- Battered Spouse, Children & Parents
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes ( PDF)
- Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes – Spanish (239KB PDF)
- Immigration Options for Victims of Crime – Chinese Version (466KB PDF)
- Immigration Options for Victims of Crime – Russian Version ( PDF)
- Information on the Legal Rights Available to Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence in the United States and Facts about Immigrating on a Marriage-Based Visa
The U visa allows victims, or witnesses, of certain types of crimes to apply for a temporary nonimmigrant visa to the US and eventually legal permanent residency (Green Card) and citizenship. In order to be eligible for this visa the person must have been a victim of one of the following crimes (or attempted crimes): torture; trafficking; domestic violence; sexual assault; female genital mutilation; involuntary servitude; false imprisonment; blackmail; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; or perjury. They must also suffer substantial physical or mental abuse because of this crime, be helpful in the investigation, and receive a certification from the police, prosecutor or judge in the case that they were helpful in the investigation. There is no time bar for when the crime took place, and in some limited circumstances a crime overseas can qualify. Victims may also apply overseas and come to the US once the Visa is approved.
U visa status was created by the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000. It is designed to provide lawful status to noncitizen crime victims who are assisting or are willing to assist the authorities in investigating crimes.
The U visa status may be available to victims of domestic violence crimes or victims of certain other crimes (which can be crimes that have nothing to do with domestic violence).
If you are a noncitizen victim of crime, you must meet ALL of these requirements:
- you have a certification from law enforcement or another certifying agency that you “have been helpful, are helpful, or are likely to be helpful in the investigation or prosecution” of one of the categories of crimes listed in the U visa statute;
- you can show that you suffered substantial physical or mental abuse from the crime certified;
- you can show that you have information regarding the criminal activity, usually explained in the certification; and
- the criminal activity violated U.S. law; or occurred in the U.S. (including Indian [Native American] country and military installations) or the territories and possessions of the U.S, also usually explained in the certification.
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.
“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
The T visa is only available for individuals who are present in the US as a result of trafficking. The victim must cooperate with law enforcement but an important distinction is that a law enforcement certification is not required to apply for a T Visa. Some law enforcement officers are reluctant to sign certifications for a victim and the T Visa allows applicants to apply even without this certification. Like the U Visa, T Visa holders are allowed to eventually apply for legal permanent residency.
Battered spouses, parents, and children of legal permanent residents or US citizens are eligible to apply for legal permanent resident status. Unlike the U and T visas, VAWA does not require the applicant to have filed a criminal complaint against their abuser. Also, VAWA allows the applicant to immediately apply for legal permanent residency once their case has been approved.
As a battered spouse, child or parent, you may file an immigrant visa petition under the Violence against Women Act (VAWA). VAWA allows certain spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens and permanent residents (green card holders) to file a petition for themselves without the abuser’s knowledge. This will allow you to seek both safety and independence from the abuser. The provisions of VAWA apply equally to women and men. Your abuser will not be notified that you have filed for immigration benefits under VAWA.
