Six Paths to Legal Immigration Status Without Staying in an Abusive Relationship

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

Written by: Meghan Phillips

Six Paths to Legal Immigration Status Without Staying in an Abusive Relationship

A topic that sadly affects many immigrants is abusive relationships or domestic violence. One out of four women and one out of nine men in the United States sadly suffer from this issue. Immigrant women and men are not an exception, but their non-citizen status can make it difficult to leave an abusive relationship. Sometimes an abuser might even use a non-citizen’s lack of status to threaten to deport them or make them afraid to call the authorities or medical services for help in order to force them to stay in the relationship. 

The purpose of this post is to tell you that no one should have to put up with violence or abuse and that there are six ways a non-citizen can become or stay a legal permanent resident, sometimes also called a green card holder, without staying in an abusive relationship. 

(1) The first way is called a VAWA petition. VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act, but it is the law that states that immigrants, regardless of their gender, can apply for legal permanent residency if their U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse or parent has abused them. It also allows non-citizen parents to apply if their U.S. citizen child has abused them. In other words, most of the time, an immigrant with a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse or parent or a U.S. citizen child must depend on that person to file a petition for them. This eliminates the dependency on the abusive spouse, parent, or child.

(2) The second path is called an I-751 waiver. This is for someone whose U.S. citizen or a legal permanent resident spouse already petitioned for their green card, but they were issued a temporary or conditional green card. Normally when that happens, after two years, you apply to have the conditions removed and to be issued the ten-year green card by showing you are still in a good-faith relationship. In cases of abuse, the I-751 waiver says you do not need the support of your abuser to have the conditions removed. Instead, you can show that you entered the relationship in good faith, but your spouse was abusive.

(3) The third way is called a U visa. U visas are for immigrant victims of violent crimes such as domestic violence or sexual abuse, but perhaps the abuser did not have any legal immigration status either. If you are able to prove that you were the victim of a violent crime in the United States and you were helpful to U.S. law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting the abuser, you and certain qualifying family members can be issued a U visa. After having the U visa for three years, you can then apply for a legal permanent resident.

(4) The fourth option is similar to the third and is called a T visa. T visas are for victims of human trafficking, which is a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to compel individuals to provide labor or services, including commercial sex. Like with the U visa, the immigration status of the trafficker does not matter, but victims must comply with reasonable requests to assist law enforcement with investigating or prosecuting their traffickers unless they are a minor or too traumatized to assist. They must also show that it would be an extreme hardship or cause them harm to return to their country. Like the U visa, after having the T visa for three years, you can then apply to become a legal permanent resident.

(5) The fifth path to legal residency for immigrants who have suffered abuse is asylum. Asylum seekers leave their countries and are afraid to return because of persecution. Sometimes this persecution takes the form of domestic violence. In other words, this option might be the right fit if the abuse occurred outside the United States and the person fled their country to get away from his or her abuser. Under current asylum law, these cases can be difficult to win, but if you do win an asylum case, after one year you can apply to become a legal permanent resident.

(6) The sixth option is specifically for immigrant minors and is called Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). This status is available to immigrant minors who cannot be reunified with one or both of their parents due to abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The process starts in a county’s juvenile and domestic relations court or family court, where a judge must issue an order finding that the immigrant child has been abused, abandoned, or neglected by a parent, as well as other factual findings. Often, this will be part of a custody order, and sometimes the non-abusive parent or another guardian will receive full custody. After receiving this order, the minor must apply for SIJS with immigration, and after this application is approved, he or she must wait for their visa to become available and remain unmarried. When their priority date is current, Special Immigrant Juveniles can apply for their green card.

If you or someone you know is not a U.S. citizen and is currently or has suffered from abuse, the number one thing is your or their safety. No one should put up with abuse, and your abuser should not use your immigration situation to make you stay with them or make you afraid to call for emergency medical or police help.

Please give us a call at 703-369-4738,visit our website,, email:, or stop by our office at 9200 Church Street, Suite 400, in Manassas, Virginia, to learn more or make an appointment for a consultation.

This blog post is not intended to provide legal advice or substitute for the advice of legal counsel with respect to specific facts and situations. See disclaimer