Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

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Updated: 
September 21, 2021

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

Some victims of domestic violence are not eligible to apply for a VAWA self-petition because they are not married to the abuser. Other victims are not eligible for VAWA because the abuser is undocumented. For people in either of these situations, the U visa may be their only immigration option based on the domestic violence.

However, if the abuser is your spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident, you may qualify for both a U visa and a VAWA self-petition. This could also be true if the abuser is your U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years old. Some people might choose to file an application for both but most people would usually file for one or the other.

If you qualify for both, here are some reasons why you might choose to file a VAWA self-petition instead of a U visa:

  • VAWA self-petition applications are decided faster than U visa applications, although it still takes years to get a decision on either one.
  • Many VAWA self-petitioners can file an application for lawful permanent residence at the same time that they file the VAWA self-petition. Having a pending application for lawful permanent residence means that you can also get a work permit, even before your VAWA self-petition is decided.
  • U visas require that you report the crime to the authorities and get law enforcement to confirm your helpfulness in a written certification. VAWA does not require either of those things.
  • To qualify for a U visa, the crime committed against you must fall under a list of specific crimes, most of which involve physical or sexual violence. For VAWA, you must prove “battery or extreme cruelty,” which gives you more flexibility and could even take into account emotional and psychological abuse.
  • If the abuser is a U.S. citizen, VAWA self-petitioners can become lawful permanent residents immediately after the self-petition is approved. They do not have to wait three years as they do with a U visa. The same is true if the abuser is a lawful permanent resident and a green card is immediately available; in other words, if the annual quota of family-based green cards given out per year has not been met yet.

There may also be some reasons why you might choose to file a U visa instead of a VAWA self-petition:

  • Depending on which grounds of inadmissibility apply in your case, it may be easier to get a waiver with a U visa than with a VAWA self-petition. Almost all grounds of inadmissibility can be waived with a U visa, but the VAWA waivers of inadmissibility are less generous.
  • U visa applicants may be able to include more family members than a VAWA self-petition. If you file a VAWA self-petition based on abuse by your adult U.S. citizen son or daughter, you cannot include any family members at all. Spousal and child VAWA self-petitioners can include their unmarried children under 21 as derivatives, but they cannot include a spouse as is allowed in a U visa application. In addition, a U visa petitioner who is under 21 can include his/her parents and unmarried siblings under 18.

If your abusive partner forced you to perform sex work or labor in the U.S., you could qualify for both a T visa, which helps victims of human trafficking, and a U visa. You don’t have to be part of a major sex or labor trafficking ring to be a human trafficking victim. If you qualify for both, here are some reasons why you might choose to file for a T visa instead of a U visa:

  • It takes much less time to receive a T visa than a U visa. Since many less people apply for them, there are not long waiting lists within the government to grant them.
  • With a U visa, the law enforcement certification is required. With a T visa, the law enforcement agency endorsement can be helpful but is not required.
  • Trafficking victims with approved T visas are eligible for the same public benefits as refugees. These benefits are typically more generous than what U visa holders can receive. In addition, the federal government has a special assistance program for trafficking victims called the Trafficking Victims Assistance Program (TVAP), which can provide financial and case management support for victims of trafficking even before you file a T visa application.
  • If you are afraid that the trafficker could try to hurt your family members abroad because of your escape or cooperation with law enforcement, a T visa can better protect your family. The T visa allows you to include all of the same family members as you could with a U visa, plus your parents and unmarried siblings under 18, as well as any adult or minor children of your derivatives, such as grandchildren, no matter how old you are.

Before you file any papers with USCIS, you should discuss your options with an immigration lawyer with experience in U visas and T visas to determine what would be the best option in your case. To find help, please go the National Organizations - Immigration page or our Finding a Lawyer page. If your lawyer needs assistance, s/he can call ASISTA for help.

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