Immigration 101: Cancellation Under VAWA

As we’ve discussed in other articles, even if an immigration judge determines that you are removable, you may still be able to remain in the US. A special type of cancellation of removal is available to certain victims of domestic violence under a 1994 law called the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”). Cancellation under VAWA is a form of relief from removal that is available to both men and women who have been the victims of domestic violence and abuse at the hands of US citizens or lawful permanent residents. You may qualify for cancellation under VAWA if you can show that:

  1. You have suffered battery or extreme cruelty. “Extreme cruelty” means not only physical violence, but also emotional abuse and psychological harm, intimidating and controlling behavior, verbal abuse, or threats to have you and your children deported.
  2. The person responsible for this abuse is or was a US citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  3. Your abuser was your spouse, former spouse, intended spouse, or one of your parents. You may also qualify if you are the parent of a child who was the victim of battery or extreme cruelty by his or her other parent.
  4. You were physically present in the US for a continuous three-year period before you applied. However, if you don’t meet this requirement but the time you spent outside the US was connected to the abuse or cruelty you suffered, that time won’t be counted against you.
  5. You have been a person of good moral character during this three-year period. The courts have not settled on an exact definition of the phrase “good moral character,” but in general, it means that you haven’t committed any serious crimes or engaged in fraudulent activity. Even if you have committed a crime, you may still meet the requirements for good moral character, especially if that crime was connected to the abuse you suffered.
  6. You are not subject to certain grounds of inadmissibility or deportability. Most of those grounds are related to criminal activity or fraud.
  7. You can establish that your removal from the US would result in extreme hardship to yourself, your child, or one of your parents. “Extreme hardship” is a high standard, but it’s not as hard to meet as the standard for ordinary cancellation of removal, because there is not requirement that the person who would suffer the hardship be a US citizen or lawful permanent resident. The effects of the abuse you suffered may provide further support for an extreme hardship claim.

If you meet these requirements and demonstrate to an immigration judge that you qualify for cancellation of removal under VAWA, you will not be removed from the US, and you will have a path to receiving permanent resident status.

Other Forms of Relief and Protection for Victims of Domestic Violence

If your abuser was not a US citizen or permanent resident, you will not be eligible for cancellation under VAWA. However, you may be qualified to receive a U-visa, which could allow you to remain in the US. U visas are available to people who assist law enforcement in a criminal investigation or trial. This often involves testifying as a witness in a criminal case against your abuser.

If you suffered abuse in your home country, rather than in the US, you could potentially be eligible for asylum or withholding of removal. Although this area of law is still developing, various courts have recently begun to recognize asylum claims based on domestic violence.

This article is part of our ongoing “Immigration 101” series, in which we break down topics in US immigration law. For more articles in this series, click here.

The content in this post was originally written by Stuart Nickum and adapted by Lena Barouh.


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