Visas for Victims of Domestic Violence

Immigration through a U.S. citizen or permanent-resident family member usually requires that the citizen or permanent resident file a petition on behalf of the relative. This means the citizen or permanent resident controls the immigration process. In relationships in which domestic violence has occurred, this control can be abused by the citizen or permanent resident through threats of revoking or delaying the immigration process or of deportation.

Violence Against Women Act

Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act in part to help victims of domestic violence gain permanent-resident status independently of their abusive citizen or permanent-resident family member.


  • Battered spouses of U.S. citizens or permanent residents may apply. The battered spouse’s unmarried children under age 21 may be included in the application regardless of whether they suffered abuse.
  • Parents of unmarried children who have been abused by their citizen or permanent-resident stepparent may apply. The parent’s other unmarried children under age 21 may be included in the application regardless of whether they suffered abuse.
  • Unmarried children under age 21 who have been abused by their citizen or permanent-resident parents may apply. The children’s unmarried children under age 21 may be included in the application regardless of whether they suffered abuse.
  • Parents abused by their U.S. citizen adult sons or daughters may apply.

Petitions under the act are filed with Citizenship and Immigration Services. The applicant must submit extensive documentation to prove the relationship was abusive.

Petition Requirements

  • Proof of the abuser’s immigration status. The most common way to prove the abuser’s status is with a copy of his or her birth certificate, passport, naturalization certificate or permanent residency card.
  • Proof of the relationship between the abuser and the undocumented person. This includes marriage certificates, birth certificates and divorce decrees.
  • Proof of the abuse and the effect of the abuse on the undocumented person. Typically, this includes police reports, arrest reports, protective orders, restraining orders, court documents, medical records, doctor and/or hospital bills, pictures, news reports, letters from counselors or social service providers, and letters from people who were aware of the abuse when it occurred.
  • Proof of the “good moral character” of the undocumented person. Citizenship and Immigration Services requires that the applicant obtain a police clearance letter from every city where the applicant lived in the past three years if the applicant lived in that city for longer than six months.

A strong petition is difficult to compose because of the nature and extent of the proof required. The need to document the abuse could cause the victimized person to relive painful memories. Counseling could help the abused relative deal with the long-term effects of the abuse.

If the petition is approved, the battered spouse, child or parent may apply for permanent residency. The history of each applicant will determine if, how and when he or she can apply for an adjustment of status. While the person waits for the opportunity to file for permanent residence, the person is granted deferred-action status. While maintaining this status, the person cannot be deported and may apply for employment authorization.

Last update: Sept. 24, 2008

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