Explanation of eligibility requirements.

1 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(i)(I)-(IV)

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

Not necessarily.  There is a limit on the number of T-visas available nationally (5,000), which means that even if you satisfy all of the requirements, you could still be denied a T-visa.  If you are otherwise qualified to receive a T-visa, but are denied one because of the limit, then you will be placed on a waiting list.1  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(m)

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Explanation of eligibility requirements

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

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

Requirement 1: You are or have been the victim of a severe form of trafficking.  What does “a severe form of human trafficking” mean?

Human trafficking has been described by the US Citizen and Immigration Services as a “form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers lure individuals with false promises of employment and a better life.”1

According to the law, a "severe form of human trafficking" has to fall into one of the following three categories:

  • Sex trafficking - This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced, tricked, or coerced into selling sex acts for money or anything of value -- in other words, forced or coerced prostitution. (Note: If the victim is under 18 years of age, the law automatically assumes that the victim was forced, tricked, or coerced.)
  • Trafficking that leads to debt bondage / peonage – This is when the victim (trafficked person) is forced to work indefinitely (without any reasonable limits on services or time) to pay off the person who smuggled him/her into the United States.  Generally, the victim has no way to know when his/her debt is going to be paid off or how much his/her debt has been reduced by the work s/he has already performed.
  • Trafficking that leads to involuntary servitude / slavery / forced labor – This is when the trafficker uses threats or physical force to make the victim (trafficked person) work.  Traffickers could threaten to physically harm the victim or the victim’s family and loved ones, but may also threaten to report the victim to the police (for his/her immigration status, prostitution, etc.) if s/he does not continue to work for the trafficker.  The threats to report the victim to the police are known as “abuse of the legal process.”2

For more information on how “severe trafficking in persons” is defined by the government, visit the United States Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.

1U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website
2 22 USC § 7102(8) 

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Requirement 2: You are in the United States, American Samoa, or a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list 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.

Requirement 2: You are in the United States, American Samoa, or a port-of-entry to the United States or American Samoa because of human trafficking (known as being "present because of human trafficking").

To be eligible for a T-visa, you must be in the United States (or American Samoa or a port-of-entry into the United States) as a result of a severe form of trafficking.  In other words, if you came to the U.S. because of force, coercion, or fraud and you are now being forced to work (in a prison-like workshop or as an agricultural laborer, for example) or perform sex acts for money (i.e., prostitution), you may satisfy this requirement.  However, if you came to the U.S. on your own and then sometime later you were forced / tricked into labor or prostitution, you may not meet this eligibility requirement.  Please talk to an immigration lawyer about your specific situation to be sure.  You can find free and paid lawyers on our Finding a Lawyer page.

Note: You may still be considered “present because of human trafficking” even though you are no longer working under force, coercion, or trickery if you recently escaped or were released from a severe form of trafficking.  If you escaped from severe trafficking a long time ago, you may meet this requirement only if you remained in the United States because of the initial severe form of trafficking (if, for example, you were frightened to leave the U.S. due to threats from the traffickers).  However, if it was a very long time ago that you escaped from the person forcing you to work or engage in prostitution, and you have had the opportunity to leave the United States since then, you will NOT be considered present because of human trafficking.1  An immigration lawyer can likely help you figure out if you meet this requirement if you are unsure whether or not your escape / release would be considered "recent."  See our Finding a Lawyer page for free and paid legal services.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(g)

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Requirement 3: You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list 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.

Requirement 3: You would suffer extreme hardship if removed or forced to leave.  What is considered to be “extreme hardship?”

T-visas are only available to trafficked persons who would face “extreme hardship” (unusual and extreme harm) if forced to return to their native countries.  To show extreme hardship, you must show more than economic harm (i.e., not having enough money to survive) or social harm (i.e., being considered not suitable for marriage or employment).  Just proving one of these will not be enough.  Generally, you will need to show a “likelihood” of serious physical or psychological harm.  Note: “Likelihood” means more than a possibility; it means that serious physical or psychological harm is probable.1

Factors considered in determining whether you will suffer extreme hardship if forced to leave the United States include:

  • Your age and your particular situation;
  • Medical needs (for serious physical or psychological illness);
  • Whether the government in your native country will prosecute the crimes committed against you;
  • Whether the government in your native country provides protection from human trafficking and the likelihood that you will be victimized again;
  • Whether you would be severely punished when you return to your country (by the government, traffickers, or because of social practices) for having been trafficked; and
  • Whether your country is dangerous because of war or civil violence.1

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(i)

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Requirement 4: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.

