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Aydin Taherzadeh reflects on the currently updated Domestic Violence provisions.

Domestic Violence is a painful reality for many people, with an estimated 1 in 4 women and 1 in 6 men suffering from some form of domestic abuse.

Migrants can feel particularly vulnerable, as they may not have any kind of support system close by or any knowledge of the help they can access. Threats against visas are common in abusive relationships, so it is important that people on spouse visas are aware of the options available to them to protect their immigration status in the UK.

What is classed as Domestic Violence?

According to the Home Office, domestic violence/abuse is:

Any incident or pattern of incidents of controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour, violence or abuse between those aged 16 or over who are, or have been, intimate partners or family members regardless of gender of sexuality. This can include, but is not limited to, the following types of abuse:

• Psychological

• Physical

• Sexual

• Financial

• Emotional

This is quite a broad definition, designed to provide as much protection as possible to victims of domestic violence. It does not require a person to have suffered years of abuse, or life-threatening injuries at the hands of an abusive partner.

Controlling, coercive or threatening behaviour can include anything that results in you feeling isolated, so you may not feel like there is anybody you can turn to. You may be feeling trapped, because you don’t have control over any finances, or you may not be able to build a network outside your relationship. And you may have received threats relating to your immigration status, with many abusive partners threatening to ‘send back’ the victim. There may also be cultural or religious pressure against you, possibly even threats of honour-based violence.

The definition is purposefully broad, because domestic abuse can take many different forms. By increasing awareness of the various forms of domestic abuse, we can reduce long-term harm and suffering.  

Who can apply under the Domestic Violence rules?

Anybody can apply for settlement under the domestic violence rules, as long as you are (or most recently held) leave to remain on the spouse route. The domestic abuse must be the reason for the relationship between you and your partner breaking down permanently.

From the definition above, we can see that both women and men can apply, from both heterosexual and same-sex relationships, as well as relationships between other family members. Any child dependents can also apply as dependents under the domestic violence rules.

Whilst women are the most common victims of domestic abuse, there are many men who suffer too. Unfortunately, most male domestic abuse victims do not report their abuse. There is undoubtedly still a stigma in society attached to men reporting abusive relationships, but domestic abuse can take many different forms, so it’s vital that everybody affected knows of the support available to them.

Similarly, domestic abuse is also common in LGBTI+ relationships, but these groups only represent a very small percentage of reported abuse. It is clear that, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, more needs to be done to ensure victims of abuse are aware of the support available to them.

This is especially true for migrants, who will often feel trapped in abusive relationships, as if they are being held hostage by their abuser because of their immigration status.

Transnational Marriage Abandonment

The Home Office have recently updated the rules to include specific guidance for anybody who finds themselves abandoned abroad by their partner or their family. The purpose of this is to prevent the sponsored individual from returning to the UK, and causes serious hardship for people who have been abandoned in a foreign country – often with little or no money, and sometimes without their passport or other key documents.

This situation causes immense suffering and anxiety to the victims, and they can often be incredibly complex situations. The Home Office guidance acknowledges this, so there is support available for victims of Transnational Marriage Abandonment.

What do you need to show for a successful application?

When it comes to Domestic Violence applications, you may think it will be difficult to provide evidence of the abuse. In the midst of controlling behaviour, or a violent episode, or whatever form the abuse takes, gathering evidence may not always be on the forefront of your mind. In fact, for many people, they may not even explicitly recognize the fact that they are being abused until after it has happened.

Of course, one of the strongest pieces of evidence is a court order (such as a non-molestation order, restraining order or criminal conviction). However, there may be nothing more than a police report, particularly at the time of the application. Or perhaps you may not have involved police, as many people choose not to (for a number of different reasons).

There may be medical evidence, such as a doctor’s report or photographs of injuries. If there were any witnesses to any abuse, they may be willing to provide a witness statement to provide, alongside a detailed witness statement of your own. And if you received any support from a charity (such as a Domestic Abuse charity or refuge), they are often willing to provide a supporting letter or an assessment report. Similarly, if social services have been involved at all, and they are aware of any abuse, social workers can also be contacted for a supporting letter or report.

It is important to discuss this with a legal representative so that you can be properly advised on the different kinds of evidence that you may be able to provide.

How do you apply?

For anybody worried about fees, you can initially apply for the destitution domestic violence concession (DDVC). This will give you a short-term visa (3 months leave to remain), and access to public funds. This allows you to get away from the abusive situation, and access support for housing and maintenance. You will also be exempt from paying the fee for the settlement application. You should submit the application before the expiry of the DDVC; this will ensure your access to support & public funds continue until you receive a decision.

The main application process is similar to other immigration routes. There is a form to submit, and you must then attend a biometric appointment. Any supporting evidence needs to be provided within 2 weeks of submission of the application. The current service standard for a decision is 6 months.

Depending on your finances, you may be eligible for legal aid, and/or for a fee waiver for the application fee.

If you are successful, you will be granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK. This means you will be settled in the UK, and will have full access to the NHS, public funds and unrestricted employment rights.

Domestic abuse is unfortunately far more prevalent than it should be. However, there is support out there for victims of domestic abuse, and systems in place to protect you, no matter the situation you find yourself in.

If you are affected by any of the matters in this article, and you would like some advice and assistance with preparing an application, please contact Wilson Solicitors by calling our main switchboard on 0208 808 7535, or by completing our online contact form here.

If you have a family law case you need assistance with, please contact Mavis on 0202 8885 7986 to arrange for an appointment with a solicitor in the family team.

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