Most people immigrate to the United States in the hope of a better life. Unfortunately, some immigrants are victims of domestic abuse once they arrive. If a non-citizen is living in an abusive relationship and meets certain requirements, he or she may be eligible for a visa or other lawful status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The Violence Against Women Act is Federal law originally passed by Congress in 1994. It allows immigrants that are victims of domestic violence or abuse to obtain legal status in the United States. While many individuals are dependent upon the party that is abusing them, if they are being abused they should not have to depend upon their abusers for immigration purposes. Immigration status can also be used to coerce or harass a spouse or child in a domestic violence situation and the victim could be afraid to report the abuse because they believe they will be deported. VAWA allows the victims of domestic violence to escape the abuse without having to worry about their immigration status.
VAWA has been amended a number of times since 1994. In 2000, Congress passed the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act which created new categories of visas for specific situations that affect women in particular. In 2005, VAWA was amended to provide even more comprehensive protection to the abused, including the elderly in some situations.
In order to be eligible for protection under VAWA, the spouse, former spouse or child must be the victim of abuse by a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident. The parent of a child being abused by a citizen or lawful permanent resident can petition for VAWA protection on his or her behalf. If the victim meets the eligibility requirements, the victim or parent can start the self-petition process for protection. Self-petitioning means that the abused or parent of the abused can file on his or her own behalf and for his or her child without the need for the abuser to be involved or even be aware. This can be important in domestic violence situations as a victim might be subjected to further abuse if it is discovered that he or she has filed for protection of this kind. During this process the petitioner will have to prove that the particular type of domestic relationship exists, that the victim resides with the abuser and that the victim has good moral character, among other things.
If the VAWA petition is approved, the person may be entitled to Deferred Action if he or she is residing in the country illegally. He or she may also be given the ability to file an application for a visa or lawful permanent resident status. The victim could also be given authorization to work in the United States. If the victim is facing removal for some reason, it could be cancelled based on a VAWA application.
Applying for protection under VAWA can be frightening and a seasoned immigration attorney can help to address all of your concerns. Contact our office today for a consultation.