In the above question called Am I eligible for a T-visa?, we list 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.

Requirement 4: You have cooperated with or are excused from cooperating with reasonable requests from legal authorities.  What does "cooperating with legal authorities" mean?

If you are over 18 years old, you must cooperate with law enforcement authorities’ “reasonable requests” for assistance in prosecuting the trafficking crime.  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.1

If you are under 18, you do NOT have to cooperate with authorities (although you can if you want to).

Note
: If a survivor of human trafficking has suffered psychological or physical trauma, and is unable to cooperate with law enforcement because of that trauma, s/he may qualify for the “trauma exception” and no longer be required to cooperate.2

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(a)
2 8 U.S.C. § 1101(a)(15)(T)(iii)(bb)

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Applying for a T-visa

When I apply for a T-visa, can my immediate family members be included on my application?

Yes. T-visa status is available for certain qualifying family members of a T-visa applicant – it’s called derivative T-visa status. The following family members could qualify:

If you are under 21 years old, you can apply for T-visa status for your:

  • Spouse;
  • Unmarried children under 21 years of age;
  • Parents; and/or
  • Unmarried sisters or brothers under the age of 18.

If you are over 21 years old, you can apply for your:

  • Spouse; and/or
  • Unmarried children under the age of 21.

To apply for T-visa status for a family member, you must fill out and submit an “application for immediate family member of T-visa recipient,” known as a Form I-914 Supplement A. A “T-visa recipient” means someone who has been granted a T-visa but you don’t have to wait until you get the T-visa to apply for your family members. You may file the I-914, Supplement A at the same time that you file your application for a T-visa, or you can file it at a later time.

Employment authorization is not automatic for derivative T-visa status. If you need employment authorization for your immediate family members, you will need to complete a Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization in addition to Form I-914 Supplement A.

Note: When a spouse obtains derivative T-visa status, it is sometimes called T-2 status. When a child receives derivative T-visa status, it is sometimes called T-3 status. When a parent receives T-visa status, it is sometimes called T-4 status.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)

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How much does it cost to apply for a T-visa?

Here is a list of the possible forms that may need to be filed and the costs (if any) of each:

  • There is no application fee for Form I-914 or Form I-914 Supplements A or B.
  • There is no biometric (fingerprint) fee .
  • There is a $380 fee for Form I-765, Employment Authorization Document (EAD) for each family member for whom you are seeking derivative T-visa status. This fee may be waived upon a showing of financial hardship.
  • There is a $585 fee for Form I-192 (to waive grounds of inadmissibility). The fee may be waived upon a showing of financial hardship.1

Note: These costs are accurate as of May 2013.

1USCIS website - Forms

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Do I need a lawyer to apply for a T-visa?

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.  Because applicants who are unlawfully present in the United States are subject to removal (deportation) if their applications are denied, we strongly encourage you to contact an immigration attorney before filing an application.  To find an immigration attorney, see our International/Immigration listings under National Organizations and / or our Finding a Lawyer page for a lawyer near you.

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After you have a T-visa

I have a T-visa. Can I work legally in the US?

Yes, if you are granted a T-visa, you are automatically granted an employment authorization document (EAD). 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.

Note: If you are applying for derivative T-visa status (T-visa status for your immediate family members), you must apply for employment authorization for them separately by filling out Form I-765.

1 8 C.F.R. § 214.11(o)(10)

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

A T-visa lasts for four years.  You are required to leave the United States at the end of the four years unless either:

  • A law enforcement authority certifies that an extended stay is necessary for an ongoing investigation; or
  • Between the third and fourth year, you have applied to become a legal permanent resident and are granted permanent resident status.  Note: You can apply after you have lived in the US for three years with T-visa status but before the end of the fourth year that the T-visa is in effect.1  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(p)

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As a victim of human trafficking, am I entitled to federal benefits?

Yes.   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) in order to be eligible for certain federally-funded benefits.

“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 presence1 status from the Department of Homeland Security.

