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Types of Abuses that Qualify an Immigrant for VAWA Protection

Updated: Nov 3, 2023

Abuse takes many forms. Physical violence, emotional manipulation, harassment, and sexual assault are ways domestic abuse occurs. While this abusive behavior is not appropriate for any household, we recognize that immigrant spouses and children may be at a higher risk for underreporting. There is help available.

Legal immigration status typically requires a qualifying relationship to a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). Immigrants who meet the VAWA petition requirements may have another way to get a green card without relying on their abusive family member. VAWA immigration abuse may provide an opportunity to self-petition.

What is a VAWA Self-Petition?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows immigrant abuse victims to file for legal status without their abuser. The process is called a self-petition and is broken down into two steps, the petition, and the green card application.

This government program provides some relief for non-citizen victims who are suffering abuse at the hand of their U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) spouse or family member. VAWA petition requirements include anyone who has a qualifying relationship with the citizen/resident abuser and who resides with that individual and may have suffered abuse from that individual.

Qualifying immigrants who are domestic abuse victims can file a Form I-360 with documented evidence of the abuse. This form takes about one to two years to process and receive approval and may provide the abused immigrant with the ability to get a separate green card.

How We Can Help

Immigrants fearing deportation may feel stuck in an abusive situation. You are not alone. There are many domestic abuse cases in the United States, and many of them are immigrants. Current laws in the United States offer protections for both citizen and non-citizen victims.

The legal process to take advantage of these protections is confusing and complicated. Our law firm practices in immigration law, and we can walk you through the process to self-petition under VAWA. Contact our office today for a consultation.

We want to help you get out of a bad situation. You can count on our firm's discretion, to keep your case and matter confidential if you come to talk to us.

Other resources that can help include:

VAWA Petition Requirements

Types of Abuse that Qualify

The definition of the term abuse is a term defined by both statutory regulations and case law - the attorney can help you to better understand what it is. Meanwhile, physical injuries like bruising can be the easiest to document and prove, many other forms of abuse qualify for a VAWA self-petition.

Physical Violence

Physical abuse occurs when someone intentionally hurts your body by hitting, punching, slapping, pushing, or applying extreme pressure. This behavior is commonly repeated and often leaves evidence of bruising and unexplained injuries.

Medical records from repeat emergency room visits or police reports from domestic violence calls are good ways to document proof of abuse. Photographs and witness statements may also help strengthen your self-petition documentation. Try to gather as much evidence as possible.

Threats, Intimidation & Degradation

Not all forms of abuse are as physical or obvious as giving a spouse a black eye. More commonly, the abuse comes in the form of repeated threats or intimidating behavior. Abusers like to feel powerful and will use these tactics to degrade or put their victims down, lowering their confidence levels, making them easier to control.

These abusers rely on your fear of deportation to control and manipulate your behavior. This is the most common type of grievance provided for under a VAWA self-petition.

Economic Abuse

Another way that abusive partners control their immigrant dependents is by withholding or removing financial resources. If your abuser controls the family's money and refuses to provide sufficient funds for basic needs, this may be abuse. Or, if they intentionally cause you to lose employment, this may also be a form of abuse covered by VAWA.

If your abuser prevents you from reporting to work or harasses you while at work, even if you have not yet lost your job, that may be one more proof of abuse making you eligible for VAWA. This type of abuse may also include coerced debt like forced credit card purchases, loans, and mortgage refinancing to obtain funds.

Sexual Abuse

Forced, non-consensual sexual activity may or may not include a physical assault. Sexual abuse can occur between married spouses, especially when they use intimidation or fear-based tactics to initiate sex.

Sexual abuse also covers inappropriate sexual activities between an adult abuser and a minor child or an adult abuser and an elderly family member. Sex should only occur between two consenting adults, and a spouse does not have an obligation to provide sexual favors or participate in sexual activity. If you are a victim of sexual abuse, our firm may help you maintain legal immigration status.

immigrant domestic abuse

Social Isolation & Detention

Many immigrants are already isolated from friends, family, and the community. Language and cultural differences make it hard. Abusers use this to their advantage to keep their victims dependent on them for everything from travel to money, housing, and employment.

If you feel pressured to report your whereabouts, return home at assigned times, or are not allowed to participate in common activities, then you may be a victim of abuse. While many families find it courteous to inform their spouses of their whereabouts, strict rules or curfews cross a line.

Jealousy & Harassment

Abuse can also be very emotional. Partners who feel triggered by the social attention that their spouse receives can become aggressive and manipulative. Excessive and repeated accusations of flirtation or infidelity, snooping, or stalking may qualify as VAWA immigration abuse.

Verbal Abuse

Yelling, screaming, belittling, and using derogatory language constitute verbal abuse. The government recognizes verbal abuse as VAWA immigration abuse as long as it occurs frequently or repeatedly and causes a hostile environment.


VAWA immigration abuse is one way that the spouses, children, or parents of an abusive citizen or LPR can get a green card without their abuser. The government recognizes that domestic abuse is common and that immigrants are disadvantaged victims of this abuse.

The JLB Law Group practices immigration law. We can help immigrant victims navigate the VAWA self-petition process to obtain a green card without their abusive partner or parent. Contact our office today to find out how we can help.

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