If you are a non-citizen in the U.S. who has been the victim of domestic violence, you might have a choice between different ways to apply for the right to remain in the U.S.: asylum, a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)-based self-petition for a green card based on marriage, or a U visa to stay in this country.
In brief, here's what the above three choices mean:
- Asylum offers legal protections available to people who have left their home country for their own safety and are afraid to return. In some cases, this can include situations where the danger came from an abusive family member and the authorities provided no help. After a year as an asylee, one can apply for a green card (U.S. lawful permanent residence).
- The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows someone married to an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse to file a self-petition for a green card rather than waiting for the spouse to file the petition.
- A U visa allows immigrant victims of serious crimes who need to remain in the U.S. so as to provide law enforcement officials with information used in apprehending and prosecuting the offenders to apply for temporary and later permanent status in the United States.
Which one of these options is best? Before you decide, be sure to consider what immigration benefits your children might, or might not, attain along with you.
Safety and Privacy Considerations for Victims
Be sure to consider the privacy of your computer, smartphone, or tablet when seeking help online or over the phone. Some victims might use the same device, network, or phone plan as the abuser, allowing the abuser to see the victim's search or call history or otherwise track their activity. Many smart devices contain cameras or GPS tracking that can be used to locate and monitor your whereabouts. An abuser can even slip a small tracking device in your car, bag, pocket, or other belongings without your knowledge. If you're concerned about your privacy or safety, several organizations provide assistance and resources, including National Domestic Violence Hotline and RAINN. You can also check out our Resources for Victims of Crime.
Can You Include Non-Citizen Children in Your Asylum Application?
Whether your children can be included in an asylum application (and therefore be granted asylum along with you) depends on their age, marital status, and location, as follows.
- If your children are in the United States with you, they can be included in your asylum application. They must be under the age of 21 and unmarried. They need not have also suffered domestic violence to be included in your application. By including them, they will receive a grant of asylum along with you, but could also be denied and placed into removal proceedings along with you.
- If your children are outside of the United States you can apply for them to enter as derivative refugees. You must do this within the first two years of having been granted asylee (refugee) status. To qualify, your children will need to have been under 21 and unmarried when you filed your asylum application. You will need to file Form I-730 with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) along with required documentation.
Can You Include Non-Citizen Children in Your U Visa Application?
It is possible to include non-citizen children in a U visa application as "derivatives," depending on your age, the children's age, and their location, as follows.
- If you are under 21, your children under 18 can be included in your U visa application. This is true whether they are inside or outside the United States.
- If you are over 21, you can apply for any of your children. It doesn't matter whether the children are in or outside the United States or how old they are.
You must complete Form I-918, Supplement A to include your children in your U visa application.
Can You Include Non-Citizen Children in Your VAWA Self-Petition?
You may include unmarried children under the age of 21 in a VAWA self-petition for U.S. lawful permanent residency. They may also file their own VAWA petition if they suffered domestic abuse as well.