Many immigrants do not understand that there may be a way to get status without the abuser´s help
Victims Who Are Immigrants
Domestic violence victims who are immigrants can be open to abuse when their sponsor uses the complex immigration process to intimidate and threaten them. If the sponsor is a family member or spouse, the abuser can use fear of deportation or isolation from family abroad to keep the victim from telling about the abuse or leaving the relationship. Abusers try to keep victims dependent upon them for getting victims' and their families' immigration status to let them stay in the U.S.
Many immigrants do not understand that there may be a way to get status without the abuser's help. The most common ways to get status include the VAWA self-petition, WAWA cancellation of removal, conditional residence and battered spouse waiver, U visas and T visas. This page will discuss these various ways an abuse survivor might get status. Immigration is very complicated, and an immigration attorney can be very helpful in the process.
Many undocumented aliens (often called illegal immigrants) have options for gaining status (permission to be in the U.S.). Examples of status include visas and green cards. No one should assume that a particular alien should be removed (deported). Immigration law is nearly always federal law because under the U.S. Constitution, the federal government controls immigration.
Local domestic violence programs provide free and confidential help to domestic violence victims, without asking about immigration status.
Immigration StatusAnyone who is not a U.S. citizen is called an "alien." There are many different types of immigration status in the U.S.
- Lawful permanent resident (LPR): has the right to work and live in the U.S. permanently. An LPR has a green card.
- Nonimmigrant visas permit the holder to stay in the U.S. for a given period of time (student visas, work visas and tourist visas), T visas (for trafficking victims) and U visas (for victims of crime).
- Undocumented people are those who have overstayed a visa or those who came into the U.S. without any visas at all.
Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR) StatusMost often, a U.S. Citizen or an LPR sponsors a family member for immigration to the U.S. Not all family members qualify for sponsorship. Often there are long waiting times before the relative can come to the U.S. The sponsor must also fill out a lot of paperwork. Abusers try to block their immigrant victims' from gaining status and becoming independent.
- They tell the survivor they have filed the paperwork, but did not do so.
- They file the papers, but then withdraw the papers.
- Often they threaten to withdraw the papers if the survivor refuses to do something the abuser tells them to do.
- The abuser refuses to file follow-up paperwork.
- The abuser refuses to attend interviews with the Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS).
- The abuser refuses to file the paperwork to sponsor the survivor's children.
- The abuser threatens to turn the survivor over to CIS to be deported.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides several ways for immigrants who are victims of domestic violence to get legal residency (legal status) in the U.S. The major way is the VAWA self-petition. Under the WAVA self-petition, the survivor sponsors or files the papers for herself and sometimes for her children. The abuser is not part of the process.
U Visas are non-immigrant visas. That means they are not permanent visas, and the visa holder must do something else to gain status. U Visas are available to victims of certain serious crimes. Included in the list are rape, incest, domestic violence, sexual assault, prostitution, kidnapping, abduction, extortion, manslaughter, murder, witness tampering, and attempt or conspiracy to commit any of those crimes. This is not the complete list of crimes; there are many others.
The U Visa requires that the victim must be helpful, have been helpful or is expected to be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. A qualified law enforcement official must certify that the victim cooperated on the special Law Enforcement Certification Form. For this visa, there is no relationship requirement between the victim and his or her abuser. The victim can be a victim of a random crime and still be eligible for a U Visa. It can also be helpful for someone abused by a person who is not a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, or a survivor who was not married to the citizen or legal permanent resident.
T Visas are granted to victims of human trafficking. Trafficking means providing people for labor or other services by using fraud, force or coercion that forces the person into slavery or servitude. It covers forced labor such as domestic, factory or farm work. It also covers providing people for commercial sex acts by force, fraud or coercion, and it applies to people under 18 years of age who are forced into commercial sex acts. Sometimes this happens when a victim is smuggled into the U.S. and the smuggler forces the victim to work to pay his or her fees for getting the victim into the country.
In 2000, Congress passed a law called the Trafficking Victims Protection Act. This law creates immigration relief for victims. The law provides for the T Visa for trafficking victims. To get a T Visa, the victim files a self-petition. If the self-petition is granted, the victim can stay in the U.S. for up to three years.
As with most immigration cases, approval of self-petitions under VAWA, U Visas, and T Visas can take time. Sometimes the process can take a year or more. When seeking legal immigration status, it is very important that an immigrant have an attorney to help. And it is very important that everyone be honest and truthful to CIS.
PCADV Works to Make Options Known to Immigrant Survivors
- PCADV's member programs work in every county (find_help/in_pa) to provide domestic violence victims and families with emergency shelter, housing options and other services to help victims gain safety and independence.
- PCADV legal department attorneys provide technical assistance to advocates (Resources_For_Victim_Advocates.docx) and attorneys (Resources_For_Attorneys.docx) helping domestic violence victims who face immigration legal issues.
- PCADV offers training (training institute page) about working with domestic violence victims, immigration law, and laws that require public access for those with limited English proficiency.
- PCADV partners with HIAS (http://www.hiaspa.org/aboutus/contact.htm) to provide information for attorneys on full legal rights for immigrant domestic violence victims.
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Contact the domestic violence program in your area for free and confidential help.
Other victim programs are available to help you and your family.
Any attorney helping a domestic violence victim may contact the PCADV legal department at 888-235-3425 for information on law and legal procedures. (This is not a helpline for victims.)
The information provided on this website is intended for informational purposes only. The information provided under this topic is not legal advice, does not create an attorney-client relationship, and is not a substitute for contacting an experienced attorney. Read our full legal disclaimer.
- ASISTA Provides Technical Assistance about Immigration
- Futures Without Violence
- HIAS & Council Migration Service of Philadelphia Nonprofit Legal and Social Services for Immigrants and Refugees
- Immigrant Services & Refugee Resettlement - Jewish Family & Children's Service of Pittsburgh Legal resources, naturalization assistance & resettlement services for the foreign born.
- Legal Momentum Provides Immigration information
- Nationalities Service Center A non-profit organization that provides social, educational, senior, translation and interpretation, and legal services for immigrants and refugees in the Greater Philadelphia area.
- Pennsylvania Immigrant & Refugee Women's Network
- Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center
- Polaris Project Provides trafficking tool kits and basic information about human trafficking and immigration.
- Trafficking Information and Referral Hotline 888-373-7888.
- United States Citizenship and Immigration Services This site provides the forms and instructions to use when filing for immigration relief.
- National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild, Inc.