For those under the unrelenting dominion of an abusive spouse, America can seem like just another place on the map to feel like a prisoner. While your spouse controls your immigration status, your situation may feel hopeless. However, the Violence Against Women Act offers protections and provisions for non-citizens who are victims of domestic violence.

This Act and subsequent legislation provide several ways for you to separate your immigration process from that of your spouse, even if they are currently serving as your family-based visa sponsor.

How can I apply to stay in the United States without relying on my spouse?

There are two main options for domestic violence victims:

  • VAWA self-petition. Available to spouses abused by U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents, this path applies to those who entered their marriage in good faith and show good moral character, according to set guidelines. There is no restriction on the amount of VAWA self-petitions granted per year.
  • U visas are granted to individuals who have not only suffered abuse but are also willing aid law enforcement or the U.S. government in prosecuting criminal activity. You must be a victim of a crime that took place in the U.S. or violated a U.S. law to qualify for this type of visa. There is a 10,000 cap on the number of U visas issued per year.

A VAWA self-petition or a U visa, whichever applies in your scenario, can be the first step toward your independence—and the beginning of the journey to citizenship.