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Immigrants sometimes feel like they have to remain in an abusive relationship in order to protect their status. People who are undocumented or in the US on an expired visa are particularly vulnerable. Their status might prevent them from securing a job, getting a driver’s license, or seeking help and they might think their only option is to stay trapped or face deportation.

Thanks to the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), that isn’t the case.

VAWA is a law passed in 1994 to protect victims of domestic and sexual abuse. Among other important things, VAWA offers abuse victims a path toward permanent residency (green card) independent from their abuser. (If you have a conditional green card and considering leaving your US citizen spouse, click here.)

Abusive spouses use all sorts of terrible tactics on their immigrant partners. They might isolate their partners by preventing them from learning English or communicating with other people. They might refuse to file an immigration application or threaten a pending petition. They might even threaten deportation or refuse economic support.

That’s where VAWA comes in. You may qualify for permanent residency under VAWA if you are the victim of abuse perpetrated by a US citizen spouse or ex; US citizen parent; US citizen son or daughter; permanent resident spouse or ex; permanent resident parent.

In order to apply for VAWA, you’ll need to submit Form I-360 along with the following documents: a copy of your passport or birth certificate; proof that your abuser is a US citizen or green card holder; proof of your relationship with your abuser; proof that you suffered abuse; police clearance records and other proof that you are of “good moral character;” proof that you live in the US; and a sworn affidavit describing your relationship to your abuser and the abuse you suffered. Your sworn affidavit should be as detailed as possible, including dates and locations of specific instances of abuse.

Nobody needs to remain in an abusive relationship for fear of their immigration status. If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic abuse, consider contacting the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1 (800) 799-7233. If you have questions or concerns about how to apply for VAWA, call Passage Immigration Law at (503) 427-8243.

Update: on April 4, 2019, legislators in the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize VAWA with new provisions including: expanding existing laws that prohibit people convicted of abuse or stalking from purchasing firearms to include unmarried partners and misdemeanor charges; allowing US citizens to be tried in tribal courts if they commit abuse on native lands; including transgender victims under VAWA protection; allowing victims of abuse to pursue mediation and other forms of “alternative justice” outside the courtroom.