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Last updated: 11 March 2024

This Key Guide will explain routes to immigration status and support if you have experienced domestic abuse in the UK.

If you are experiencing domestic abuse and need help, see the Organisations who can help section of this guide below.

Note: we will use the language of domestic abuse (rather than domestic violence – although this is used in Home Office guidance) and refer to ‘people who have experienced domestic abuse’ rather than ‘victims’ or ‘survivors’ (although this is used in Home Office guidance).

On this page you will find the following information:

What is domestic abuse? 

Domestic abuse is a serious violation of a person’s rights and has very severe consequences.

Domestic abuse is defined by the Home Office as: 

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 or sexuality. This can include, but it not limited to, the following types of abuse: 

  • psychological
  • physical
  • sexual
  • financial
  • emotional 

It is also important to note that the abuse does not have to be physical. A person might experience controlling or coercive behaviour, which meets the definition of domestic abuse. This can include threats and humiliation which are designed to make you feel frightened, inferior or isolated from friends and support networks. Read more about recognising the signs of coercive control here

Domestic abuse is often hidden from view, and often happens behind closed doors.

Domestic abuse is not always carried out by a partner – sometimes it is by another family member such as a parent-in-law.

Domestic abuse can affect anyone, of any gender, but it is more likely to affect women. Migrant women are more vulnerable to domestic abuse. Some migrant women will be dependant on their abuser for their immigration status – for example if they are on a spousal or partner visa. Research shows that having insecure immigration status is used as a tool of domestic abuse. 

Because of the No Recourse to Public Funds (NRPF) condition on most visas in the UK, people experiencing domestic abuse have limited options in accessing support. The NRPF condition makes people more vulnerable to domestic abuse. 

Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain (DVILR)

If you are a person who has experienced domestic abuse, and your relationship breaks down as a result, you may be able to apply for indefinite leave to remain in the UK separately from your partner.

This is a much-needed lifeline for migrants who have experienced domestic abuse in the UK. It is the result of years of campaigning by organisations who have worked with migrants who have experienced domestic abuse. 

Since 31 January 2024, the rules for this kind of application are in Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse (VDA) of the Immigration Rules. Previously the rules were in Appendix FM of the immigration rules.

The Immigration Rules define, by visa category, which people who have experienced domestic abuse can apply for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) on relationship breakdown.

You can apply for permission to stay in the UK due to domestic abuse if you are: 

  • The partner of a British citizen,
  • The partner of a member of the armed forces,
  • The partner of a settled person (such as EUSS
  • The partner of a person with refugee status 

You cannot apply for permission to stay due to domestic abuse if you are: 

  • In the UK to get married
  • In the UK as a dependant of your partner, who is on a student or graduate visa
  • In the UK as the partner of someone with humanitarian protection leave

It is now no longer necessary for the relationship breakdown to happen during the last grant of leave. This means that you do not have to have valid leave at the time of the application. It is possible to apply if your leave has expired, as long as your last grant of leave was one of those that permits access to the domestic abuse route.

How to make an application under DVILR

To make an application for indefinite leave to remain under the DVILR, you need to use the SET (DV) form which is available online. 

You must enroll your biometrics and give proof of identity to the Home Office. If you cannot do this, you will need to give a good reason why (such as if your abuser has taken your passport).

You must also meet the suitability requirements. You must not meet the general grounds for refusal listed in Part 9 of the Immigration Rules, except that an application cannot be refused on the basis of a previous breach of immigration rules. This ground for refusal does not apply in cases of domestic abuse.

To make an application, you also need to have paid the fee. Usually it is not possible to apply for a fee waiver for an application for indefinite leave to remain, but for an application on this route, you can apply for a fee waiver if you cannot afford the fee.

In order to qualify for a fee waiver, you must provide evidence that shows you:

  • Do not have adequate accommodation or means of getting it
  • Cannot meet your essential living needs
  • Paying the fee would harm your child’s wellbeing 

The process is different to making a fee waiver application on the 10 year route – but some of the evidence you need to gather will be the same.

ACTION SECTION

Here are suggestions of types of financial evidence you might need to show that you cannot afford the fee:

  • Bank statements 
  • Utility bills
  • Payslips
  • Tenancy agreements
  • Supporting letters from council or a refuge where you been staying
  • Read our Letters of Support Blog for useful tips on what a letter of support should contain
  • Evidence of any other support you have received

You also need to be able to show knowledge of life in the UK if you are over 18. This involves passing the Life in the UK test, and meeting the English language requirements. For more information on this, see the section on indefinite leave to remain applications on the 10 year route page

What evidence do I need to make an application under DVILR?

Just like any other immigration application, you will need to provide evidence to make an application under DVILR.

