H4 visa holders who are victims of domestic abuse can get EAD, rules USCIS

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Indian-American activists are excited about a new development that bodes well for H4 visa survivors of domestic violence.

A federal immigration form that allows some immigrant domestic violence survivors on H4  visa to apply for independent Employment Authorization Document (EAD), is being applauded by Indian-American advocacy organizations. According to activists this is the final step to activate Section 814(c) of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) of 2005 which was intended to address this problem. It was announced on the last day of the Obama administration Jan. 19, and the Trump administration let it stand on Feb. 14 after a review.

Section 814(c) amended 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, advocates say.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) issued Form I-765V, “Application for Employment Authorization for Abused Nonimmigrant Spouse,” Jan. 19. The document, which is available on the USCIS website (uscis.gov/i-765v), is confidential, thus preventing the abuser from learning of the application and helping an applicant gain security and independence.

It is also very user friendly, said Devangi Raval, who worked with a South Asian women’s support organization on domestic violence, and is now with the New Jersey-based mainstream group Women Rising.

“I definitely think it is the right step. Ninety percent of the cases I was dealing with were women not able to leave their spouses because of financial reasons,” Raval said. “The form also mentions a safe mailing address – which I really like. Plus, even if a victim’s visa documents are lost or stolen, they can file the form. A lot of times abusers take away the documents and never return them,” she said.

Activists like Meghna Damani, a documentary filmmaker and editor, who played an important part in the campaign to get EADs for H4 visa holders, told News India Times they welcomed the new form. The South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA), and women’s support groups like Apna Ghar, Inc. and Raksha, Inc, also had positive reactions.

“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,” SABA said in a press release Feb. 22.

“This is great news. Its huge,” said Damani. “My work is more with H-4 advocacy and a lot of the spouses on this visa are victims of domestic violence – physical, mental and economic.”

A spouse on H4 visa does not get any financial security, Damani noted. Even getting a driver’s license needs the approval of the spouse, a situation made worse if he or she is abusive. “This is the first positive thing I’ve seen and feel really excited about it,” said Damani who has been fielding frequent calls from women worried about unsubstantiated rumors that the hard-fought H4 EAD might be revoked. “Some of these women have created jobs after getting the EAD, not taken them,” she said, disputing the oft-repeated claim that immigrants were taking away the jobs of Americans.

Among the proofs that victims/survivors of abuse have to provide using the new Form I-765, is evidence of their lawful entry and their marriage to the abuser. If divorced, the divorce should have taken place within the last two years and be connected to the abuse. They also have to provide the abuser’s status or information that USCIS can use to confirm the status, and that the applicant has been battered or subjected to extreme mental cruelty. If the form is approved, employment authorization is given for two years and can be renewed under certain circumstances.

“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,” Aparna Bhattacharya, executive director of Georgia-based Raksha, Inc. is quoted saying in the release.

“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,” Kalpana Peddibhotla, co-chair of SABAs Immigration Committee said. .

“… 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,” said Neha Gill, executive director of Chicago-based Apna Ghar.

(This post was revised on 2/23/2017)

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