The Violence Against Women Act is designed to protect foreign nationals from spousal abuse. They can leave an abusive relationship with a U.S. citizen or Legal Permanent Resident spouse without fear of deportation. The foreign nationals self-petition for a green card.

VAWA also makes it easier for an abused spouse to get something called “cancellation of removal” if she is in deportation proceedings. Cancellation of removal is where the government allows someone to stay based on continuous presence in the United States for a period of time, family relationships in the United States and hardship. Who is eligible for VAWA? Foreign nationals who are, or were, the spouse of a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident may file a self-petition for a green card if: they entered into the marriage in good faith, are currently residing in the U.S., resided inside of the U.S. with the spouse, have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty during the marriage. VAWA forgives an unlawful admission.

The abuse must have been committed by the US citizen or LPR spouse against the petitioner or the petitioner’s child. The abuse and must have taken place during the self-petitioner’s marriage to the abuser. There is no deadline for VAWA, as long as the abuse occurred during the marriage. However, it will be more difficult to get the needed evidence if the victim waits years after the abuse.

The green card will still be granted if the victim divorces her abuser or if there is a change in his legal status (for example, he loses his residency or citizenship). A foreign national who was victimized by a spouse who is not a citizen or resident or by someone other than her spouse may be eligible for a U visa, also called a victim’s visa. It is important to consult with an attorney before determining which type of protection is best in your case. What is abuse under VAWA? Abuse is any act or threatened act of violence including forceful detention, which results in physical or mental injury. This definition includes psychological or sexual abuse or exploitation, rape, molestation, incest or forced prostitution. Other abusive actions that are not necessarily violent by themselves may be considered acts of violence under circumstances even though they are a part of an overall pattern of violence.

Pushing, hair pulling or hitting with an open hand qualify as abuse and are seldom the only acts of violence in the home. Classically, such behavior follows screaming, threatening, and isolation from a foreigner’s family and friends. What type of evidence is needed? A foreign national seeking protection under VAWA must present evidence to show that she was battered, abused or subjected to extreme cruelty. She should present evidence of any mistreatment to establish the pattern of violence which supports her claim that the abuse occurred.

Evidence submitted includes police reports, court records (if there was a restraining order or the abuser was prosecuted), affidavits of witnesses, psychologist reports, pictures of injuries, etc. Also, the fact that the victim sought refuge at a shelter for battered women is important.