VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act. This law is designed to protect women from sexual or physical violence, including immigrants who may have experienced violence in the United States or from a US citizen.
Immigrants who are the victims of abuse are entitled to certain protections under the immigration laws of the U.S. The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is the main statute that extends relief to certain non-citizens who have been victims of abuse. The immigration laws aim to protect individuals who may not be in lawful status and allows them to come forward and report the abuse they have suffered without fear of being removal from the U.S.
Non-citizens who have fallen victims of abuse in the U.S need not remain in the shadows due to their unlawful status. Many protections under the immigration laws have been enacted to guard the rights of certain abused immigrants. The Department of Homeland Security is legally prohibited from disclosing that a victim has applied for VAWA, T, or U immigration benefits. For this reason victims of abuse should opt for the protections available to them and escape the cycle of violence they may be facing.
Self-Petition – Form I-360
An immigrant who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a spouse or parent who is a U.S citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) may be eligible for a self-petition. Through a self-petition a victim of abuse may submit a family based petition without the help of the abuser, allowing the victim to break from the cycle of violence without losing his or her ability to gain lawful status in the U.S.
The applicant must present evidence that the abuser is a U.S. Citizen or a lawful permanent resident. The self-petitioning applicant must also show that they continue to be married to the abuser or that the applicant divorced within two years before the application was filed. It also extends protections to a victim of abuse if the petition is filed within two years of the death of the abuser. A self petition is subject to the visa bulletin waiting periods unless a visa is available through an immediate relative category such as marriage to a U.S citizen. Moreover, it extends age out protections to the derivative beneficiaries such as the children of the principal self-petitioner by transforming it into their own self-petition once they reach the age of twenty-one.
Cancellation of removal under VAWA may be an option for abused spouses, parents and children who are in removal or deportation proceedings before an immigration judge. Cancellation of removal under VAWA protects those immigrants who have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a spouse or parent who is a U.S citizen or lawful permanent resident. It also extends protection to the parents of abused children who are not married to the abuser. Through an application for cancellation of removal the applicant is required to show that their removal will result in extreme hardship, three years of continuous physical presence and good moral character. VAWA cancellation of removal offers no derivative benefits to the applicant’s children; however it does allow the child to be paroled into the country until the parent can file for adjustment of status for the child.
When an individual has been the victim of certain qualifying crimes applying for a U nonimmigrant status (U Visa) is another option under VAWA. A U visa applicant must have been the victim of a crime having suffered substantial physical and mental abuse and are willing to assist law enforcement and government officials in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. Similarly, victims of severe forms of human trafficking may be eligible for (T) nonimmigrant visa. After three years in T or U-visa status, the non-citizen may be able to adjust his or her status to that of a lawful permanent resident. Derivative T and U-visa status is also available to certain qualifying family members of the principal applicant.
Conditional residents who are subjected to abuse throughout their marriage may apply for a waiver of the joint removal requirement. Many abused non-citizens who have acquired a two year conditional residence status do not need to stay with their abuser spouse in order to remove the conditions on their status. The joint petition requirement for conditional status may be waived if the applicant has been a victim of abuse during the marriage. The applicant may escape an abusive spouse without risking removal from the U.S. by filing an abused spouse waiver on Form I-751. This waiver was designed to prevent the conditional resident from staying in an abusive relationship without jeopardizing their status in the U.S.
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