Written by attorney Elizabeth Rose Blandon

VAWA: How much abuse is sufficient to obtain residency?

Abuse is not just physical. In fact, the level of harm needed to obtain residency based on the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA") is not limited to physical abuse.

To obtain residency under VAWA, foreigners must:

  • be a spouse, parent, or child of a lawful permanent resident or U.S. Citizen

  • have lived with the abuser

  • have good moral character, and

  • have been battered or subject to extreme mental cruelty

Proving battery or extreme cruelty does not require a criminal conviction or proof of any physical abuse. In 2012, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals -- which covers the states of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama – decided that whether the abuser’s actions can be described as “extreme cruelty" is open to choice. In other words, it will be decided on a case-by-case basis.

Verbal threats and abuse can be sufficient if it damages the foreigner’s mental state. One of the purposes underlying the enactment of VAWA was to help protect victims from having to stay in an abusive relationship for fear of facing adverse immigration consequences where the abuser threatens deportation.

Each case will be analyzed based on its own specific circumstances. While it will be a more difficult case to prove than one based on physical harm, residency based on VAWA can be achieved as a result of mental abuse. The more these threats constitute a pattern of abuse, the greater the likelihood that a victim’s case will be successful.

This communication is intended as general information and not specific legal advice, and this communication does not create an attorney-client relationship. Consultation with an experienced competent immigration attorney is the best way to address individual concerns.

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