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Immigrant domestic violence victims may be able to obtain legal residency status in several ways. Victims of domestic violence who are or were married to either a United States citizen (USC), Legal Permanent Resident (LPR), or former USC or LPR may be able to obtain legal residency under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). There are also opportunities to gain legal residency through a Battered Spouse Waiver and the U or T visas.
Legal residency through VAWA
If you are an immigrant domestic violence victim, you may be able to file a “self-petition” under VAWA to obtain legal residency status for yourself and your child(ren) if you:
- Are currently married to a USC or LPR,
- Were married to a USC or LPR, or
- Have been divorced from a USC or LPR for up to two years and can show that the marriage ended in divorce due to domestic violence or extreme cruelty.
Filing a self-petition does not require the consent of the USC or LPR spouse. Unmarried children under the age of 21 who are being abused by a parent who is a citizen or an LPR are also eligible for VAWA. If your citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse has abused your child, you may also qualify for VAWA even if you have not been abused yourself.
Cancellation of removal under VAWA is another route to legal residency for immigrant domestic violence victims. Immigrant spouses of United States citizens or LPRs may be eligible for cancellation of removal without the consent of their LPR or USC spouse if they:
- Are battered or have suffered extreme cruelty,
- Have resided continuously in the United States for at least three years prior to their application, and
- Can show that removal will result in extreme hardship to themselves or children.
Also, if you are the parent of a child who has been battered or who has suffered extreme cruelty by the citizen or LPR parent, you may be eligible for VAWA cancellation of removal. This method is only available to you if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation/removal proceedings.
Battered spouse waiver
Domestic violence victims who have obtained conditional residency status through marriage to a United States citizen or LPR and have been battered or suffered extreme cruelty during the marriage may be eligible for a Battered Spouse Waiver, which allows them to petition for adjustment of status from conditional residency to permanent residency without the consent of their abusive spouse.
The U visa is another avenue to legal residency for immigrant victims of domestic violence. You may be eligible for the U visa if you have assisted, are assisting, or intend to assist law enforcement in either the prosecution or investigation of certain crimes of which you were a victim. This does not require marriage to the abuser, and the abuser does not have to be a legal resident or United States citizen.
Domestic violence victims who are victims of human trafficking may secure immigration status through the T Visa, which is used to grant status to non-citizen victims of severe forms of trafficking. Human trafficking occurs where individuals are threatened with serious harm or physical restraint to force them into involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. A severe form of trafficking also occurs when a commercial sex act is induced by force, fraud, or coercion, or in situations where the person forced to perform such an act is under 18 years of age. You may be eligible for the T visa if you are a victim of a severe form of trafficking, are currently in the United States or a port of entry because of trafficking, and would suffer extreme hardship consisting of unusual and severe harm if removed. A victim 15 years or older may be required to contact a federal law enforcement agency and comply with any reasonable request for assistance in investigating or prosecuting trafficking.
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Copyright © 2010 Legal Services of New Jersey
This information last reviewed 11/2/11