Immigration law allows the following relatives of abusive US citizens (USC) and legal permanent residents (LPR) to self-petition for lawful status in the US (if they meet all other self-petitioning requirements under VAWA):
- Abused spouses of a USC or LPR, and the abused spouse’s children if they are under 21 years old and unmarried (the children would be included in the spouse’s application as “derivatives“);*
- Non-abused spouses of a USC or LPR if the USC or LPR spouse has abused your unmarried and under 21 child. The non-abused spouse’s children who are under 21 years old and unmarried may also be eligible (the children would be included in the spouse’s application as derivatives);*
- Abused children (under 21 years old and unmarried) of a USC or LPR, and their children (under 21 years old and unmarried) as derivatives.** Note: It may be possible for an abused child between the ages of 21 and 25 to self-petition if s/he can show s/he qualified when she was under 21 and the abuse was at least one central reason for the delay in filing.***
- Abused parents of a USC (not LPR) son or daughter (son/daughter must be over 21 years old).****
* INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii), INA § 204 (a)(1)(B)(ii)
** INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iv), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(iii)
*** INA § 204(a)(1)(D)(v)
**** INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(vii)
You must meet all additional requirements listed below if you are self-petitioning as the spouse of an abusive US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR):
- Marriage to a USC or LPR: You must meet one of the following:
- be married to a USC/LPR;
- your USC spouse (not LPR) died within the past 2 years;
- your USC/LPR spouse lost his/her citizenship or residency within the past two years related to an incident of domestic violence;
- you believed that you married a USC/LPR and a marriage ceremony was performed but you later found out that your marriage was not valid because your spouse was committing bigamy (s/he was already married when s/he “married” you); or
- you were divorced from your USC/LPR spouse within the past two years and you can show a connection between the abuse that you suffered and the divorce.*
- The marriage was a good faith marriage:*1 You married in good faith and not only to obtain immigration benefits.
- Battery or extreme cruelty: During your marriage, your USC/LPR spouse must have battered you or your child (physically abused you) or subjected you or your child to “extreme cruelty.” Extreme cruelty is any form of power and control, including but not limited to, the following:
- being a victim of any act or threatened act of violence, including any forcible detention that results in physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, and acts that may not appear violent but are part of a pattern of violence. Note: You must have been abused in the United States, or if you were solely abused abroad, then your spouse must have been an employee of the US government or a member of the US uniformed services (the military).
- You must have lived with the abuser at some point ; and
- You are a person of “good moral character.” Note: Even if you believe you have committed an act which may affect your ability to prove good moral character (for example, certain crimes), please talk to an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA to see if there is an exception available for your situation.
* INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii), INA § 204 (a)(1)(B)(ii)
*1 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(aa), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(aa)
*2 USCIS website – Battered Spouse, Children & Parents
*3 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(bb), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(I)(bb)
*4 8 CFR § 204.2(c)(1)(vi)
*5 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(v), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(iv)
*6 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(dd), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(II)(dd)
*7 INA § 204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(bb), INA § 204(a)(1)(B)(ii)(bb)
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.
Those Eligible to File Self-Petition Under VAWA
- Spouse: You may file for yourself if you are, or were, the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You may also include on your petition your unmarried children who are under 21 if they have not filed for themselves.
- Parent: You may file for yourself if you are the parent of a child who has been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. You may include on your petition your children, including those who have not been abused, if they have not filed for themselves. You may also file if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen, and you have been abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
- Child: You may file for yourself if you are an abused child under 21, unmarried and have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. Your children may also be included on your petition. You may file for yourself as a child after age 21 but before age 25 if you can demonstrate that the abuse was the main reason for the delay in filing.
Eligibility Requirements for a Spouse
- You are:
- married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser
- your marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the 2 years prior to filing, or
- your spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the 2 years prior to filing due to an incident of domestic violence, or
- you believed that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.
- have been abused in the United States by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, or
- have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse abroad while your spouse was employed by the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. uniformed services, or
- are the parent of a child who has been subjected to abuse by your U.S. citizen or permanent spouse.
- You entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely for immigration benefits.
- You have resided with your spouse.
- You are a person of good moral character.
Eligibility Requirements for a Child
- are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser
- were the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence
- have been abused in the United States by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent
- have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent abroad while your parent was employed by the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. uniformed services
- have resided with the abusive parent
- have evidence to prove your relationship to your parent
- must provide evidence of good moral character if you are over the age of 14
Eligibility Requirements for a Parent
- You are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter or were the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence or died within 2 years prior to filing
- You have been abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter
- You have resided with the abusive son or daughter
- You are a person of good moral character
- You must complete the Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, including all supporting documentation
- You must file the form with the Vermont Service Center (VSC)
- If you meet all filing requirements, you will receive a notice (Prima Facie Determination Notice) valid for 150 days that you can present to government agencies that provide certain public benefits to certain victims of domestic violence
- If your Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant is approved and you do not have legal immigration status in the United States, we may place you in deferred action, which allows you to remain in the United States
Working in the United States
If you have an approved Form I-360 and have been placed in deferred action, you are eligible to apply to work in the United States. To apply to work in the United States, you must file the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with the Vermont Service Center.
