A Boutique Immigration Law Firm Serving the Bay Area

Options for Non-Citizen Victims of Domestic Violence

Victims of domestic violence often feel trapped and helpless. Finding options for separating themselves from an abuser and building a better life in a safe place is daunting, and may even seem impossible. These barriers may seem all the more insurmountable when the victim is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (i.e., green card holder). What are the options? Is there a domestic violence visa?

Fortunately, the U.S. government offers options for victims of domestic violence and their children. Three different options allow a victim and her attorney to determine the best and safest approach given her specific circumstances. Later posts in this series will delve into each of the three ways U.S. law protects foreign victims of domestic violence. Here’s a brief overview:

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) as amended by VAWA, the spouse of a U.S. citizen who has been abused by the U.S. citizen spouse may self-petition for an immigrant visa. Because she can sponsor herself for a green card rather than relying on the sponsorship of her abuser, the abusive spouse no longer has a hold over the victim.

The law provides similar protections for children and parents who are victims of abuse, and the petition may be submitted and processed without the abuser’s knowledge.

Asylum in Domestic Violence Cases

In 2014, the Board of Immigration Appeals at long last recognized domestic violence as grounds for asylum. Generally, asylum may be an option if the victim's home government is unwilling to intervene on her behalf or is unable to do so effectively. This may involve circumstances under which behavior we consider abusive in the United States is not considered unlawful in that country, or those in which the country’s culture makes it difficult or impossible for the government to enforce laws protecting victims of domestic violence.

However, the standards for receiving asylum on this basis remain a bit unclear, making it important that the victim seeking asylum receive knowledgeable guidance as she petitions for asylum.

Domestic Violence Visa - The U Visa

The U visa is a non-immigrant domestic violence visa issued to victims of “qualifying criminal activity,” which includes domestic violence. The visa is valid for a period of four years, and a U visa holder is employment eligible. The visa may be extended beyond the initial four-year period. In addition, a U visa holder in good standing may apply for a green card after three years of residence.

The best source of information about which protection for victims of domestic violence is most appropriate and the most likely to be successful under your particular circumstances is an experienced immigration attorney. The right immigration attorney will be able to assist with every stage of the process, including:

  • Thoroughly explaining your options
  • Examining your circumstances and recommending the best option for you
  • Preparing applications and other required paperwork
  • Explaining what type of documentation is required and how you can assemble those documents
  • Helping you prepare for your interview

If you or someone you care about is a victim of domestic violence and is a foreign citizen, please contact our office. We are committed to protecting the rights of domestic violence victims. To learn more about how we can help, just call (650) 562-6900, or fill out the contact form on this site.

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