WomensLaw is not just for women. We serve and support all survivors, no matter their sex or gender.

Legal Information: Federal

Immigration

View all
Updated: 
September 21, 2021

Can I get a U visa based on domestic violence? Does it matter if the abuser is undocumented or if we are not married?

If you have been the victim of domestic violence, you may qualify for a U visa. You would need to show that the abuse you suffered was actually a crime as defined by the criminal laws of the United States. For example, refusing to give you access to money or calling you mean names might not be a crime, but calling you multiple times and threatening to harm you may be. Every state has different laws, and there are also local and federal laws, so you should talk to a lawyer to find out whether your experience meets the criminal legal definition of domestic violence or of any other crime that could help you qualify for a U visa. Even if the crime in your case does not meet the criminal legal definition of domestic violence, it may still meet the definition for another U visa crime, and you could still qualify.

In addition, unlike VAWA self-petitions, the immigration status of the abuser does not matter for U visa purposes. Also, it does not matter if you are married to the abuser or not.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 throughout this section.

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

1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)

If I have been the victim of domestic violence, should I apply for VAWA or for a U 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 U visa is immediately available; in other words, if the 10,000 cap of U visas 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.

Note: If your abusive partner forced you to perform sex work or labor in the U.S., you could qualify for both a U visa and a T visa, which helps victims of human trafficking. 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 VAWA, 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.

    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 a U visa for my spouse?

    You cannot apply for a U visa for the person who committed the U visa-qualifying crime against you. Even if s/he is your spouse or other relative, the person who committed the crime against you will not qualify for a U visa.1

    1 8 CFR § 214.14(a)(iii)

    If I receive public benefits for myself or for my child, can I still get a U visa?

    Receiving public benefits for yourself or on behalf of your children will not affect your U visa application.1 U visa applicants are not required to show that they can financially support themselves, so it does not matter if you or your family members receive public benefits. However, you should only apply for public benefits that you or your family members are actually eligible for. If you lie in order to get public benefits, it could affect your U visa application and you could be criminally charged.

    1 INA § 212(a)(4)(E)(ii)

    ¿Qué familiares pueden considerarse derivativos?

    Si a usted se le otorga estatus de visa U como solicitante principal (U-1), algunos de sus familiares también pueden solicitar estatus de visa U como derivativos/as.1 Un/a “solicitante principal” es la persona que solicita el remedio de inmigración, como el estatus de visa U. Un/a “derivativo/a” es otra persona (normalmente un familiar) que también puede recibir su estatus legal mediante el estatus de el/la solicitante principal.2 Como solicitante principal, usted puede llenar una solicitud en nombre de sus familiares derivativos/as cuando solicite estatus de visa U o más tarde.3

    Si usted tiene 21 años o más, entonces los siguientes familiares pueden solicitar estatus de visa U como derivativos:

    • Esposo/a (U-2); y/o
    • Hijos/as que no estén casados/as y que son menores de 21 años (U-3).1

    Si usted es menor de 21 años, entonces los siguientes familiares pueden solicitar estatus de visa U como derivativos/as:

    • Esposo/a (U-2);
    • Hijos/as que no estén casados/as y que sean menores de 21 años (U-3);
    • Padres (U-4); y/o
    • Hermanos/as que no estén casados/as y que sean menores de 18 años (U-5).1

    Nota: Las edades de el/la solicitante principal y de los familiares derivativos/as se determinan cuando usted (como solicitante principal) llena la solicitud de estatus de visa U.4

    Como solicitante principal, usted tendrá que demostrar que sus familiares cumplen uno de los requisitos de la relación familiar particular que se listaron anteriormente y que no son inadmisibles o que pueden solicitar una exención (excepción). Ellos/as no necesitan demostrar que cumplen con los otros requisitos de elegibilidad que los/as solicitantes principales necesitan demostrar.5

    Por favor, tenga en cuenta que si su familiar es la persona que cometió el crimen en su contra, entonces él/ella no será elegible para obtener estatus de visa U como derivativo/a.5

    1 INA § 101(a)(15)(U)(ii).
    2Glosario del sitio web de USCIS
    3 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(2)
    4 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(4)
    5 8 CFR § 214.14(f)(1)

    Cuando solicito estatus de residente permanente legal, ¿qué familiares pueden considerarse “familiares calificativos” para convertirse también en residentes permanentes legales?

    Si usted tiene estatus de visa U como solicitante principal y ha entregado una solicitud para convertirse en residente permanente legal (después de por lo menos 3 años de estatus de visa U), usted puede tener derecho a pedir que sus “familiares calificativos” también reciban residencia permanente legal.1 Entre los familiares calificativos se incluyen su esposo/a, hijo/a y padres (si usted es un/a menor de edad) que nunca fueron derivativos/as, y que cumplen con todos los requisitos enumerados a continuación:

    • Usted tiene el estatus de visa U como solicitante principal (U-1);
    • Se aprobó su solicitud para la residencia permanente legal, su solicitud aún está pendiente, o se solicita al mismo tiempo que la solicitud para su familiar calificativo/a;
    • Su familiar calificativo/a nunca recibió estatus de visa U como derivativo/a;
    • La relación con su familiar calificativo/a ya existía cuando usted recibió la residencia permanente legal y continua existiendo en el momento en que su familiar calificativo/a recibe residencia permanente legal; y
    • Usted o su familiar calificativo/a sufrirían una adversidad extrema (vea la información a continuación) si a su familiar calificativo/a no se le permite quedarse o entrar a los EEUU.2

    La adversidad extrema se evalúa de caso en caso, teniendo en cuenta los hechos y circunstancias particulares de cada caso. Algunos factores que se pueden considerar incluyen, pero no se limitan a:

    • El tipo y grado del maltrato físico o mental sufrido como resultado de ser víctima del crimen;
    • El efecto de perder acceso a los tribunales y al sistema judicial criminal de los EEUU;
    • La probabilidad de que la familia, amigos/as u otros/as, actuando en nombre del criminal en el país de origen de éste/a, pudieran hacerle daño a el/la solicitante o a sus hijos/as;
    • La necesidad de servicios sociales, médicos, de salud mental u otros servicios de ayuda para las víctimas del crimen que no estén disponibles o accesibles en el país de origen;
    • En casos de violencia doméstica, tanto si hay leyes y prácticas sociales en el país de origen que castigan a el/la solicitante o a sus hijos/as porque han sido víctimas de violencia doméstica o han tomado pasos para dejar un hogar maltratante;
    • La habilidad de el/la criminal para viajar al país de origen y la habilidad y voluntad de las autoridades de ese país para proteger a el/la solicitante o a sus hijos/as;
    • La edad de el/la solicitante, tanto al momento de entrar en los EEUU como cuando pide la residencia permanente legal; y
    • Las pruebas, incluyendo una declaración firmada de un familiar calificativo/a y otra documentación de apoyo explicando que la discreción tendría que ser ejercida a su favor.3

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