Navigating Gender, Immigration,
and Domestic Violence
Advocacy with Work Visa Holders
The topic of domestic violence advocacy with South Asian immigrants on temporary visas raises more questions than answers. In general, women who seek support from domestic violence agencies have a complex set of needs when responding to the abuse in their lives. Many immigrant women further contend with limited access to services due to language barriers, institutional racism within domestic violence and other social services, and pressure not to seek help outside their cultural community (Acevedo 2000; Bui and Morash 1999; Raj and Silverman 2002a). In addition, immigration history and residency status powerfully shape an immigrant woman's responses to abuse, as these determine her eligibility for public benefits, options to maintain a legal presence in the United States, and the right to seek legal employment. Although federal legislation through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides substantial immigration relief to some battered immigrants, the safety net it erects remains permeable and leaves out many groups of immigrant women who have few, if any, options to find relief from abuse.
This essay discusses the barriers to safety encountered by South Asian victims/survivors of domestic violence who reside in the United States on temporary dependent visas. The most recent wave of immigration from South Asian countries occurred as a direct result of the boom in the computer industry in the 1990s and early 2000s. Under the auspices of U.S. economic growth, thousands of South Asians, primarily Indians, were granted H-IB or temporary work visas, allowing them to enter the U.S. workforce for up to six years if sponsored by an employer. However, the conditions of immigration under the H-IB program potentially exploit temporary workers and their families while exacerbating power dynamics, which contribute to women's vulnerability to domestic violence. The dependent nature of the H-4 status enables abusers to maintain control through financial and legal means with severe consequences for the safety of victims/survivors of battering. For example, while the