VAWA and the 'Domestic Violence Green Card'
If you’re the victim of domestic violence and you’re not a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you may be eligible to file your own application for what's commonly called a "domestic violence green card." Generally, these visas are granted to immigrants (including those otherwise lacking proper documentation) who cooperate with law enforcement to help prosecute their abusers.
The following is an overview of visa protections for non-citizens and non-permanent residents who are victims of domestic violence, which are authorized under a provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).
The Domestic Violence Green Card: Basics
Typically, green cards (permanent resident status documents) are obtained when a family member or an employer sponsors an immigrant's application to reside in the United States on a permanent or long-term basis. If you’re residing in the United States and suffering as a victim of domestic violence, however, you may self-petition for a green card under VAWA.
If you’re not currently residing in the United States but your abuser is an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the uniformed services, you can still file for your own green card if you were abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident while present in the United States. While undocumented immigrants aren’t immediately eligible, you still may receive protection from the government if you qualify for a special non-immigrant visa called a U visa.
The U visa doesn’t grant you automatic access to government benefits, but you’ll become eligible for consideration for benefits by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS).
Benefits of a Domestic Violence Green Card
When you independently apply for a green card without an American citizen filing on your behalf, you're a "self-petitioner." Self-petitioners who receive permanent residency status are also entitled to the following:
- Permanent residency in the U.S., provided you don’t commit an offense that makes you removable under U.S. immigration law
- An opportunity to work in any occupation of your choosing, including the option to start your own business or corporation
- Protection by U.S., state, and local laws
- Ability to leave and re-enter the U.S. at will, while carrying your green card
- Right to apply for government-sponsored financial aid for higher education, and receive "in-state" or "resident" tuition rates
- Right to appropriate Social Security benefits
- Ability to sponsor your spouse or unmarried minor children under 21 for permanent residency status (green card)
- Eligibility for U.S. Citizenship
However, you should keep in mind that you won’t receive the right to vote in government elections.
Eligibility for a Domestic Violence Green Card
Eligibility is determined by your relationship with the abuser. You’re eligible to file for a domestic violence green card if you're one of the following:
If you’re the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to file for a domestic green card in two situations: either you're a spouse who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your husband or wife is your abuser) or a spouse whose child has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your husband or wife is abusing your child).
If you’re the parent of an abusive child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your son or daughter is your abuser), you’re eligible to file for permanent resident status documents.
If you’re an unmarried child under 21 years of age and have been abused by one of your parents who’s a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to file a petition. If you have children, you can also include their names on your petition. If you’re over age 21 but not yet 25, you can still file as a child if you can show that the abuse was the primary reason you were not able to file before age 21.
On top of the relationship criteria, there are additional conditions you’ll have to meet, depending on your relationship with your abuser. Below, you’ll find more information about these further requirements.
For Abused Spouses
Besides the requirement that your spousal relationship satisfy the listed criteria (both those above and several additional criteria on the USCIS website), there are a number of other factors you must meet as an abused spouse. To be eligible for permanent residency due to domestic violence you must:
- Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse (or your child has suffered at the hands of your spouse),
- Have entered into the marriage in good faith, and not solely for immigration benefits,
- Have resided with your spouse, and
- Be a person of good moral character.
For Abused Children
Abused children must meet certain additional criteria as well. If you’re filing for a domestic abuse green card because you have been abused by your parent (who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident), you must:
- Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent,
- Have resided with your abusive parent, and
- Be a person of good moral character (a child under 14 years of age is presumed to be a person of good moral character).
For Abused Parents
Besides the requirement that your relationship with your abusive son or daughter satisfy the listed criteria to be eligible for permanent residency due to domestic violence abused parents must:
- Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen son or daughter,
- Have resided with the abusive son or daughter, and
- Be a person of good moral character.
The Filing Process for the Domestic Abuse Green Card
To file, you must complete Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. You should submit the completed form with the necessary supporting documentation to the Vermont Service Center. The fee is waived for qualifying victims of domestic violence. Once your I-360 is approved, you’re eligible to file for a green card.
Get Legal Help to Better Understand the Domestic Violence Green Card
Living in fear of your domestic partner but not having the freedom to make a fresh start on your own can be a tragic situation. Thankfully, federal law gives undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence a way to adjust their status and get a green card. If you want to learn more about the domestic violence green card, it's a good idea to contact an immigration attorney to discuss your specific situation and see if you qualify for it.