Getting Your Green Card When You Are In Abusive Relationship | VAWA



Good morning, everybody. It’s been a long time that I’ve done a live. I apologize, but I’ve been so busy. I’ve been having interviews. But today I’m here, and I have a really, really interesting topic to discuss with you guys. For those that don’t know me, my name is Ifeoma Odunlami. I am an immigration attorney at the Odunlami Law Firm in New Jersey. Although our physical location is in New Jersey, we serve clients in all 50 states of the United States. My law firm works with immigrants to assist them in getting the American Dream. If you’re here, let me know in the chat that you’re here so that I know I’m not talking to myself.

Today I have a wonderful topic for you guys. I actually wish it was something we could have a back-and-forth, so if you’re here, please feel free to put your comments in the comments section so I can talk with you, answer your questions. The topic I want to talk about today is abuse. How do you know you’re in an abusive relationship? Now this may sound like a crazy question. But the people who are being abused or in an abusive relationship, they don’t know that because their abuse is normalized for them. Maybe it’s something they saw when they were growing up, or maybe something that’s cultural. Maybe they’ve talked to people who’ve told them, “Oh, it’s not a big deal.” So they don’t know that it’s abuse, and they lose power because they accept this behavior.

I’m going to go into it in a little more detail, but I’m just going to wait for a couple more people to come in. So I was reading through Facebook, scrolling through. I don’t remember what page it was. And this woman was talking about how she had cut her hair and colored it to celebrate herself. It was her birthday. She came home, and her husband got upset. I don’t remember what he did to her, but, basically, he was not pleased that she cut her hair. I think he might have called a family member, or he might have kicked her out of the house or something to that effect. But what surprised me was the fact that the comments, the people that were responding to this, a lot of people were saying, “Well, you can’t cut your hair without your husband’s permission. You should’ve asked him before you went to cut your hair. He owns you. There’s a dowry on you. You don’t have a right to cut your hair.”

It just dawned on me that this is abusive behavior. If you’re with a spouse who is controlling the way you look, whether or not you can change your hairstyle, what you’re wearing, if you’re in that kind of relationship, you’re in an abusive relationship. It just dawned on me that a person like this woman might have talked to some friends, and they would tell her stuff like, “Well, you shouldn’t have done that.” She wouldn’t have known that this is not acceptable. They would’ve normalized this behavior.

I can tell you that if you’re in a relationship with somebody who’s telling you how to wear your hair or what to wear or who to speak to, there’s more in this relationship that’s abusive. And it doesn’t stop there. So today I’m going to talk about how, I guess, the way we were raised dictates, in a sense, what we consider abuse. Now the people that you’re going through a relationship where you’re being treated badly, maybe you made dinner and your spouse … And even though I’m talking about women and men, and I’m talking about a man in this respect being the abuser, I don’t want you to take this to mean that women are not abusers. Women are abusive in marital relationships or even other relationships. I’m going to use certain examples interchangeably, but I don’t want you to take from this that only women are being abused. That’s not true.

Let’s say, for example, that you’re in a relationship where you’re married to your spouse, and you cook, and he doesn’t like whatever it is you made. He gets upset, and he flings the food away. You talk to it about your friends, and they say, “Well, you really should’ve asked him what he wanted to eat. Maybe that’s not what he wanted to eat.” They’re normalizing this abusive behavior. The more you talk to people who don’t realize that this is abuse, the more you think that maybe it’s something to do with you. Maybe you should’ve done this better. But I want you to know today that’s not acceptable. In the United States, that’s considered abusive behavior. If you’re married to somebody who’s a US citizen or green card holder and you’re being subjected to this kind of behavior, let’s screen you and see if there’s other things going on that could show that you’re in an abusive relationship, and you can file to get your green card without your spouse’s involvement.

Now, another example of abusive behavior is when your spouse is displeased with what you’re doing, and they call family members where they chastise you for something you’ve done, or something you didn’t do, and you’re humiliated. You’re embarrassed. And this is your culture. This is how it is in your culture. When your husband is not happy with something you’ve done, they call a family meeting. They put you in the middle, and the complaints are going back and forth, and you have to kneel and apologize. That’s abusive behavior. You want to know that this is not something you should stand for.

