Immigration relief for victims of crimes, particularly violent crimes and domestic abuse, has become an important source of justice under immigration law in recent years. There are two major paths to lawful status in this area, VAWA Self-Petitions and U Visas.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
Under VAWA, spouses (male or female) and children of abusive U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents may obtain lawful permanent residence without the consent or assistance of the abusive spouse or parent. The idea is to allow battered and vulnerable noncitizens to claim the status that they would be entitled to under the law, without being subject to the whims or manipulation of an abusive spouse or parent.

Normally, if an undocumented or visa-holding noncitizen marries a United States citizen, the U.S. citizen spouse could petition the noncitizen spouse and depending on the circumstances, he or she would be able to at least pursue lawful permanent residence. However, if the U.S. citizen spouse is abusive or manipulative, he or she may refuse to petition for the spouse altogether, or may hold the immigration status over the spouse’s head, or use the possibility of legal status as a way to blackmail the spouse into staying with the abuser. In this situation, VAWA allows the battered spouse to “self-petition,” without the assistance or permission of the abusive spouse.

Relief under VAWA allows noncitizens – even those who have entered without inspection – to become permanent residents without leaving the United States. There are also waivers for some immigration violations. Abused spouses or children must prove that they married in good faith, have been subjected to “extreme cruelty” at the hands of the U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, and are people of good moral character. Certainly many cases involve physical abuse, but significant mental and emotional trauma can also allow a person to claim VAWA benefits. It is also not necessary to show that the police have been called or involved to show “extreme cruelty.”

If you are in an abusive relationship, please get help now. If you are in Wisconsin, please see the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence website for resources and local help for domestic abuse. If you reside outside Wisconsin, please find your state agency on the National Coalition website and look on their site for a shelter or other assistance in your area. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at (800) 799-SAFE (3224).

If you think you could be eligible for immigration status under VAWA, please call my office for a consultation today. The first consultation is free. We understand that these are very sensitive and personal issues to talk about with a stranger. I worked with noncitizen victims of domestic violence during law school and consider this a very important area of immigration law. We will do our best to make you feel comfortable. Because of the nature of this work, we offer reasonable rates and payment plans.

U Visas
The U Visa was created to aid law enforcement in obtaining assistance from victims of violent crime who would otherwise fear reporting crimes because of threats to their immigration status in the United States. If a noncitizen victim has assisted in investigating or prosecuting certain violent crimes, that person may be eligible for a U Visa.

In order to qualify for a U visa, the noncitizen must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of certain criminal activity (including rape, assault, battery, domestic violence and others listed in the statute). The crime must have taken place in the United States. The victim must have information about the crime. And the victim must be able to get either a law enforcement officer or a prosecutor (district/state/U.S. attorney) to certify that the he or she was helpful in the investigation or prosecution of a crime. This generally means reporting the crime to the police, working with the district attorney, and/or testifying in a trial.

The U Visa provides lawful nonimmigrant status to the noncitizen, including work authorization and a path to permanent residency and U.S. citizenship. A noncitizen must hold a U Visa for three years before they can adjust their status to permanent resident.

If you are the victim of a crime and want more information about the U Visa requirements and process, please contact us to set up a consultation. The first consultation about a matter is always free.


Please note that everything posted on this website is legal information, not legal advice. The information provided here is very general. Every case is different. Please consult with us or another qualified immigration attorney before making any decisions about your situation.