Child victims are automatically eligible for benefits once the HHS receives proof that the child is a victim of human trafficking (so 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.2

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 “Continued Presence” status is requested by law enforcement officials for victims of human trafficking who are potential witnesses for trafficking-related prosecution.  Only a law enforcement agency can petition the USCIS for continued presence status.
2 Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Victim Assistance Fact Sheet

 

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

As someone who has been granted T-visa status (also known as a T-1 nonimmigrant), you may apply for permanent residence if you:

  • Have been in the United States for:
    • a continuous period of at least three years after T-visa status is granted; OR
    • a continuous period during the investigation / prosecution of trafficking and once the investigation / prosecution is complete (whichever amount of time is shorter);
  • Have been a person of good moral character1 since first being granted T-visa status;
  • Have complied with reasonable requests for assistance in the investigation / prosecution of acts of trafficking since first being granted T-visa status OR you would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if you were removed from the United States; and
  • Are otherwise admissible to the United States as a lawful permanent resident (in other words, you are not inadmissible for any reason listed under INA Sec. 212).2 

To apply for permanent residence you must complete and submit an “application to register permanent residence or adjust status,” known as Form I-485, available at the USCIS website here.  As a T-visa holder, you will also need to complete Supplement E to Form I-485.  For instructions on completing Supplement E (also available through the USCIS website), click here.

Note: When a T-visa holder applies for permanent residence, it may also be called applying for adjustment of status.

1 "Good moral character" (as mentioned above) is defined under Section 101(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, available by clicking here.  If you have committed any of the acts listed in section 101(f), you might NOT qualify as a person of good moral character. The list includes but it not limited to the following: criminal possession of narcotics (except simple possession of 30 grams or less of marijuana), habitual drunkenness, repeated gambling offenses, a conviction of an aggravated felony, imprisonment for a total of 180 days or more, and lying under oath (giving false testimony) to get benefits available through the Immigration and Nationality Act.  Note: The USCIS may make a negative finding based on criteria not listed in Section 101(f) (in other words, the list is “non-exhaustive”).
2 8 C.F.R. § 245.23

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What specific federally-funded benefits are available to me?

Once you have obtained certification (or a letter of eligibility if you are under 18), you may receive benefits from any federal program or federally-funded state program.  We have listed possible benefits you may be eligible for 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).  You can find additional information in HHS's Resource Guide.

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.  The program is implemented by state agencies.  Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) should apply through their local social services agency. 

Food Stamp Program – Food stamps can be used like cash to pay for food at most grocery stores.  Certified victims of human trafficking (and victims under 18 years old who have obtained letters of eligibility) can apply through their local Social Security offices.  To find your closest Social Security office, click here.

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. Certified victims of human trafficking can apply through their local Social Security offices.  To find your closest Social Security office, click here.

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 8 months following certification or eligibility. 

Matching Grant Program – The Matching Grant Program is administered by Volunteer Agencies (called VOLAGs) 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.  To find survivor resources, click here.

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 the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. 

Medicaid – Medicaid is a government-funded health insurance program for people with low income and limited resources.  Because the program is administered by state agencies, you will need to contact your state’s local social services agency for more information. 

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.  To learn more about Job Corps, go here.

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:

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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. Click here to view the USCIS T-visa page.

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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 OVC also provides a brochure about human trafficking available in English, Chinese (Traditional), Korean, Spanish, Thai, and Vietnamese.
  • 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 providing assistance to 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.
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Asylum

If you are an immigrant in the U.S. 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? Who can be eligible for asylum status?

Asylum is an immigration status that may be granted to someone who is already here in the U.S. and is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution (mistreatment/abuse) or a well-founded fear of persecution based on one or more of the following:

  1. race;
  2. religion;
  3. nationality;
  4. membership in a particular social group; or
  5. political opinion.1

An individual seeking asylum comes to the U.S. on his/her own; either by using a nonimmigrant visa or by entering the U.S. without inspection (when a person enters the country illegally). Unlike a refugee, a person seeking asylum does not receive any assistance from the U.S. government before arriving in the U.S.

Note: Foreign victims of sexual abuse may qualify for asylum status if their abuse was related to any of the five protected grounds listed above. However, for victims of domestic violence committed by an intimate partner, it may not be possible to get asylum based on the abuse. In 2018, the federal government overturned critical protections for domestic violence survivors seeking asylum and restricted the ability of domestic violence survivors fleeing abuse to get asylum. These restrictions prevent judges from making case-by-case decisions on the merits of an individual victim’s claim. We recommend contacting a knowledgeable immigration attorney who has experience working on asylum before applying for any claim.

