U.S. Immigration law provides immigration relief for undocumented victims of domestic violence and victims of certain criminal activities which occurred on the territory of the United States.
- Green Card for Victims of Domestic Violence
- Green Card Requirements for Victims of Domestic Violence
- Green Card for Victims of Domestic Violence through the Self-Petitioning Process (VAWA)
- Green Card for Victims of Domestic Violence based on U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa)
- Green Card for Victims of Criminal Activities – U Visa Program
Regardless of age, race or ethnicity, incidents of domestic violence occur very often in the United States, especially in families where the victims of domestic violence are not the U.S. citizens or U.S. lawful permanent residents (green card holders). Domestic violence includes:
• Physical abuse, such as hitting, pushing, kicking, raping, slapping, child molestation, etc. regardless whether or not a victim has any marks or bruises left on his or her body.
• Emotional abuse, such as threatening to commit certain acts, kill or hurt the victim, taking the victim’s children away, making the victim believe that he or she can be deported, humiliating the victim at home or in public, engaging the victim in prostitution, keeping the victim away from his or her friends and relatives or restraining him or her from going to certain places.
Victims of domestic violence who suffered physical or emotional abuse can obtain a Green Card, officially called a permanent resident card, if they meet the eligibility requirements. There are two different ways of obtaining a Green Card based on incidents of domestic violence. One is through the Self-Petitioning Process and the other one is through U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa).
Victims of domestic violence can obtain a Green Card through the Self-Petitioning Process if they were abused or battered by a U.S. citizen relative or by a U.S. lawful permanent resident relative (Green Card holder). The victim of domestic violence must provide proof of his or her relationship to the abuser, evidence of abuse, such as his or her own statement, statements from friends or people who witnessed the abuse, pictures, etc. Police reports are not required in this case, as it is very common that victims of domestic violence are in the United States illegally and afraid to seek help from law enforcement agencies fearing they will be deported.
Victims of domestic violence who were abused by a relative who is not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. lawful permanent resident can apply for a Green Card based on U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa). In order to qualify for it, the abuse has to occur on the territory of the United States and it must be reported to a U.S. law enforcement agency, such as a police department or sheriff’s office. It is also required that the victim must be cooperative and helpful in the investigation process.
Usually, relatives of U.S. citizens or U.S. lawful permanent residents can apply for a Green Card only if the U.S. family member files a family visa petition for them (Form I-130). This process may take several years and relatives of U.S. citizens or U.S. lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders) have to rely on their abusive U.S. family members. Many abusers use this advantage to manipulate and control their family members who are illegally in the United States or those who are legally (have a valid U.S. visa) in the United States but are not U.S. lawful permanent residents. Fortunately, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was created to help the abused family members obtain a Green Card without help from the abuser. Usually, victims of domestic violence stay with their abusers and tolerate the abuse thinking that the only way they can become U.S. lawful permanent residents and obtain a Green Card is through their abusive U.S. relative. This is not true, the victim can leave his or her abuser and obtain a Green Card based on the incidents of domestic violence. Despite its confusing name, the Violence Against Women Act provides immigration relief not only for abused or battered women but also for men who have suffered from domestic violence. It includes the following categories of victims of domestic violence:
• Abused or battered wives or husbands of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents
• Abused or battered former wives or husbands of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents
• Abused or battered children of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents
• Abused or battered step-children of U.S. citizens and U.S. lawful permanent residents
• Abused or battered parents of U.S. citizens
Under the VAWA provisions, victims of domestic violence can obtain a Green Card through filing a self-petition. A self-petition must be completed and signed by the victim. It will be reviewed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Sometimes, victims of domestic violence are afraid that their abuser might find out that they have filed a self-petition in order to obtain a Green Card. However, the USCIS is aware of this fact and keeps all the information provided by the victim strictly confidential. The abuser will not have access to the information contained in the self-petition. In other words, the abuser will not have any means by which he or she will know whether or not the victim has filed a self-petition. Furthermore, the USCIS does not contact or interview the abuser to determine if the victim’s statements in the self-petition are correct and legitimate. The decision of the USCIS officer will be based on the story, evidence and facts provided by the victim only. It will be the victim’s responsibility to gather all the necessary documentation to support his or her self-petition. Police reports, temporary protection orders or counseling certificates may be helpful in this situation however, they are not required. If the abuser and the victim live in the same house or apartment, it is recommended that the victim supply an alternate address, such as his or her relative, friend or a post office box address to receive the correspondence from the USCIS.
Relatives of U.S. citizens can file their self-petition and application for a Green Card at the same time. Upon approval of the self-petition, the victim of domestic violence will receive his or her Green Card. The entire process for relatives of abusive U.S. citizens may take around one year. Relatives of U.S. lawful permanent residents usually can’t file their self-petition and Green Card application simultaneously. They have to wait until their self-petition is approved and then apply for a Green Card. Close relatives of the victim of domestic violence, such as the victim’s children or siblings can obtain their Green Cards as victim’s derivatives.
To find all the necessary information, processing times, eligibility requirements, procedures, checklist of the supporting documentation, required immigration forms, sample completed forms, instructions on how to fill out the forms, affidavits and declarations in order to obtain a Green Card through the Self-Petitioning Process and addresses where to send your application, download the Step-By-Step Guide, called “Green Card for Abused Spouses, Children or Parents of U.S. Citizens and U.S. Lawful Permanent Residents.”
