Far too many immigrant men and women live in abusive relationships or experience marital problems. While this can certainly be emotionally and physically dangerous, it can also prove problematic for their immigration status. This is especially true when an abusive spouse is the one who sponsored the victim, thereby allowing them immigration status into the United States in the first place.
These victims of domestic violence and abuse can find themselves afraid to break free from their abuser for many reasons, including the fear that they will be removed from the country they have come to call home.
Fortunately, the federal government has recognized the dire predicament in which this places abused immigrants. As a result, there are multiple provisions under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that protect the safety of victims of domestic violence, human trafficking, sexual abuse, and other crimes while at the same time shielding their immigration status.
For example, VAWA allows a victim of domestic violence who is a noncitizen to petition for legal permanent resident status without the assistance of their abusive spouse. Even if you have any marital problems, you should talk to an attorney because you may qualify for this immigration protection. This is known as a “self-petition.” If successful, a petitioner can obtain work authorization and deferred action. As far as applying for legal permanent resident status, successful self-petitioner may be able to immediately receive a green card if they are or were married to a U.S. citizen, whereas those who were abused by another legal permanent resident will still be subject to backlogs associated with the family preference system. It is important to know that you do not have to divorce your spouse and have filed any reports with the police to qualify for this immigration protection. You could also be eligible for VAWA, even if you were married to a USC or Green Card holder in the past.
Before a self-petition is granted, though, certain legal elements must be met. Among them are demonstrating marital problems, evidence of one’s relationship with the abuser, proof that the victim possesses a good moral character, and that a residence is or was shared with the abuser. This can be challenging to do, especially for those who are unfamiliar with the immigration law system. However, an attorney who is experienced in these matters can help abused immigrants navigate VAWA protections to ensure their immigration status better.