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Seeking permanent residency amid domestic violence

You may have friends or family members who have obtained their green cards through the sponsorship of a relative or employer. A green card grants permanent residence status to the holder, opening many benefits and protections. If you want this status for yourself, there may be one thing holding you back: The person who would sponsor you is also your abuser.

Fortunately, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Department (UCSIS) provides an option for those in your situation. You may be eligible to apply for a green card through the government's Violence Against Women Act (VAWA).

Qualifying for a VAWA green card

U.S. immigration authorities understand that domestic violence can often result in a loss of control and freedom. Obtaining sponsorship for permanent resident status from an abuser may be an impossible, even dangerous undertaking. Through the VAWA, you can become your own sponsor, self-petitioning for your green card. Eligibility includes any of the following situations:

  • You live in the U.S., and you are a victim of domestic violence perpetrated by a U.S. citizen or green card holder.
  • You live outside the U.S., and the person victimizing you is a citizen or permanent resident employed by the U.S. government or is a member of the armed forces who abused you while you were living in the United States.
  • If you are unlawfully present in the U.S. and are the victim of domestic abuse, you may apply for special protections although you will not be eligible for a VAWA green card.

The abuser can be a spouse, parent or child who holds a green card or is a U.S. citizen.

A green card can open doors for you

Obtaining a domestic violence green card through self-petition means you will enjoy the same benefits of any permanent resident, including:

  • You will be able to seek employment or start your own business.
  • You will be eligible to apply for federal financial aid to complete your education.
  • You will have the freedom to travel within and outside of the United States.
  • You can sponsor your spouse or minor children when they apply for their green cards.
  • You may qualify for Social Security benefits.
  • You have the protection of the laws that govern Colorado and the country.

Provided you commit no removable offense, you will have residency in the U.S. and the right to pursue full citizenship, which will also add voting to the list of rights you can exercise.

The most challenging step in the process may be completing the documentation to demonstrate your eligibility for a domestic abuse green card. Many find it helpful to seek legal assistance to minimize the chances of errors or delays in the process.

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