For Immediate Release, February 22, 2017
South Asian Organizations Welcome the Introduction of Work Authorization for Immigrant Domestic Violence Survivors
South Asian American organizations including the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA), Apna Ghar, Inc., and Raksha, Inc., welcome the introduction of a federal immigration form that allows some immigrant domestic violence survivors to apply for independent employment authorization, enabling them to escape abusive relationships.
The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently issued Form I-765V, “Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse,” which is confidential, preventing the abuser from learning of the application and allowing the applicant to seek safety and independence. The publication of this form fulfills a regulatory pledge made over 10 years ago and contrasts with many recent anti-immigrant actions that have undermined America’s historic leadership in offering sanctuary to refugees and other vulnerable immigrants.
Many immigrant domestic violence survivors are dependent on the immigration status of their abusive partner and are forced to remain in abusive relationships, because current regulations do not permit the survivors to work, thereby denying them the means to support themselves. Section 814(c) of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 was intended to address this problem, amending the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to provide eligibility for employment authorization to certain abused spouses of non-immigrants admitted under 15 separate immigration categories. More than 10 years later, the final rule implementing this section has finally become effective, and the application form was published on January 19, 2017.
Applicants using the new Form I-765 must provide evidence of their lawful entry, their marriage to the abuser (or, if divorced, that the divorce took place within the last two years and was connected to the abuse), the abuser’s status (or, identifying information that will allow USCIS to confirm the status), and that the applicant has been battered or subjected to extreme mental cruelty. If the form is approved, employment authorization will be granted for two years and can be renewed under certain circumstances.
Aparna Bhattacharya, executive director of Raksha, Inc. explained the significance of the new form. “Previously, many survivors were forced to choose between working under the table to support themselves, going back to their abuser or depending on the generosity of community members if they left their abusers. These less than ideal options have often led to further victimization of these survivors by employers, family members and community members. We are grateful that the form will give survivors the ability to work and be eligible for transitional and other housing programs to ensure safe housing and the ability to build a safety net for themselves and their families.” Raksha, (Protection), is a Georgia based social service agency that works towards healing, empowerment and justice for South Asian survivors of violence.
Kalpana Peddibhotla, co-chair of SABA’s Immigration Committee, stated, “We urge the Administration to continue taking steps to protect the most vulnerable immigrants in the United States and empower them to contribute to the economy, rather than implementing counter-productive measures that harm them and do not increase our security.”
Neha Gill, executive director of Apna Ghar, Inc., stated, “While the final rule took many years to implement, this is a celebrated example of how our immigration laws are used to help, not ignore or harm the most vulnerable domestic violence survivors in the United States. VAWA is a critical, lifesaving protective option and takes into account the unique experiences of immigrant survivors. We look forward to continuing to support immigrant survivors and help them access the safety net available to them.” Apna Ghar, Inc. (Our Home), is a social service agency in Chicago, Illinois that provides holistic services and conducts outreach and advocacy across immigrant communities to end gender violence.
Although the approval of employment authorization does not change the immigration status of the applicant or resolve broader problems with our immigration system, the ability to work offers hope to dependent spouses who were otherwise stuck in abusive situations because they could not afford to leave. While we applaud this expansion, we encourage Congress and the Administration to continue to expand protection under VAWA to non-immigrants as well as immigrants. We renew our call for comprehensive immigration reform that is consistent with America’s history as a nation of immigrants and views immigrants as an asset and not a threat to the United States.
SABA North America (formerly NASABA/North American South Asian Bar Association) is a voluntary bar organization and serves as an umbrella organization to 26 chapters in the United States and Canada. SABA North America is a recognized forum for professional growth and advancement for South Asian attorneys in North America and seeks to protect the rights and liberties of the South Asian community across the continent. Learn more at www.sabanorthamerica.com.