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Happier days soon for dependent spouses

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ATLANTA, GA — South Asian American organizations have welcomed 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 organizations included the South Asian Bar Association of North America (SABA), Apna Ghar, Inc., and Raksha, Inc..

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) had 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 fulfils 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 now 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.

Although the approval of employment authorization does not change the immigration status of the applicant or resolve broader problems with the 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.

Raksha applauded the expansion and encouraged 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”, said Bhattacharya.

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