VAWA, U-Visas and Gender Abuse Cases

U-Visa for victims of crimes

The U nonimmigrant status (U visa) is set aside for victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and are helpful to law enforcement or government officials in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity. Congress created the U nonimmigrant visa with the passage of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (including the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act) in October 2000. The legislation was intended to strengthen the ability of law enforcement agencies to investigate and prosecute cases of domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking of aliens and other crimes, while also protecting victims of crimes who have suffered substantial mental or physical abuse due to the crime and are willing to help law enforcement authorities in the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity. The legislation also helps law enforcement agencies to better serve victims of crimes.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Obtaining status for victims of domestic violence

Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), spouses and children of United States citizens or lawful permanent residents may request lawful permanent residency if they have been the victims of domestic violence.

This law applies even if the person applying is undocumented, and entered the United States illegally. If the VAWA application is granted, the person’s unlawful presence here is forgiven, and they become eligible for a green card.

The person applying must have been legally married in good faith to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who committed the domestic violence. The law also allows the unmarried children of the battered spouse under the age of 21 to get status as derivative beneficiaries. Likewise, VAWA allows an opportunity to apply for status for a battered child under 21 years of age and unmarried. The parents of a child who has been abused and unmarried minor children can also apply as derivative beneficiaries.

A battered spouse only qualifies for relief if the abuse occurred in the United States. The only exception is when the abusive spouse is an employee of the United States government or a member of the uniformed services of the United States.

It is important to know that the emotional or psychological abuse also qualifies; it is not absolutely necessary to show that the victim suffered physical attacks. The law requires the victim to prove they were subjected to “extreme cruelty”, which can include threats, verbal abuse, harassment and other forms of emotional abuse, without the necessity of physical abuse. Our office has had great success obtaining VAWA status for women who were subject to various forms of cruelty or violence. In these applications, a police report of the abuse is helpful, but not necessary. We have been able to succeed in winning these cases with statements from witnesses including family members.

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