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4 facts about the VAWA green card

Know your rights in the face of a domestic abuser

Domestic abuse laws protect citizens and non-citizens alike. If you're a non-citizen present in the United States on a family or marriage visa, the following facts will help clear up some of the common myths around reporting ongoing domestic abuse.

Fact #1: ‘Domestic violence’ isn't limited to severe acts of assault.

The government defines domestic violence as any "pattern of behavior [in which] one intimate partner or spouse threatens or abuses the other partner."

This can include physical harm, rape, forced sexual relations, emotional manipulation (i.e., isolation or intimidation), and financial abuse. The term also encompasses child abuse, sexual assault, and violent crime.

If you are facing any of these scenarios, your situation is considered serious enough to be classified as domestic violence.

Fact #2: You can get help even if you're not a US citizen.

Everyone present in the United States – whether lawfully, unlawfully, as a citizen, on a visa, or otherwise – has a fundamental right to be free from abuse and harm.

Local and state police are required to help you if you come to them reporting instances of abuse within your family, and your immigration status cannot be affected by your decision to seek help.

Fact #3: Your sponsor (spouse) cannot have you deported if you report the abuse.

Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), non-citizens present in the United States on a family or marriage green card can seek legal immigrant status in one of three ways:

  • Self-petition for legal status,
  • Cancellation of removal proceedings
  • U-nonimmigrant status (a petition reserved for victims of crimes).

In order to qualify for legal status on your own under VAWA, the following conditions must be met:

  • The abuser is a US citizen or lawful permanent resident

  • You are married (or divorced) from the abuser, or your child was harmed by the abuser

  • The abuse occurred during the marriage

  • The marriage occurred in "good faith" and was not arranged solely for the purpose of obtaining a marriage green card

  • You are currently residing in the United States (with limited exceptions if the abuser is in the US military or is an employee of the US government)

  • You lived with the abuser at some point during the marriage

  • You are of an upstanding character, have not been convicted of any crimes, do not abuse drugs, and have not committed any fraudulent acts in the past three years

If you meet these criteria, an immigration lawyer can help you prepare and file Form I-360: Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

Fact #4: You do not have to press charges to keep your lawful immigration status

There is no requirement for domestic violence victims to press charges against their abuser in order to gain lawful immigration status.

In other words, the two issues are completely unrelated, and neither depends on the other. If you choose to press charges (or not), this will not impact your immigration status.

Likewise, choosing to self-petition for lawful status under VAWA does not require evidence that you pressed criminal charges against the abuser.

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