By: Ehiabhi Uwa
Moving to the United States as a West African is no easy task. Imagine trying to stay here legally while your spouse is an abuser. Many West Africans who have come to the United States are fearful that reporting their abuser would lead to their removal from the country. However, few people know of the special provisions under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), created under United States immigration law, that may help abused women obtain Lawful Permanent Residency in the United States. Under VAWA, certain situations would allow for abused West Africans married to, or recently divorced from, a United States Citizens or a Lawful Permanent Residents to self-petition for, and obtain, Lawful Permanent Residency or removal of the condition on their 2-year Conditional Permanent Residence cards.
If you have divorced your abuser you are still eligible to self-petition. The spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can self-petition up to two years after divorce, if there is a connection between the divorce and the abuse.
Also, the spouse of an abusive US citizen can self-petition up to two years after the death of his/her spouse. The spouse or child of an abusive US citizen or lawful permanent resident can self-petition up to two years after the US citizen or lawful permanent resident loses immigration status, if the loss of status is related to domestic violence. Finally, you may remarry, but only after your VAWA self-petition is approved. If you re-marry before filing the application or while it is still pending, you will lose the opportunity to obtain Lawful Permanent Residence through VAWA.
If a victim files a self-petition while their children are less than 21 years old and unmarried, his/her children will remain eligible to obtain lawful permanent residence no matter how long it may take the authorities to process and approve his/her application. If the victim files the self-petition while her children are less than 21 years old and unmarried, they may be able to include the child on the application. Thus, the child need not file a VAWA petition themself. The child of an abusive U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident may file a VAWA Self-Petition up to the age of 25, but only if (a) they remain unmarried and (b) can prove that the abuse they suffered at the hands of their US Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident parent is one central reason why they could not file a VAWA before they turned 21.
Finally, if the abuser of a VAWA victim is not a US Citizen, or the abused non-citizen was never married to the abuser, then the abused would most likely not qualify to self-petition for Lawful Permanent Residence under VAWA. However, you may qualify for a U-visa.
The purpose of the U-visa is to give victims of certain crimes temporary legal status and work eligibility in the United States for up to 4 years. The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa and only 10,000 U-visas may be issued every fiscal year. Family members may also be included on the petition including spouses, children, unmarried sisters and brothers under 18, mothers, fathers, as well as stepparents and adoptive parents. An approved U-visa petition will automatically grant the applicant work eligibility in the United States.
[For more information on this topic and more, contact The Uwa Law Group P.C. Offices at (646) 770-1573.]