Because October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month and Lopez Immigration Law frequently works with survivors of domestic violence, we would like to take this opportunity to provide information about immigration options for survivors of domestic violence.

What is domestic violence?

Domestic violence is any behavior or pattern of behavior by one person in an attempt to control his or her partner. While most people think of domestic violence as purely physical, it can also include emotional, financial, sexual, or verbal abuse.

Domestic violence can happen to anyone at any point in a relationship and regardless of age, economic status, gender, race, religion or sexuality.

If I am a survivor of domestic violence, am I eligible for any immigration status?

There are two primary options for survivors to obtain immigration status: self-petitions under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) self-petitions and U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa).

 


 

WHAT ARE VAWA SELF-PETITIONS?

Generally, a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who wants to assist an immediate family member in coming to the United States must file a petition for their relative. However, under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), some immigrant survivors may file a self-petition, that is a petition for themselves.

Can I file a VAWA self-petition?

If you are an immigrant who has suffered extreme battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or child, you may be eligible to file a VAWA self-petition.

What are the requirements to file a VAWA self-petition?

If you wish to file a self-petition based on extreme battery or cruelty by your spouse, you must demonstrate:

  • You are married to a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident;
    • Note: there are some limited exceptions to this requirement.
  • You suffered extreme battery or cruelty by your spouse oryour child has suffered extreme battery or cruelty by your spouse;
  • You entered your marriage in good faith;
  • You lived with your spouse; and,
  • You are a person of good moral character.

If you wish to file a self-petition based on extreme battery or cruelty by your child, you must demonstrate:

  • You have a child who is over 21 years old and is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident;
  • You suffered extreme battery or cruelty by your child;
  • You lived with your child; and,
  • You are a person of good moral character.

If you wish to file a self-petition based on extreme battery or cruelty by your parent, you must demonstrate:

  • You are under 21 years old and your parent is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident;
  • You suffered extreme battery or cruelty by your parent;
  • You lived with your parent; and,
  • You are a person of good moral character.

Can I include my family on my VAWA self-petition?

Some family members may be eligible to be included as derivatives on your application based on their relationship to you.

Is there a fee to file a VAWA self-petition?

There is no filing fee for a VAWA self-petition. There may be filing fees for other forms required to be submitted along with a VAWA petition; however, you may be eligible for a fee waiver for these other applications.

How long does the VAWA self-petition process take?

The short answer is it could take several years. Currently, USCIS is reviewing VAWA self-petitions it received in October 2017. You can find the current processing times on USCIS’ website.

If my VAWA self-petition is approved, what are the benefits?

If your VAWA self-petition is approved, you are granted deferred action, which is protection from deportation, as well authorization to work in the United States for a limited period of time.

Additionally, if your VAWA self-petition is approved, you may also be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence. Whether you are eligible to apply for permanent residence depends on your relationship to the abuser and on any applicable grounds of inadmissibility, or ineligibility grounds, in your case.

 


 

WHAT IS A U VISA?

U Nonimmigrant Status, commonly referred to as a U visa, is an immigration benefit available to individuals who have been victims of certain crimes and have cooperated with law enforcement.

Can I apply for a U Visa?

If you want to apply for a U Visa, you must demonstrate:

  • You were the victim of a “qualifying criminal activity,” which happened in the United States;
    • S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has published a complete list of qualifying crimes on their website.
  • You suffered substantial physical or mental harm because of the crime;
  • You cooperated with law enforcement or another government agency (such as the District Attorney’s Office) in the investigation or the prosecution of the crime;
  • You are eligible to immigrate to the United States (or you are eligible for a waiver).

Can I include my family in my U Visa application?

You may be eligible to file a derivative application for some of your immediate family members.  Below is a useful chart which shows which family members can be included:

If you are: You can include:
Over 21 years of age: Spouse, children under 21 years of age
Under 21 years of age: Parents, spouse, children under 21 years of age, unmarried siblings under 18 years of age

 

Is there a fee to file a U Visa application? 

There is no filing fee for a VAWA self-petition. There may be filing fees for other forms required to be submitted along with a VAWA petition; however, you may be eligible for a fee waiver for these other applications.

How long does the U Visa application process take?

The short answer is it could take several years. Currently, USCIS is reviewing applications it received in April 2015. You can find the current processing time on USCIS’ website.

Once your application is reviewed and is approved, USCIS must determine whether there is a U Visa available for you. USCIS has 10,000 U Visas it may grant to principal applicants per year. If there are no more visas available for that year, you will be placed on a waiting list. While you are waiting for a U Visa to become available for you, you will be granted deferred action and be eligible for work authorization.

If my U Visa application is approved, what are the benefits?

If your U Visa application is approved, you are granted U Nonimmigrant Status for a period of four years. Most applicants may apply for lawful permanent residence after three years in valid U Visa status. Of course, you must meet the requirements for lawful permanent residence, which are different than the requirements for a U Visa.

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Please note: This is an overview of immigration options and is not meant to be legal advice. For information on your specific situation, we recommend you use our contact form to schedule an appointment with our office. We would be glad to help you determine the best option for you.