The Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA, provides many protections for immigrant women and men. VAWA was originally signed into law in 1994 and included provisions to allow noncitizen victims of domestic violence to obtain immigration relief separate from their abusive spouse or sponsor through “self-petitioning.” In 2000 the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act was passed, and it created additional new forms of relief for noncitizen victims of violent crime as well as victims of sexual assault or human trafficking. There was an additional expansion of these protections in 2005 with the Violence Against Women Act of 2005 was passed. This bill included some protections for victims of elder abuse as well.
The Violence Against Women Act allows victims of domestic violence, child abuse and even elder abuse who are not citizens of the United States to ‘self-petition’ for legal permanent residency without the cooperation of the abuser. You may also self-petition if you are divorced as long as your marriage to the abusive spouse was terminated within two years of filing the petition and there is a direct connection between the divorce and the abuse.
If your VAWA self-petition is approved you will receive work authorization, deferred action and an approved noncitizen petition which will allow you to apply for legal permanent residency. If you have not yet filed a self-petition but think you are eligible our Experienced Immigration Attorneys can help. You do not have to suffer out of fear your immigration status may be in jeopardy. There are several criteria to be eligible to self-petition and our attorneys can help you navigate those.
Self-petitions are available to:
- Spouses and former spouses of abusive U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Divorced spouses may self-petition if the termination of the marriage was related to the abuse and if the application is filed within two years of the termination of the marriage.
- Children of abusive citizens or lawful permanent residents who file before turning 25.
- A noncitizen parent of an abused noncitizen child, even if the noncitizen parent is not herself abused.
- Non-citizen spouses whose children are abused by the child’s other U.S.-citizen or LPR parent.
In addition to proving abuse, you must also prove:
- Good faith marriage if the abuser is a spouse or stepparent.
- Your relationship to the abuser.
- The immigration status of the citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or child.
- You have good moral character.
- That you lived with the abusive family member.
- Parent-child relationship if the applicant is a non-abusive noncitizen parent whose U.S.-citizen or LPR spouse perpetrated the abuse.
VAWA Cancellation of Removal
If you have already been placed into removal proceedings, you may still be able to stay in the United States under VAWA. You may be able to seek VAWA Cancellation of Removal relief which may result in legal permanent status and ultimately a green card. To qualify for VAWA cancellation of removal relief you must prove:
- You have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a U.S.-citizen or legal permanent residence spouse or parent.
- You have been in the United States for 3 years.
- You have good moral character.
- That removal would cause you extreme hardship.
- That certain inadmissibility grounds do not apply or that you qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility.
When the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act was passed in 2000 it created the U Visa to protect noncitizen victims of crime who help in the investigation or prosecution of a criminal offense. If you have a U Visa, you can live and work in the U.S. and it may help you get any immigration case filed against you dismissed. Your U Visa is valid for up to four years, but that may be extended if the law enforcement agency that certifies your application agrees that you need to have it extended. After three years of continuous presence in the United States, you are eligible to apply for legal permanent resident status if you meet certain requirements; have not refused to aid in the criminal investigation or prosecution; and can prove that remaining in the country is connected to humanitarian need, will promote family unity, or is in the public interest. There is no numerical limit on the number of U-visa holders who may adjust to legal permanent resident status per year.
There are only up to 10,000 U Visas available each year for principal applicants and there are certain qualifications you must meet to be eligible for a U Visa. Those qualifications are:
- You must have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” as a result of being the victim of certain criminal activity. The criminal activities include rape, torture, trafficking, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, abusive sexual contact, prostitution, sexual exploitation, 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 these crimes. The criminal activity must have violated the laws of the United States or occurred in the United States or one of its territories or possessions.
- You must possess information concerning the criminal activity.
- You must be helpful, have been helpful, or likely to be helpful to a federal, state, or local investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. For minors under 16 years of age, a parent, guardian, or “next friend” who has information about the criminal activity may be the one to cooperate with law enforcement.
- You must obtain a certification from a law-enforcement official, prosecutor, judge, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), or other federal or state authorities investigating or prosecuting the criminal activity.
- You must be admissible under immigration law or must qualify for a waiver of inadmissibility.
If you believe you are eligible for a U Visa, you need to speak with our qualified immigration attorneys right away.
If you have already received a U Visa, or are in the process of getting one, you are eligible to receive a work permit. Please contact us today to discuss your U Visa immigration case.
In addition to U Visas, the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act also created T Visas to provide immigration relief to victims of human trafficking and sex trafficking. To be eligible for a T Visa you must:
- Be a victim of a severe form of trafficking. This is defined as (1) sex trafficking in which a commercial sex act is induced by fraud, force, coercion, or in which the victim is younger than 18 years of age; or (2) the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude or slavery.
- Be physically present in the United States on account of trafficking.
- Assist law-enforcement officials in the investigation or prosecution of the traffickers (victims under 18 years of age are exempted from this requirement).
- Be able to demonstrate that you will suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.
There are only up to 5,000 T Visas available each year. If you think you are eligible to apply for a T Visa it is important you that you contact our immigration lawyers as soon as possible.
If you already have a T Visa, you are protected from removal and can work in the United States. If your T Visa is affirmed you may also have access to the same options that refuges have such as monetary and food assistance, as well as job training. Your T Visa is valid for four years. You may qualify for legal permanent residency if you maintain continual physical presence in the U.S for the three years, or for the duration of the completed investigation or prosecution of the trafficking, whichever is less. You must also maintain good moral character, continue to cooperation with law enforcement and demonstrate that you would be harmed if you were removed.
Battered Spouse Waiver
Federal immigration law requires marriage-based green card applicants to receive conditional permanent residency for two years before attaining full legal permanent residency. If you are the victim of domestic abuse and a marriage-based green card applicant, you don’t have to stay in the abusive relationship to get your green card. There is one additional relief available to you. The Immigration Reform Act of 1990 created the battered spouse waiver. This waiver allows victims of domestic abuse to file an application to remove conditional status without cooperation of their abusing spouse and without having to stay in the abusive relationship for two years. This application requires proof of abuse, battery or extreme cruelty and the validity of the marriage.