An undocumented person can apply for asylum2 but if the application is denied, it could ultimately result in his/her deportation. It is important to speak to a lawyer who has experience in this area of law. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our International / Immigration page.

1 INA § 101(a)(42), 8 CFR § 208.13
2 See USCIS website

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What types of asylum petitions are there? How long after arriving in the U.S. do I have to apply?

Asylum can be applied for in two different scenarios, known as the affirmative process and the defensive process.

To obtain asylum through the affirmative asylum process, you must be physically present in the United States.  You may apply for asylum status regardless of how you arrived in the United States or your current immigration status.

The other way to seek asylum is through what is called the defensive process.  A person can file a defensive application for asylum as a defense against removal from the U.S.  For asylum processing to be defensive, you must be in removal proceedings in immigration court with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).  People are generally placed into defensive asylum processing in one of two ways:

  • They are referred to an immigration judge by USCIS after they have been determined to be ineligible for asylum at the end of the affirmative asylum process; or
  • They are placed in removal proceedings because they:
    • Were apprehended (or caught) in the United States or at a U.S. port of entry without proper legal documents or in violation of their immigration status; or
    • Were caught by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) trying to enter the United States without proper documentation, were placed in the expedited removal process, and were found to have a credible fear of persecution or torture by an asylum officer.

For affirmative or defensive asylum petitions, you must apply for asylum within one year of the date of your last arrival in the United States, unless you can show:

  • Changed circumstances that materially affect your eligibility for asylum or extraordinary circumstances relating to the delay in filing; and
  • You filed within a reasonable amount of time given those circumstances.1

Immigration laws are complicated. It is important to speak to a lawyer who has experience in this area of law. To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our International / Immigration page.

1 8 CFR § 208.4(a)(2); USCIS website  

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

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

It depends. If you are applying for asylum without being in removal proceedings (under the affirmative asylum process), you will have to bring your own interpreter to the asylum interview. The government will not provide one for you. If you have a lawyer or advocate helping you apply, this is something s/he can hopefully help to arrange.

If you are requesting asylum as a defense to removal proceedings (under the defensive asylum process), the government will provide an interpreter for you at the asylum hearing and in all court proceedings.1

1 See USCIS website

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The asylum process

What is the fee to apply for asylum?

How long does the asylum process take?

Usually, a decision should be made on your asylum application within 180 days after the date you filed your application.1

1 8 U.S.C. § 1158(d)(5)(A)(iii)

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Benefits of getting asylum

What are the benefits of asylum status?

If the asylum application is approved, you will be:

  • Granted legal status in the U.S.;
  • Granted work authorization (an Employment Authorization Document (EAD));1 and
  • After one year of being granted the asylum, eligible to apply for legal permanent residency (green card).2Note: 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 or 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.

1 8 U.S.C. § 1158(c)(1)(B)
2 8 CFR 209.2(a)
3USCIS website

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Can family members benefit from the asylee (asylum status holder)?

Yes.  If you have already been granted asylum, you may apply for derivative asylum status for your spouse and/or unmarried minor children under age 21 (defined in the next paragraph.)1  This means that your spouse and/or or children may be granted asylum status based on your own asylum status.

Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 182 and an adopted child (if the adoption meets certain requirements). 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 those can be considered legal marriages in your home country (i.e., gay marriages, polygamous marriages, etc.).

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 International / Immigration resources page.

1 8 CFR § 208.21(a)
2 See 8 CFR § 208.21(b); INA § 101(b)(1)(B)
3 8 CFR § 208.21(c) & (d)

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Can I become a lawful permanent resident if I hold an asylum status? What are the requirements?

Yes.  If you hold an asylum status, you may apply for your lawful permanent residency one year after being granted asylum if you:

  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after being granted asylum;
  • Continue to meet the definition of an asylee (or continue to be the spouse or child of such an asylee);
  • Have not abandoned your asylee status;
  • Are not firmly resettled in any foreign country; and
  • Continue to be admissible to the United States, although a waiver may be available to you if you are deemed to be inadmissible.1

In order to file for adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident, there are many forms that you need to file.  As in any other immigration proceeding, it is always recommended to speak with a lawyer who can help you to file the correct documents.  To find a list of legal resources in your area, please see Finding a Lawyer and select your state or see our International / Immigration page.

