Intimate partner and domestic violence can make a frightening immigration situation more perilous. There are some steps you can take to get yourself and your family out of these situations and into a safe space.
Under U.S. immigration law, a U.S. citizen (USC) or lawful permanent resident (LPR) generally controls the immigration process (green card application) for his/her spouse and children. However, Congress passed legislation known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to prevent abusive spouses from using their control over the immigration process to further intimidate survivors of domestic/ intimate partner violence. This law allows survivors and their children to self-petition for their green cards with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) without the consent or participation of their spouse. USCIS must keep the entire self-petition process confidential from the abusive spouse.
A person may be eligible for a self-petition if s/he meets the following requirements:
If your spouse is refusing to help you remove the conditions on your green card, you can apply to remove them on your own without your spouse’s cooperation. This type of petition is known as a battered spouse waiver and can be filed at any time before or, in many circumstances, even after the two- year conditional resident period. You must show that your marriage was in good faith and that you were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty during the marriage.
Yes. You may be eligible for U nonimmigrant status. This status allows certain victims of qualifying crimes to obtain work authorization and stay in the United States if they cooperate with local law enforcement (such as the New York City Police Department, the Administration for Children’s Services, the New York Family Court or the District Attorney’s Office) in the investigation or prosecution of the abuser. The law enforcement agency must complete a certification regarding the survivor’s helpfulness in the case. Examples of qualifying crimes include: domestic violence, rape, felonious assault, and trafficking.
To obtain U nonimmigrant status, the survivor must demonstrate that they:
Survivors who obtain U nonimmigrant status are granted work permits and can generally apply for green cards after three years in U nonimmigrant status.
If you are in deportation proceedings, you may be eligible for a form of immigration relief known as VAWA Cancellation of Removal. To qualify, you must show that:
You can still apply even if you are divorced from your spouse for more than two years. An immigrant who successfully obtains cancellation of removal is granted a green card.
You may be eligible for asylum if you can show that you are unable to return to your home country because of past persecution or a “well-founded fear of persecution” as a survivor of domestic violence. You must request asylum within one year of your entry to the U.S. unless you can show a change in circumstances which gives rise to your fear of future persecution.
Call our Immigration Law Unit Helpline at 844-955-3425, Monday- Friday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. for assistance with cases other than deportation defense, such as:
The information in this document has been prepared by The Legal Aid Society for informational purposes only and is not legal advice. This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship. You should not act upon any information without retaining professional legal counsel.
Last Updated: 1 December 2020
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