U.S. Immigration Policies Increase Likelihood of Domestic Violence Against South Asian Immigrant Women

in Health & Medicine, News Releases, School of Public Health
October 6th, 2004

Contact: Jodie Petrie, 617-638-5432 | jpetrie@bu.edu

(Boston) – In a first-of-its-kind study to examine the relationship between immigration-related abuse and domestic violence, researchers at the Boston University School of Public Health have concluded that current U.S. immigration policies preventing women on spousal visas from working and self-petitioning for change of status increase women’s vulnerability to partner abuse and may constitute human rights violations.

The study, “Immigration Policies Increase South Asian Immigrant Women’s Vulnerability to Intimate Partner Violence,” determines that immigration-related abuse in the forms of threats of deportation, refusal to file for change of visa status, and withholding of immigration paperwork is part of an overall campaign by batterers to exert extraordinary personal and economic control over their partners. Further, the study suggests that threats and refusal to file for change of status were significantly related to physical abuse, sexual abuse, and injury resulting from male partner-perpetrated violence against South Asian immigrant women.

Researchers surveyed 189 married immigrant South Asian women living in the Boston-area, gathering information about demographics, immigration status, and health. The study focused on people from India, the largest South Asian group in the United States, comprising nearly 50 percent of those receiving H-1B work visas. Spouses of H-1B visa holders are given H-4B visas, which legally permit them to be in this country but prohibit them from obtaining paid employment or getting a social security card, which prevents them from opening a bank account or obtaining a driver’s license.

“Immigration policies, specifically those attached to the H-4B (spousal) visa, are increasing vulnerability to partner violence among these visa holders, a disproportionately female group. H-4B visa holders are legal residents of the U.S. who are being denied the right to work and the right to self-petition for legal permanent residency in the U.S. These policies violate basic human rights and must be changed for the U.S. to demonstrate a commitment to eliminating policies that increase women’s risk for violence,” said study author Anita Raj, PhD, B.U. School of Public Health.

Overall, the study’s authors suggest that these findings clearly demonstrate the need to expand the definitions of domestic violence to include immigration-related abuse and that immigration policies be reformed to protect immigrant battered women and their children.

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