1 See 8 CFR § 209.2; see also USCIS website “Green Card for an Asylee”

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Refugee Status

If you are a non-U.S. citizen living outside of the U.S. and you are afraid to return to your home country due to a fear of persecution (mistreatment/abuse), you might be eligible for refugee status, which would allow you to come to the U.S. legally.

Basic information

Who is eligible for refugee status? Where is refugee status granted?

Refugee status may be granted to someone who:

  • is outside of his/her country of nationality (and outside of the U.S.);
  • is of special humanitarian concern to the United States;
  • is not firmly resettled in another country; and
  • is unable or unwilling to return to, or to get protection from, his/her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on one or more of the following:
    • race,
    • religion,
    • nationality,
    • membership in a particular social group, or
    • political opinion.1

The refugee status is granted in an American consulate or Embassy outside of the U.S. The refugee enters the U.S. with a “Refugee status” in his/her I-94 card (Arrival/Departure Record).

1 INA §101(a)(42)(A); see USCIS website

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When should I apply for refugee status?

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

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How do I apply for refugee status?

You must receive a referral to the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program (USRAP) for consideration as a refugee. For more information on the referral criteria, see the USRAP Consultations and Worldwide Processing Priorities on the USCIS website. If you receive a referral, you will receive help filling out your application and then be interviewed abroad by a USCIS officer who will determine whether or not you are eligible for refugee resettlement in the U.S.1

You can also read more information on the U.S. State Department website - U.S. Refugee Admissions Program FAQs.

1 See the USCIS website

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Benefits of getting refugee status

What are the benefits of having refugee status?

If the application is approved, the refugee will be able to travel to the U.S. and enter the country with a valid visa.  Also, the refugee will have the following benefits - s/he will be:

  • Immediately able to work in the US, based on his/her Form I-94, which contains a refugee admission stamp.  Also, s/he will later be granted work authorization through an Employment Authorization Document (EAD);1
  • Eligible for adjustment of status (applying for legal permanent residency/green card) after one year of being granted the refugee status. (Note: In fact, the law says that refugees are required to submit an application for permanent residence one year after entry2 - please talk to a lawyer for more information on this); and
  • Able to sponsor her/his spouse and unmarried minor children within the first two years of being granted refugee status.3Note: Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include an adopted child (if the adoption meets the requirements in INA § 101(b)(1)(E)) and a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18.4

1 See USCIS website
2 8 CFR § 209.1(a),(b); see USCIS website
3 See USCIS website
4 INA § 101(b)(1)

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Can my family members benefit from my refugee status?

Yes.  If you have already been granted refugee status, you may apply for derivative refugee benefits for your spouse or unmarried minor children if they are accompanying you or plan to join you.  This means that your spouse and/or children may be granted refugee status based on your own refugee status.

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 those can be considered legal marriages in your home country (i.e., gay marriages, polygamous marriages, etc.)    Unmarried minor children (under the age of 21) could include an adopted child (if the adoption meets the requirements in INA § 101(b)(1)(E)) and a step-child who became your step-child before s/he turned 18.1

You can sponsor your spouse and unmarried minor children within the first two years of being granted refugee status.2  You may sponsor your family members whether they are in the U.S or overseas but the request may only be filed by the principal refugee.3 

For more information and requirements about bringing over family members of refugees, please see the USCIS website's page, Family of Refugees & Asylees.

1 INA § 101(b)(1)
2 See USCIS website
3 8 CFR § 207.7(d)

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Can I become a lawful permanent resident if I hold refugee status? What are the requirements?

Yes.  If you were admitted as a refugee, you are required by law to apply for a green card (permanent residence) in the United States one year after being admitted as a refugee if you:

  • Have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after being granted refugee status;
  • Have not had your refugee admission terminated; and
  • Have not already acquired permanent resident (green card) status.1

In order to file for adjustment of status to become a legal permanent resident, there are many forms that you need to file.  Go to the USCIS website here and scroll down to the section called “Supporting Evidence For Form I-485” to read the long list of documents that must be filed.  As in any other immigration proceeding, it is always recommended to speak 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 - International/ Immigration page.

1See USCIS website's “Green Card for a Refugee”

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