Immigration Law Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence

A US citizen guy meets an foreign girl through the Internet. They meet in person and he travels to her country to see her. They fall in love. They make wedding plans, and she travels to the United States with a Fiancée Visa (K-1). They have a beautiful wedding, and as time goes by, they have two gorgeous children.

But, suddenly everything changes

He begins to become abusive towards her. He arrives home drunk late at night. He insults her, he fights about everything, and after a few months he starts to physically hit her. She, deathly afraid of him now, has nowhere to turn. She has no family in the United States, and has no way of escaping the daily abuse. Worse yet, her visa has expired and now she can’t exit the United States, because if she does she won’t be able to come back. She is in the United States illegally. She cannot work, and cannot escape.

Unfortunately, this story is all too common.

Luckily, U.S. immigration law provides several benefits and protections for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence. It doesn’t matter if the victim is male or female. The law, called Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, offers protection and benefits to immigrants who are the victims of domestic violence.

The requirements are:

1. You entered into a good faith marriage with a Legal Permanent Resident or Citizen.

The relationship must be a real one, and both of you need to live together. The marriage cannot have been for immigration purposes only.

2. Have suffered physical abuse or extreme cruelty by your US citizen or permanent resident spouse.

The abuse can be physical, emotional or economic.

To benefit from the protections offered by the VAWA law, it is not necessary to remain married. You can certainly divorce your abusive spouse, but there is a time limit of two (2) years to request protection under this law. If you remarry before applying, you lose the opportunity to file for these benefits.

Ordinarily, it is the US citizen spouse who petitions for permanent residency of their immigrant partner. The citizen is the petitioner for the adjustment of status from Visa to Legal Permanent Resident (Green Card). But, what happens if the petitioning citizen spouse is also the abuser?

Perhaps the citizen spouse might never request for an adjustment of status, and his partner might be “held hostage”, caught in a sort of immigration limbo. Even if it seems like there is no escape, the immigrant spouse can request on their own an adjustment of status. This is known as a “Self-Petition”. It doesn’t require participation of the citizen or legal permanent resident spouse. In fact, even their opinion isn’t taken into account. The immigrant spouse can petition as a victim of domestic violence, and then request permanent residence or citizenship.

This is not only available to abused spouses of Legal Permanent Residents and Citizens, it is also available for widows and widowers if they file within two years from the date of death of their spouse.

The VAWA law also protects your children.

If your children are victims of abuse perpetrated by the citizen or legal permanent resident, they can request exactly the same protection as if the immigrant spouse was the victim.

On the other hand the law provides several main benefits that essentially convert the immigrant victim of domestic violence into a priority petitioner:

  • It doesn’t matter if you entered the United States illegally, if the abuse occurred after entering the United States.

This means that it doesn’t matter if you violated the terms of your entry visa, or remained in the United States after the expiration of your visa, or entered without inspection. You might be in the United States illegally, but if you are a victim of domestic violence, you can adjust your immigrant status to a legal one.

  • There are no annual quotas, and the processing times for Green Cards are much shorter.

How do I do this?

First, submit Form I-360.

This application will categorize you as a victim of domestic violence. With the I-360, you will need to submit evidence to prove that you married in good faith to your citizen or legal permanent resident spouse, and that you have been subjected to a pattern of domestic violence or extreme cruelty.

To apply, you will need proof of your marriage and of the abuse. This evidence can be:

  • Marriage certificate.
  • Please reports.
  • Police reports.
  • Court documents if your spouse is accused criminal.
  • Medical psych psychiatric or social worker records.
  • Statements from witnesses who have seen the pattern of abuse.
  • Your own statements.

What do I do after?

After you have been categorized as a victim of domestic violence, you can proceed to apply for your own adjustment of status, which means that you can request permanent residence (Green Card), or Citizenship.

To summarize:

If you are a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by your Legal Permanent Resident or Citizen spouse, you can request the benefits offered by the VAWA law to fix your immigrant status, apply for a legal permanent residence, and even obtain citizenship.

Clearly, there are other additional requirements to apply, so it’s always a good idea to find legal help before proceeding.

An immigration attorney can verify that the process will be done correctly and effectively, and make sure that your petition will be handled correctly.

If you or someone you know would benefit from the protections offered by the VAWA law, share with them this this post. Even better, contact an experienced immigration attorney to handle your case. The lawyers of Christian M. Frank Fas Law Offices are experienced in a variety of immigration law matters and would welcome your call.

Call to schedule a free consultation today: 1.844.US.MIGRA or 303.993.1973 in Colorado.


Contact Us

Professional Memberships


Postal Address

1887 Whitney Mesa DR #9669
Henderson, NV 89014