Your children listed on your approved Form I-360, may also apply for work authorization. For more information on working in the United States, visit our Working in the U.S. page.
Permanent Residence (Green Card)
If you have an approved Form I-360, you may be eligible to file for a green card. Your children listed on your approved Form I-360 may also be eligible to apply for a green card. For information about filing for a green card, see the Immigration Options for Victims of Crimes Brochure.
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.
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.
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.
Q. What if my Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, is denied?
A. If your petition is denied the denial letter will tell you how to file an appeal. You may file a Notice of Appeal along with the required fee at the Vermont Service Center within 33 days of receiving the denial. Once the fee is collected and the form is processed at the service center, the appeal will be referred to the Administrative Appeals Office in Washington, D.C.
Q. Can A Man File A Petition For Himself Under The Violence Against Women Act?
A. Yes, VAWA applies equally to victims of either sex.
Q. Do I Have to Remain Married to My Abusive Spouse Until my Form I-360 is Approved?
A. Effective October 28, 2000, you may file a Form I-360 if you are still married to your abusive spouse or, in certain circumstances, if you are not still married to your abusive spouse. If you are not still married to your abusive spouse when you file Form I-360, you must meet one of the following exceptions:
- You believed you were legally married to your abusive spouse but the marriage is not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.
- Your abusive spouse died within 2 years of filing the petition.
- Your abusive spouse lost or renounce his citizenship or lawful resident status due to an incident of domestic violence
- Your marriage to your abusive spouse was terminated within the 2 years prior to filing of the petition, and there is a connection between the termination of the marriage and the battery or extreme cruelty.
The actual grounds for the termination of the marriage do not need to explicitly cite battery or extreme cruelty. After your petition has been filed, legal termination of the marriage will not usually affect the status of your petition. Unfortunately, current USCIS regulations do not reflect these statutory changes and still state that you must be married at the time of filing. USCIS is obligated to follow the statute, and you are no longer required to be married to your abusive spouse at the time of filing. You may wish to seek advice from an immigration attorney or legal advocate regarding this provision.
Q. Can A Divorced Spouse Seek Relief By Filing A Form I-360?
A. Yes. Effective October 28, 2000, you may file a Form I-360 if the marriage was terminated within 2 years prior to the date of filing, if you can demonstrate a connection between the termination of the marriage and the battery or extreme cruelty. A battered spouse who cannot demonstrate such a connection may be eligible for battered spouse cancellation of removal. To qualify for battered spouse cancellation of removal, you must meet the other requirements that would be necessary for approval of a self-petition. In addition, you must have been physically present in the United States for 3 years immediately preceding the filing of the application for cancellation of removal, and you must demonstrate that your removal from the United States would result in extreme hardship to you or your child.
Your Form I-360 will be denied if you re-marry prior to the approval of the Form I-360. Remarriage after the Form I-360 has been approved will not affect the validity of the petition.
Q. What if My Abusive U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident Spouse or Parent (or U.S. Citizen Son or Daughter) Filed a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative, on My Behalf, Which is Still Pending or Was Withdrawn?
A. If you are the beneficiary of a Form I-130 filed by the abusive spouse, parent or child, you will be able to transfer the priority date of the Form I-130 to the Form I-360. This is extremely important for you if since it may result in an earlier priority date and a shorter waiting time for getting a green card.
Q. Can Anyone Else Assist Me?
A. You should also know that help is available to you through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 [TDD]. The hotline has information about shelters, mental health care, legal advice and other types of assistance, including information about self-petitioning for immigration status.