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Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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How can I get lawful permanent residency without my spouse's help?

There are many different ways you can try to get lawful permanent residency without a spouse’s help. VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, is a federal law that allows you to ask for lawful permanent residency all on your own. U-Visas are another way you can try to get lawful permanent residency. There is a long list of other possibilities that are complicated. They are listed below. See What are other legal options? In all cases, you should seek the help of an immigration lawyer. If you cannot afford to pay an attorney, you may qualify for free or low-cost legal aid. Contact the nearest legal services office or an immigration organization. Please, go to International/Immigration organizations under National Organizations, under Places that Help.

You may also email us and we’ll try to help find someone to help you. Please, write to our Email Hotline

What are the basic provisions of VAWA?

1. Self-petitioning through VAWA. You may be eligible to file an immigrant visa petition (self-petition) for lawful permanent residency for yourself and your children if the batterer is a US citizen or legal permanent resident (LPR) and you are either: 1) the battered spouse; 2) the child/step-child who was battered OR witnessed spousal abuse of your parent/ step-parent; or 3) you are a parent who is battered by your adult child.

“Self-petition” means you can ask for it by yourself, without your spouse’s help, but you do need a lawyer to help you.

Please read the more detailed information VAWA Laws and Procedures.

2. Cancellation of removal through VAWA. If you are married to an abusive US citizen or to a lawful permanent resident and have been in the US for at least three years, you can ask for your deportation to be suspended and for lawful permanent residency, without the help of the abuser.

This is called the “Special rule suspension of deportation and cancellation of removal” and it is also a provision of VAWA. This is available for abused spouses and children of US citizens and lawful permanent residents after three years’ presence in US. This is available to you only if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation proceedings.

If you are at risk of being deported, please talk to an immigration expert about this option.

3. Battered Spouse or Child Waiver. If you are married to an abusive US citizen or to an abusive lawful permanent resident, the condition on your 2 year conditional permanent legal status can be removed.

What are the basic provisions of the U-Visa?

Under a U-visa, you can obtain a visa if you have suffered physical or mental injury from a crime, and you have been, are, or will be helpful in the investigation or prosecution of that crime.

Officially, “U non-immigrant, humanitarian, material witness visas” include a provision so that you can get lawful permanent residency after 3 years. This is available even if you have never been married to your abuser, or if your abuser is not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident

Please read the more detailed information U Visa  Laws and Procedures.

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

It depends. If you are an abused spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident or US citizen, you are eligible to self-petition to gain lawful status under VAWA.

Victims of domestic violence who are not married to the abuser, or who have been abused by spouses who are not US citizens or lawful permanent residents, are not eligible to self-petition under VAWA, but may seek status under the U visa. You should discuss either of these options with an immigration lawyer BEFORE you apply to the USCIS. To find help, please go International/Immigration organizations under the Places that Help tab at the top of this page. 

What are other legal options?

1. Asylum  - Asylum is a form of protection that allows individuals who are in the United States to remain here and eventually to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident, provided that they meet the definition of a refugee and are not barred from either applying for or being granted asylum. For definition of a refugee please go to http://www.uscis.gov

2. Special immigrant juvenile LPR status (SIJS) for undocumented children found to be dependent on a juvenile court.

3. T nonimmigrant visas for victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons. The T-visa is for victims of severe forms of trafficking in persons who assist in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking and who would suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if they were deported. Trafficking victims who receive the T-Visa are given temporary resident status in the United States for up to 4 years (with the option to extend for year-by-year if law enforcement finds it necessary to assist in a criminal investigation or prosecution), and are eligible for employment authorization. After 3 years, they may also be eligible to receive permanent resident status. In some cases, CIS can reduce the year wait if it receives certification that law enforcement officials do not object.

To qualify for the T-Visa, you must:

Be a victim of a “severe form of trafficking in persons,” which is defined under the Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000 as:

(A) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in which the person induced to perform such act has not attained 18 years of age; or
(B) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. 1

Be willing to assist in any reasonable requests in the investigation or prosecution of trafficking acts. You may seek a waiver of this requirement to cooperate with law enforcement if you can show that your physical or psychological trauma prevents you from cooperating. 

If you are a minor under the age of 18, you do not have to assist in the investigation in order to apply for a T-Visa.2 

4. Battered Spouse and Child Waiver - For abused conditional permanent residents [based upon I-130 filed by spouse], INS § 216 waiver of requirement of joint petition to remove the condition. If you are married with an abusive US citizen or to an abusive lawful permanent resident, the condition on your 2 year conditional permanent legal status can be removed.

The options listed above are complicated, but they might be helpful for your situation. Also, there are other forms of immigration relief that you could possibly be eligible for. If you are interested in learning about your options, please talk to an immigration lawyer. You’ll see a list of organizations you can contact at the bottom of this page. You can also find help in your area on our Immigration page. You can also find help in your area on the Advocates and Shelters page for your state. You may also email us and we’ll try to help find someone to help you. Please, write to our Email Hotline. 

1 22 U.S.C.A. § 7102
2 Trafficking in Persons: A Guide for Non-governmental Organizations (Brochure). Available: https://www.nsvrc.org/publications/guides/trafficking-persons-guide-non-governmental-organizations