Domestic violence victims experience a lot of isolation and hopelessness, and giving someone a pathway to freedom can change a victim’s life. This post overviews immigration relief that may be available to victims of domestic violence, and we hope it can serve victims and those who wish to support and empower them.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) created a type of immigration relief available to domestic violence victims who are married or have recently been married to United States citizens. In order to be granted VAWA relief, including a green card), the main thing the individual must prove is that he or she has been the victim of battery or extreme cruelty. The abuse does not have to be physical, but “extreme cruelty” can also include psychological and emotional abuse. VAWA likewise does not require that a police report have been made or that an individual cooperated with a police investigation. VAWA is a much faster process than a U visa, so if an individual is eligible for both, its likely advisable to apply for VAWA instead of a U.
A domestic violence victim may be eligible for a U visa if the crime has been detected, investigated, or prosecuted by law enforcement may be eligible for a U visa. This generally requires that the incident be reported to the police, as the law requires that a law enforcement agency sign a certification attesting that the individual is a domestic violence victim and that he or she cooperated with law enforcement during the investigation. The victim does not need to be married to a U.S. citizen and the abuse does not have to be at the hands of someone with lawful status. Additionally, the law does not require a conviction or even prosecution of the crime so long as the victim cooperated. The wait for a U visa is long (possibly 9-11 years and growing longer everyday), but ultimately results in lawful status and eventually a green card and citizenship.
T visas are available for victims of trafficking. This could include domestic violence victims who are present in the United States on account of the trafficking. For example, if an individual was brought to the United States by the abuser against his or her will, its possible they could apply for a T visa. T visas are an underutilized form of relief and not widely discussed.
In 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals handed down a favorable decision for victims of domestic violence. It held that “married women in Guatemala who are unable to leave their relationship” were a “particular social group” for the purposes of asylum law. Immigration lawyers are working hard to expand this group to include unmarried women and other victims. To be granted asylum, a victim must prove that they fear persecution if he or she returns to their home country. Therefore, even if the abuse occurred entirely in the individual’s home country, he or she could be eligible for asylum.