Victims of domestic violence who were abused or battered by a family member who is not a U.S. citizen or a U.S. lawful permanent resident can obtain a Green Card through U Nonimmigrant Status (see below “Green Card for Victims of Criminal Activities – U Visa Program”). The abusive relative does not need to have a legal status in the United States. However, the crime of domestic violence has to occur on the territory of the United States regardless whether the abuser is legally or illegally in the United States. Applying for U Nonimmigrant Status requires more than just a statement from the victim describing the abuse that he or she suffered with the supporting evidence. The incidence of domestic violence has to be investigated and prosecuted by a U.S. law enforcement agency. A law enforcement official, such as a police officer, district attorney or judge has to fill out a certification form for U Nonimmigrant Status describing the nature of the crime and confirming that the incident of domestic violence occurred on the territory of the United States and the victim was helpful in the investigation.
Not only victims of domestic violence can apply for a Green Card through U Nonimmigrant Status (U Visa). The U.S. government implemented a U Visa Program to allow foreign born nationals who are victims of certain qualifying criminal activities to legally stay in the United States and become U.S. lawful permanent residents (Green Card holders).
U Visa Program
U Visa Program was established by the U.S. government and provides immigration relief for victims of certain criminal activities which occurred on the territory of the United States. Under this program, victims of certain criminal activities can become U.S. lawful permanent residents based on U Nonimmigrant Status or U Visa. Obtaining a Green Card through U Nonimmigrant Status or U visa is a two step process. First, the victim has to apply for U Nonimmigrant Status. If U Nonimmigrant Status is granted, the victim has to spend at least 3 years in the United States before he or she can obtain a Green Card.
Many people are concerned whether there is a difference between U Nonimmigrant Status and U Visa. Yes, there is a difference between the two. Victims of crimes who are currently in the United States will be granted U Nonimmigrant Status. U Nonimmigrant Status will allow them to legally reside and work in the United States and later apply for a Green Card. However, if they leave the United States before they obtain their Green Card, they have to apply for a U Visa at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad in order to return to the United States. U Nonimmigrant Status can be granted to a victim who originally entered the United States illegally – without a U.S. visa or overstayed his or her U.S. visa. Nevertheless, holding U Nonimmigrant Status does not guarantee that a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad will issue a U Visa to a victim who had prior U.S. immigration violations. If the victim was illegally in the United States before he or she was granted U Nonimmigrant Status, the consular officer may deny a U visa and the victim won’t be able to return to the United States. Therefore, victims of crimes who were granted U Nonimmigrant Status in the U.S. and have prior U.S. immigration violations or criminal history are discouraged to travel outside the United States before they obtain their Green Card.
In order to qualify for U Nonimmigrant Status or U visa, four main requirements must be met. First, the crime has to occur in the United States or on a United States territory including U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Second, the criminal activity must be investigated by a U.S. local, state or federal law enforcement agency. Third, a victim must possess the information about the criminal activity and must be willing to assist in the investigation process. And fourth, the victim must show that he or she suffered substantial physical or mental harm in order to be eligible for U Nonimmigrant Status. Below is a list of the criminal activities, victims of which can apply for U Nonimmigrant Status:
|• rape||• slave trade||• unlawful criminal restraint|
|• torture||• kidnapping||• murder|
|• trafficking||• abduction||• witness tampering|
|• incest||• prostitution||• false imprisonment|
|• domestic violence||• sexual assault||• manslaughter|
|• sexual exploitation||• felonious assault||• female genital mutilation|
|• being held hostage||• extortion||• involuntary servitude|
The victim’s close relatives, such as his or her spouse, children, siblings and parents can obtain a Green Card based on the victim’s U Nonimmigrant Status, too. The application for U Nonimmigrant Status must be completed and signed by the victim or if the victim is under 16 years of age, by the victim’s parent. It must be accompanied by a declaration from the victim, certification form from the law enforcement official who conducted the investigation (police officer, district attorney or judge), witness statements if any, medical records and other relevant to the crime documentation. You can find all the necessary application forms, law enforcement certification forms, instructions on how to fill out the forms and how to write a declaration, sample completed forms and a list of all the required documentation for U Nonimmigrant Status in the Package called “Petition for U Nonimmigrant Status.”
Applicants who were granted U Nonimmigrant Status can apply for a Green Card after they have lived 3+ years in the United States. It is important to remember that trips outside the United States of more than 90 days will disrupt the 3 year period that the victim is required to spend in the United States in order to receive a Green Card. In other words, if the victim spent more than 90 days outside the United States, all the time she had been in the U.S. prior to his or her trip will not count towards the 3 year U.S. residency requirement. It is also important to remember that the Green Card will be issued only to victims who continue to assist the law enforcement agency in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal matter if the law enforcement agency requested to do so.
After the three year residency requirement is met, the victim can file a Green Card application. All the necessary forms, sample completed forms, instructions, procedures, processing times, checklist of all the required documentation for a Green Card application based on U Nonimmigrant Status or U visa can be found in the Step-By-Step Guide, called “Applying for a Green Card in the U.S.”