There are three ways that undocumented immigrants who become victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and a few other specific crimes can apply for lawful immigration status for themselves and their children, according to USCIS .
The visa application of a victim of domestic violence is confidential and no one, including the abuser, the perpetrator of the crime, or a family member, will know that you applied.
Immigration benefits for victims of domestic violence are:
– Self-petitions for lawful status under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
– VAWA Cancellation of Removal
– U-nonimmigrant status (victims of crimes)
Each of these immigration benefits has specific requirements that must be established, and immigration authorities advise that you consult an immigration attorney who works with victims of domestic violence to discuss how any of these immigration benefits may affect or help you.
With the passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and its subsequent reauthorizations, Congress provided noncitizens who have been mistreated or abused by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member the ability to petition independently for themselves (self-petition) to an immigrant classification , without the abuser's knowledge, consent, or participation in the immigration process.
This allows victims to seek safety and independence from their abusers.
In addition, help and support is available through the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY). The hotline provides information about foster homes, mental health care, legal advice and other assistance, including information about applying for immigration status. For more information visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website .
When it is required to apply for a U visa
Some victims of domestic violence are not eligible to file a VAWA self-petition because they are not married to the abuser. Other victims are not eligible for VAWA because the abuser does not have legal documents. For people in any of these situations, the U visa may be their only immigration option based on domestic violence.
How to apply for a WABA visa self-petition
To apply for a VAWA visa, the following documents must be submitted to USCIS:
– Form I-360 , Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (you do not have to pay a fee if you file Form I-360 as a VAWA self-petitioner)
– Evidence that you meet all eligibility requirements.
If you include derivative beneficiaries on your self-petition, you must provide evidence that any derivative beneficiary listed is under 21 years of age and unmarried at the time you apply, as well as evidence of the relationship between you and your child.
If your Form I-360 is not approved, it does not provide immigration status for you and your derivative beneficiaries.
Approval of a Form I-360 provides you and your beneficiaries with an immigration classification so that you and your derivative beneficiaries can apply for lawful permanent residence (Green Card).
USCIS will automatically consider you for employment authorization if you request an employment authorization document (EAD).
If your Form I-360 is approved and you are in the United States, USCIS may consider you for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), depending on your case.
Derivative recipients requesting consideration of deferred action (DACA) must include a copy of the WABA visa self-petition approval notice and evidence of qualified derivative family relationship, along with the petition, to the Vermont Service Center.
If you are outside the United States, USCIS will send your VAWA self-petition to the National Visa Center (NVC). The NVC will forward your petition to the appropriate US consulate when a visa becomes available, and you will be notified of the next steps. This process is known as “consular processing.”
Petitioners who are not being represented by immigration attorneys may mail their signed written inquiries to:
US Citizenship and Immigration Services
Vermont Service Center
ATTN: Humanitarian Division
38 River Road, Essex Junction, VT 05479-0001
Before filing any documents with USCIS, you may want to discuss your options with an experienced immigration attorney.