Through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) documented and undocumented immigrants who have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses or parents can become qualified immigrants. Federal law denies public benefits to most immigrants but some can become eligible to receive these benefits if they are considered qualified immigrants. Immigrants are eligible for federal means-tested benefits, federal public benefits, and federally funded social services if they meet the following requirements:
- The immigrant spouse or child has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by their US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent;
- The battered immigrant has a family-based petition or VAWA immigration case that is either pending or has been approved;
- The battered immigrant can demonstrate a substantial connection between the need for benefits and the abuse; and
- The battered immigrant or child receiving benefits no longer resides with the abuser spouse or parent.
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Many women and children who have been battered or have suffered abuse need public assistance in order to leave their abusive spouse or parent. If an immigrant spouse or child successfully gains status as a “qualified immigrant” they are able to receive a broad range of benefits including but not limited to:
- Medicare or Medicaid
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services
- Refugee Assistance
- Public Housing
- Victim Rights and Services
- Adoption Assistance
- Federal Student Financial Aid
Generally, eligibility for certain benefits depends on the date the immigrant entered the US. Generally all “qualified immigrants” who were residing in the US on or before August 22, 1996 are eligible for those same federal and state public benefits. Those that entered after this date are barred from receiving federal means-tested benefits during the first 5 years after obtaining qualified immigrant status. Battered immigrants are an exception in that they can receive federal public benefits that are not deemed to be federal means-tested public benefits during this 5-year period.
Receiving public benefits cannot prevent an immigrant self-petitioning through VAWA from obtaining lawful permanent resident status and the Department of Homeland Security cannot deem a battered immigrant a burden to society based on the use of public benefits.
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.