A lot of people, and a lot of my clients, when they come in here with a conditional green card, I see this especially with people who come in here with a conditional green card, which means their US citizen spouse have filed for them to come into the United States. So they come in with a conditional green card because they haven’t been in the United States. I mean, sorry. They haven’t been married long enough to get a permanent green card. And so that spouse now becomes controlling. That spouse will sometimes tell them, “I’m going to withdraw my petition. I’m not going to show up for the interview because you’re getting too Americanized.” What they consider being Americanized is that you’re asking to be treated in a non-abusive manner.

So that spouse feels that they can tell you what to do. They can make you study something you don’t want to study because they want to put you in a certain career that will be helpful to them. You don’t have a say in the finances of the house. You make money, and you have to hand it over to them. If you spend money, you have to tell them. You have to bring receipts. And if you don’t do what they want you to do, then, quote-unquote, “You’re being Americanized.” You’re getting too Americanized, and so they’re not going to show up for the interview. That threat keeps you in a situation where you feel you can’t do certain things. You have to obey this person. You have to always make sure that they’re happy with you because otherwise they won’t show up for the interview.

What I want to tell you today is let them withdraw the petition. Let them not show up. You can still get your green card without them, and the reason is because USCIS, the immigration laws, know that when you’re in an abusive relationship, it makes it worse. The power of you being able to stay in this country, if that power is in your abuser, it makes your situation worse. So there are ways to get your green card without having to go through your abuser, without your abuser being instrumental in getting you your green card. There are two ways that we can do this. There’s VAWA, Violence Against Women Act, and then there’s also if you’re already married to the person, you already have a conditional green card, you can also waive those conditions without your spouse through a waiver. It could be a waiver of a divorce, or it could be a waiver of abuse or extreme cruelty.

The important thing is for you to know if you’re in a relationship where you’re being abused. That’s why it’s important for you to get a proper screening. Don’t rely on your friends who maybe have grown up in the same culture or who have grown up seeing the same things that you grew up with, to tell you whether or not you’re being abused, because they don’t know, either. If you feel like you’re in a relationship where you have no power, where you’re being controlled, where you’re depressed because of the way you’re being treated, you’re not treated fairly, you’re being treated badly, really, you should seek consultation with an attorney to see if that behavior that you’re being subjected to qualifies as abusive, and whether you can get your green card without your spouse. You can self-petition.

Let’s discuss something like VAWA. For those who don’t know what VAWA is, VAWA stands for Violence Against Women Act, and, although the acronym says women, it’s actually applicable to men. It’s applicable to children as well. Who qualifies for VAWA? If you’re married to a US citizen or a green card holder and you’re in an abusive relationship, you qualify for VAWA, but you have to show that the marriage is a bona fide marriage, which means that it’s a good faith marriage. You entered into the relationship because you wanted to be married in good faith, not because you wanted to get immigration benefits. That’s really important because if you’re being abused because you’ve put yourself in a position where you’re in a sham marriage and the person who is in this marriage with you is taking advantage of you, you can’t file for VAWA. VAWA requires it to be a bona fide marriage. This is really important. You have to show that it’s a real marriage.

To be able to qualify for VAWA as well, you have to show that there’s been abuse in the relationship. I’ve talked about this a lot. There can be different types of abuse. People think that because they’re not being beaten up that they’re not being abused. There’s abusers psychological. There’s abusers emotional. There’s abusers financial, and financial abuse is what a lot of men are subject to. You meet somebody and maybe you come on a B-1, B-2 visa, a visitor’s visa, and they tell you they want you. They want to be with you. And then you stay past your visa. Then everything’s going on well. You get married.

