Victims of Domestic Violence: You May Be Able to Become a Permanent Resident

This post is also available in: Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish

By Atty. Cynthia Exner

I am constantly amazed when clients who have been abused for years by their legal spouses, come into my office for advice, and they have continued to remain with the spouse in the hopes that the legal spouse will file papers for them with Immigration someday.  So many people don’t realize that they have the ability to Self-Petition, without any help from the abusive spouse, under VAWA.  In tribute to those who are living with abuse in our community during this holiday season, I submit the attached article.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994 and later extended to include same-sex couples, and battered and undocumented immigrants.

VAWA does not only include women. If you are the battered or abused spouse, man, woman or child of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can Self-Petition to US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for your permanent resident status.

There are undocumented people in the Greater Danbury area who are married to abusive permanent residents (LPR) or US citizens (USC). The LPR or USC may convince the undocumented spouse or child that they must take the abuse, that he/she cannot do anything against the LPR or USC or they won’t be sponsored for permanent residency. The LPR or USC may promise to file papers with USCIS in the future, but either never does so, or doesn’t follow through on papers that have been filed. The undocumented person may be convinced that he/she has no options but to submit to the whims of the abuser.

A battered spouse or child does NOT need the abuser to file papers with USCIS. The battered person can Self-Petition under VAWA. It doesn’t matter if the spouse or child entered the US legally with a visa, or illegally without a visa. Even if the battered person has an old deportation/removal case, a VAWA petition may be able to take care of that too. It is important to obtain proof of the abuse, such as copies of medical records, therapist reports, police reports, reports from a crisis center or a child’s guidance counselor, etc. USCIS handles VAWA cases carefully, understands that the abused person may be cohabitating with the abuser. USCIS doesn’t send mail/notices to the home and doesn’t notify the abuser, for the safety of the abused undocumented person.

If the undocumented person is not married to the abuser, as in the case of an abusive boyfriend or girlfriend or other abusive family member, even if the abuse occurred in the past, there is a different process called a U-Visa for Victims of domestic violence in the US.

Don’t be a victim of domestic violence. Don’t let your abuser convince you that you have no rights. USCIS recognizes that this is a problem in our community and has the ability to provide an undocumented person with permanent resident status without any assistance from the abuser. If you know anyone who is the victim of domestic violence, tell him or her that help is available from USCIS. If you are the undocumented child of an abuser, you can Self-Petition for permanent resident status.

You are not required to be living with the abuser. If you are married, you should remain married until after the Self-Petition is filed in order to file under VAWA. If the abuse occurred in the past and you are now living apart from your abuser, but still married, you can qualify for a Self-Petition under VAWA.

Cynthia R. Exner is an immigration attorney at the Danbury office of the Immigration Law Offices of Cynthia R. Exner, 270 Main Street, Danbury, CT. If you have any questions relating to this topic, you can contact Attorney Exner at 203-830-4045 or by email at

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