Immigration Advice for Battered Spouses, Children, and Parents
Updated: Jan 11
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If you are not a U.S. citizen, and you want to enter or remain in the U.S. legally, you may seek a visa by having a family member, who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), file a petition for you. While this is good news for many people, it could pose a huge problem if your U.S. citizen or LPR family member has physically abused you. You would then have to depend on your abuser in order to stay in the U.S.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows non-citizens who were abused by family members who are U.S. citizens or LPRs, to “self-petition” to be lawfully admitted into the U.S. So, abuse victims do not have to rely on their abuser to petition for them to be legally present in the U.S. You can file your petition without your abuser even knowing about it.
Despite its name, you may petition for relief under VAWA if you are:
1. The spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR, and you or your children have been abused by your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse
You can also qualify as an abused spouse under this category if
You were married to your abuser, but your abuser died within two years of your filing the petition, or within two years of your filing the petition, and the divorce was related to the abuse;
You were married to your abuser, but your abuser died within two years of your filing the petition, or
You believed you were married to a U.S. citizen or LPR, but the marriage in invalid solely because your spouse was a bigamist (that is, was married to someone else at the time your spouse married you).
2. The child of a U.S. citizen or LPR, are unmarried and under 21, and you have been abused by your U.S. citizen or LPR parent;
NOTE: If you are over 21 but under 25, you may also file as an abused child, if the abuse was the reason that you were late in filing.
3. The parent of a U.S. citizen, and you have been abused by your U.S. citizen child, and your abusive child is at least 21 when you file your petition.
NOTE: You may also file as an abused parent if your abusive child over 21 is deceased, and died less than two years before you file your petition.
If your abusive family member was a U.S. citizen or LPR, and the family member lost or renounced U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent residence because of an incident of domestic violence, you may still petition for relief under VAWA.
To qualify for a VAWA petition, you must show that you resided with your abusive family member, and that you are of good moral character. A child under 14 is presumed to be of good moral character.
If you obtain a visa under VAWA, you may then apply to work in the U.S.
If you can’t afford a lawyer to represent you on a VAWA petition, contact the Boesche Legal Clinic. They provide free legal help to some domestic violence victims in filing VAWA petitions.