Spousal Abuse & Immigration: There is Hope

Domestic violence does not discriminate.  It does not care what color your skin is, where you are from, your gender, or how much money you make; people from all walks of life can and will be affected by domestic violence.  According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, nearly twenty people per minute are victims of physical violence. This statistic is astounding.  Even more astounding is that the number does not account for forms of abuse other than physical.  Despite the broad reaching nature of this epidemic, certain groups of individuals are at a greater risk of becoming victims of domestic violence.  One such group in the United States is our immigrant population, a group frequently silenced by fear, cultural differences, and language barriers.  This post will highlight the protections available to immigrant victims of domestic violence.2013-01-28_09-16-34_256

                The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed by Congress in 1994, created, among other provisions, special pathways to immigration status for certain abused noncitizens.  Under VAWA, an abused noncitizen who suffers abuse at the hands of their U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse/child/parent  can self-petition for immigration status without the knowledge or involvement of the abuser.   These provisions apply equally to men and women. 

Who is eligible?

To be eligible to self-petition, you must be the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident or the parent of a child that has been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse.  Parents who are abused by their U.S. citizen children and children under age 21 who have been abused by their U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent are also eligible to self-petition under VAWA.  Depending on the relationship, different requirements exist.  At the core of the self-petition are the following requirements:

  • You have a qualifying relationship with the abuser
  • You have suffered extreme cruelty or battery
  • You have resided with the abuser
  • You are a person of good moral character


What constitutes extremely cruelty or battery for the purposes of VAWA? 

Physical violence, threats or display of a weapon, and unwanted sexual contact are just some examples of qualifying cruelty/battery.  It is important to note that psychological abuse and harassment also qualify, even without actual violence.   Of particular note, economic abuse and threats to have one deported qualify as extreme cruelty for purposes of VAWA.

What happens if I do not have a qualifying relationship with the abuser?

A qualifying relationship is a requirement for self-petitioning under VAWA; however, victim immigrants who suffer abuse may be eligible to apply for U nonimmigrant status.  The U Visa is for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and provide assistance to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.  (The U-Visa will be discussed in more detail at a later date.)


Recent events in the pro sports arena have opened up a dialogue about domestic violence.  We at Guirguis Law encourage and embrace this open dialogue.  We recognize the importance of all voices being heard and, as immigration attorneys, we lend our voice to victim immigrants.  If you or someone you know is an immigrant victim of domestic violence, help is available.  It does not have to be a hopeless situation.






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