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Permanent residence as a battered/abused spouse

By Atty. Paul Choi

Paul Choi is an immigration attorney practicing in Encino, California. As a public service, he will answer all questions regarding immigration and naturalization for free either by mail, email at pchoi@pchoilaw.com, on the phone, or in person or you may contact his administrator, Philip Abramowitz at 818 714-2226, or pabramowitz@pchoilaw.com. The following is one such question and the answer by Mr. Choi.

Question: My friend introduced me to an American guy about two years ago who wanted to meet a Filipina. After going out with him for a short time, he asked me to marry him and we were married in 2009. He did not have a job at the time but told me that he would find work after we got married. After we married in Las Vegas he filed for my greencard.

However, my husband never found work and he would often just stay at home and drink. He often asked me for money and when I did not give him cash, he would scream at me and threaten me to have me deported. I often cried and felt abused. He never hit me or physically abused me but I was scared anyway of him. I finally moved out and abandoned my greencard. What can I do since I can’t say I was abused if there was no physical harm.

Answer: Unfortunately, your situation occurs most often than people think. Spousal abuse is a hidden occurrence that people don’t often discuss because of embarrassment or shame. However, just because you were not physically abused or beaten does not mean that you are not an abused spouse eligible for immigration benefits.

The VAWA, Violence Against Women Act was passed to protect not only women, but men as well from the needless stress and harm of an abusive relationship. The law is supposed to be remedial in nature, that is, it was passed to try to help people and for this reason, it is to be liberally applied by the USCIS. The requirements of the law are not that strict and persons lacking medical records or police reports as evidence of abuse can still qualify.

Abuse can take the form of mental abuse as well as physical abuse. If you were screamed at, threatened, belittled or forced to do things against your will, you may qualify. If you lack medical records of abuse or police reports, you still may qualify. Evidence of abuse can be your own statements, the statements or witnesses or reports by psychologist, social workers, priests or women’s shelters. There is no required format for the supporting evidence so don’t let the lack of documents dissuade you if you feel that you qualify.

Filing under VAWA is unique in that it is one of the only immigration benefits that does not require a legal entry. Entered without inspection? You can file. Lost your passport and proof of entry? You can file. Already in removal or deportation proceedings? You can file. Fiances of American citizens who never married may also be able to apply.

To qualify under VAWA, your spouse or intended spouse must have been a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. You need not have filed permanent residence through your spouse to qualify either.

If you wish to file under VAWA there isn’t even a filing fee. The petition is free. Once approved, you can request work authorization and apply for permanent residence without the petition of your spouse. Filing under VAWA is quite fast as well with most decisions coming in just a matter of months.

So, if you are in a terrible or abusive relationship, don’t let the pursuit of your greencard force you to remain in an undesirable situation. There are alternatives available to you. Before you seek benefits under VAWA or any other law, it is best to speak to a qualified Immigration Attorney so you understand your chances of success and the best plan for you.

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Atty Paul Choi will answer all questions regarding immigration, naturalization and deportation defense for FREE. Contact him at pchoi@pchoilaw.com or at 818 714-2226. He is located at 16000 Ventura Blvd, Ste. 1201, Encino, California 91436.

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