If you’re the victim of domestic violence and you’re not a United States citizen or permanent resident, you may be eligible to file your own application for what is commonly called a "domestic violence green card." Typically, green cards (permanent resident status documents) are obtained when a family member or an employer sponsors an immigrant's application to reside in the United States on a permanent or long-term basis.
However, if you’re residing in the U.S. and suffering as a victim of domestic violence, you are able to self-petition for a green card under a provision of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). If you’re not currently residing in the U.S. but your abuser is an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the uniformed services, you can still file for your own green card if you were abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident while present in the United States. Finally, if you’re an illegal immigrant suffering domestic violence, you aren’t immediately eligible for the "domestic violence green card" but you can still receive protection from the government if you qualify for a special non-immigrant visa called a U visa.
The U visa doesn’t grant you automatic access to government benefits, but you’ll become eligible for consideration for benefits by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (USCIS). For more information on the U visa, visit the USCIS website or U.S. Immigration Support.
Benefits of a "Domestic Violence Green Card"
When you independently apply for a green card without an American citizen filing on your behalf, you are a "self-petitioner." Self-petitioners who receive permanent residency status are also entitled to the following:
However, you should keep in mind that you won’t receive the right to vote in government elections.
Eligibility for a "Domestic Violence Green Card"
Eligibility is determined by your relationship with the abuser. You’re eligible to file for a domestic violence green card if you are one of the following:
If you’re the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you may be eligible to file for a domestic green card in two situations: either you are a spouse who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your husband or wife is your abuser) or a spouse whose child has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your husband or wife is abusing your child).
If you’re the parent of an abusive child who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (i.e. your son or daughter is your abuser), you’re eligible to file for permanent resident status documents.
If you’re an unmarried child under 21 years of age and have been abused by one of your parents who’s a U.S. citizen, you are eligible to file a petition. If you have children, you can also include their names on your petition. If you’re over age 21 but not yet 25, you can still file as a child if you can show that the abuse was the primary reason you were not able to file before age 21.
On top of the relationship criteria, there are additional conditions you’ll have to meet, depending on your relationship with your abuser. Below, you’ll find more information about these further requirements.
For Abused Spouses
Besides the requirement that your spousal relationship satisfy the listed criteria (both those above and several additional criteria on the USCIS website), there are a number of other factors you must meet as an abused spouse. To be eligible for permanent residency due to domestic violence you must:
For Abused Children
Abused children must meet certain additional criteria as well. If you’re filing for a "domestic abuse green card" because you have been abused by your parent (who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident), you must:
For Abused Parents
Besides the requirement that your relationship with your abusive son or daughter satisfy the listed criteria (both those above and several additional criteria on the USCIS website), to be eligible for permanent residency due to domestic violence abused parents must:
The Filing Process for the "Domestic Abuse Green Card"
To file, you must complete Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. You should submit the completed form with the necessary supporting documentation to the Vermont Service Center. The fee is waived for qualifying victims of domestic violence. Once your I-360 is approved, you’re eligible to file for a green card.
Get Legal Help to Better Understand the Domestic Violence Green Card
Living in fear of your domestic partner but not having the freedom to make a fresh start on your own can be a tragic situation. Thankfully, federal law gives undocumented immigrants who are victims of domestic violence a way to adjust their status and get a green card. If you want to learn more about the domestic violence green card, it's a good idea to contact an immigration attorney to discuss your specific situation and see if you qualify for it.