International and undocumented students, unlike their American citizen counterparts, face additional immigration considerations when filing Title IX complaints.
These immigration concerns involve maintaining the conditions necessary for student visas or evaluating how undocumented status may or may not impact a Title IX investigation. While many available resources, such as the National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project (NIWAP) and Legal Momentum’s Empowering Survivors: Legal Rights of Immigrant Victims of Sexual Assault, focus on the intersection between immigration status and gender violence, it should be noted that there are currently few specific answers on the intersection between Title IX and immigration status. Nevertheless, this section can detail what current anti-gender violence legal options are available for international and undocumented students. Additionally, it will anticipate concerns that lawyers accustomed to anti-sexual assault law ought to keep in mind.
International students with student visas must be aware that while their Title IX filing or investigation can be on-going if they are not currently enrolled, their eligibility to remain in status requires a full-time academic course load. It is especially important for international students to remain at least 12 academic credit hours per term or they risk being considered out of status and must seek to reinstall their student status.
Within the context of on-campus sexual assault, withdrawing for a semester or two is a fairly frequent occurrence. Additionally, it is common for students to drop below a normal course load. International students ought to be aware that withdrawing or reducing their course load requires additional procedures. This is not to discourage survivors from choosing the course of care that is best for them—rather, we wish to ensure that survivors do not unintentionally jeopardize their status. The majority of this section is from the excellent, “When Foreign Students or Their Family Members are Sexual Assaulted: Immigration Implications of the Student and Exchange Visitor System.”
All international students are required to maintain a full-time course load, usually 12 academic hours per term. If a student needs to drop below a full-time course load, they must receive their Principal Designated School Official’s approval (PDSO) before reducing classes. Students are not required to tell their PDSO about sexual assault. The PDSO can permit students to reduce course load for academic or medical reasons:
- Academic reasons often include cultural adjustments to American education system, including language adjustments. Students can drop below a course load only once (1 semester) per program for academic reasons, given that they resume full-time studies the next semester. If their perpetrators were involved in their college community it is suggested that international students argue that this was the direct cause of their “academic difficulties.”
- Medical reasons including temporary illness, can only last for an aggregate of 12 months, and requires documentation from a licensed medical doctor, doctor of osteopathy, or a licensed clinical psychologist.This will require the student to reveal the assault to the PDSO. It is especially important that students document any and all medical treatment to use as evidence to substantiate the medical case for the PDSO.
Students who don’t have PDSO’s approval will fall out of status and will be terminated in Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). Obviously, there are many other reasons for international students to adjust their schedules when it comes to dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault. They should consult with a lawyer familiar with both immigration and anti-gender violence law. However, we’d like to remind international students that if they do fall out of status for less than five months, they can apply for reinstatement with Citizenship Immigration Services. Along with showing that the violation was outside of the student’s control, if the student is applying because of serious illness or injury because of the assault, the student must disclose this information with CIS. They should submit all evidence substantiating the assault such as medical, psychological, or police records. Again, we’d like to encourage students to read over this report for more details.
If a student misses the reinstatement deadline, they should consider immigration options related to sexual assault (such as U-Visas, VAWA self petitioning, or VAWA cancellation of removal), which will be summarized in the section below. Given possible changes in federal enforcement of immigration policy, Title IX, the Clery Act under the Trump Administration, we strongly encourage you to contact a lawyer to discuss whether or not to file a complaint.
The Trump Administration has indicated that they may reverse President Obama’s actions on immigration, including the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. United We Dream has created a resource about what you need to know about DACA during a Trump presidency.
Prior to filing a complaint and revealing their immigration status, undocumented students are highly encouraged to seek out counsel from immigration/anti-gender violence lawyers. Some advocacy groups that might be helpful are listed below, we encourage students to ask for local resources in their own area.
- American Immigration Lawyers Association
- National Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Project
- Immigrant Legal Resource Center
- Immigration Center for Women and Children
- Legal Momentum
Other Anti-Violence Immigration Options
There are additional anti-gender violence immigration options. These include:
U-Visa for victims of criminal activity are available for victims of specific types of gender violence crime. Eligible individuals must be a victim, indirect victim, or qualifying bystander who suffer from substantial physical or mental abuse from
- rape; torture; trafficking; incest; domestic violence; sexual assault; abusive sexual contact; prostitution; sexual exploitation; female genital mutilation; being held hostage; peonage; involuntary servitude; slave trade; kidnapping; abduction; unlawful criminal restraint; false imprisonment; blackmail; extortion; manslaughter; murder; felonious assault; witness tampering; obstruction of justice; perjury; or attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above mentioned crimes; or similar activity.
Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides special paths to immigration status for battered noncitizens who are the spouse or child of an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident. They must demonstrate that victims:
- Have or had a qualifying relationship with the abusive spouse or are the parent of a child of the abuser
- Reside or resided with the abuser
- Have good moral character
- Have been victims of battery or extreme cruelty
Once again, for more information on how to apply for U-Visas or protection under the Violence Against Women Act, please consult an attorney.