And then, once you get your work permit, your wife just decides that she’s not working anymore, and she’s not going to do anything. And then she starts asking for so many things that you cannot afford, and demanding for them because she got you the work permit, and telling you that if you don’t do what she wants you to do, she’s not going to show up for the interview, or she’s going to go withdraw her petition. All of this behavior is abusive. It’s financial abuse. You make money, and they determine how that money is spent. They force you into getting two jobs, three jobs, so that you can take care of their needs because they feel that you owe them. That’s abuse.

If you’re in this situation, you don’t need this person to get your green card. But, again, I say that it has to be a bona fide relationship, because if you put yourself in a situation where you’re being abused and the person is trying to get money from you because it’s a sham marriage, you have an agreement, and they’re financially abusing you because they want money from you pursuant to whatever agreement you have, it’s not a bona fide marriage. Therefore, you cannot file VAWA if it’s not a bona fide marriage.

Another thing you have to show with a VAWA petition is that you’re a person of good moral character, which means that you haven’t committed crimes. And if you have, actually, there are waivers. So it’s always important to talk to an attorney to see whether you qualify for something and whether there are exceptions to the general rule.

Now, for those who have already gotten their conditional green card, you can file a waiver, right? Typically, 90 days before your temporary green card expires, you’re supposed to remove the conditions. But if your spouse is refusing to sign and jointly waive the conditions with you, you can do it on your own if it’s a valid marriage and you’ve got no divorce. You can do that. The only thing is you have to show that it’s a bona fide marriage. That’s why I keep going back to a bona fide marriage. If you’re getting benefits through immigration and it’s based on marriage, you have to show it’s a real marriage, because a sham marriage is a permanent bar. It can stop you from getting any immigration benefits ever. So you want to make sure that you’re not engaging in sham relationships.

You can also get a waiver to waive the joint filing requirements by showing that you’re in an abusive relationship. The good thing about this is you don’t have to wait 90 days before the second anniversary of your green card to file for this. If you’re in an abusive relationship right now, you can file to waive the conditions right away. If you’re married to your spouse and it didn’t work out, because sometimes it just doesn’t work out, you can get a divorce, and then you can file to remove the conditions showing that you have a divorce and that the relationship was a bona fide relationship.

So these are the things that you can do to get your green card without your spouse being involved. I mean, I have clients who are married to a spouse who haven’t filed for them three years, four years, sometimes 20 years. I had a client who was married to a US citizen for 20 years, and he never filed for her. Right away, I knew there was a problem because if you’re married to somebody for 20 years and they have not filed, knowing that filing allows you to get financial power, allows you to work, allows you to be independent, then there’s a lot going on in that relationship. And I would bet my last dollar that there’s abuse in it.

If you have a spouse who is refusing to file for you, talk to an attorney. Call my office: 973-993-1900. Let’s see if you qualify for any of the exceptions which allow you to self-petition. I’m looking through the comments sections, and I don’t see any questions. If this video is helpful to you, please be sure to share it to people that you know that might find value in it, because I’m always surprised when I get clients who call all anxious because their spouse is refusing to show up for the interview or treating them badly and holding the power of their immigration status over them. I’m always surprised that they don’t know that they can do it without their spouse. So it’s really important for you to share this information. Share this video to somebody who you think would benefit from it. If this is helpful to you, feel free to call my office, and let’s help you get your green card.

I think that’s it for today. Seeing that I have no other questions, I’m going to sign off. But, again, my office is in New Jersey. You can call us. 973-993-1900. Please sign onto my social media followers on Instagram, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn, so that you can be notified when I make a new video. Take care. Have a good day.

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Contact the Odunlami Law Firm at 973-993-1900 or email us

If you need an employment visa, wish to immigrate, or want to help bring a family member to the United States, the Odunlami Law Firm can help. If you are facing deportation or removal for any reason, you need our help. You may contact the law office for more information or to schedule an appointment.

Areas of Immigration Law:

  • Naturalization (Citizenship) Application

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  • Fiancé Visa Applications

  • Adjustment of Status and Consular Processing

  • Criminal Consequences and Deportation Defense

  • Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Application

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  • Temporary Work Visas

  • Temporary Protected Status

  • Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals

  • Waivers


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