There is no list of specific evidence you must submit to make an application – it depends on the facts of your case. For more general information on the types of evidence the Home Office considers to be strong, see our Toolkit page on evidence.

The Home Office guidance acknowledges that people who have experienced domestic abuse are likely to have additional difficulties in gathering evidence. It also states that the effects of trauma should be kept in mind when assessing evidence submitted with your application.

At the end of this Home Office guidance, there is a table (on page 33 onwards) of examples of evidence that can be submitted to help show that the relationship broke down because of domestic abuse. For example, police reports, medical reports, supporting letters.

The evidence you submit is considered on the balance of probabilities. This means that you have to get evidence to show that it is more likely than not that your relationship broke down as a result of domestic abuse.

You should include human rights reasons alongside the domestic abuse information. You should make it obvious you are making a human rights application, and provide information about your life in the UK, the support you receive and information about children. 

This means you will be able to appeal a refusal if your application is refused.

Outcomes after an application

If your application under DVILR is successful, you will be sent a letter outlining your grant of status. 

If your application is rejected, there is no right of appeal under Appendix VDA, but you can apply to have the decision reviewed under the administrative review process. This is a request to the Home Office to reconsider your application if you believe that there has been an error, or a mistake in reviewing your evidence. An administrative review costs £80. 

If the administrative review of the decision is not successful, the only option is a judicial review. 

However, if you included human rights reasons alongside the domestic violence information you submitted, you will be able to appeal a refusal. 

Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Concession (MVDAC)

If you have no money to support yourself while you are waiting for the outcome of a DVILR application, or you have not yet made an application, you might be able to apply for short-term income and immigration status. This allows people to support themselves independently from an abusive partner.

People in this situation may be able to make a Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Concession (MVDAC) application. 

This is a short-term (3 month) grant of leave. If this application is successful you will be able to access public funds (benefits and homelessness support). For many people, this is the first step towards receiving permission to stay in the UK in their own right.

The Migrant Victims of Domestic Abuse Concession (MVDAC) has replaced the old Destitute Domestic Violence Concession (DDVC). 

Here are the key things to note about the MVDAC: 

  • You do not need to be destitute to make an application. Being destitute means if you are unable to afford basic essentials such as food, shelter, heating, and sanitation. Read more about destitution here
  • If your application is successful, you will be granted 3 months’ leave. In this time you will have access to public funds, housing and benefits but you will need to make a separate application for this. 
  • The Home Office will confirm in writing if you are eligible for indefinite leave to remain under Appendix Victim of Domestic Abuse.
  • If you are eligible, you can submit an application for indefinite leave to remain (ILR) during the 3 month period. Otherwise, you need to make a different application for further leave to remain under the Immigration Rules. If you do not make an application to extend your leave during these 3 months, you are at risk of becoming an overstayer.

Who is eligible? 

Everyone who was eligible under the DDVC can still apply under the new rule, and new groups have also been added. 

Now you can apply if you have experienced domestic abuse as a partner of someone on a work, student or graduate visa, and their dependants. For a full list of who can apply, see the Free Movement article here

However, if you are the partner of someone on a work, student or graduate visa you will not be able to apply for settlement under the Domestic Violence Indefinite Leave to Remain (DVILR) rule (see above). 

This new change effectively separates the concession (which grants 3 months’ leave) from the settlement application. This creates a ‘cliff edge’ for people in this new MDVAC group at the end of the 3 months. It is now even more important that people get legal advice if they are considering making a concession application. This is because this concession application is an immigration application which changes a person’s immigration status.

Making an application

The MDVAC application form has been updated, and you can see it here. There is also new guidance to accompany the form, which you can see here

Section 3c leave

If you have made an application for indefinite leave to remain on the domestic abuse route, and you are waiting for the outcome of that application, your rights will be protected under what is called Section 3c leave. This comes from section 3c of the Immigration Act 1971. 

This means that your rights and entitlements will continue under your previous grant of leave.

Even if there is a delay in the Home Office giving you a decision on your application, your rights will continue. 

If you have made an application for indefinite leave to remain before the end of the 3 month period of temporary leave granted under MVDAC, then your rights will also be protected under Section 3c leave.

Out of country applications 

Before 31 January 2024, victims of a specific form of domestic abuse who had been stranded (this means stuck) overseas could not make an application to return to the UK. Now, people in this position can apply for leave to enter the UK. 

Transnational marriage abandonment

Transnational marriage abandonment is when a person is deliberately stranded overseas by a former or current spouse. It affects spouses who have been resident in the UK as a partner of a British or settled person. Transnational marriage abandonment is a form of domestic abuse that exploits a person on the basis of their immigration status.  

Following the landmark ruling by the High Court in the case of AM v SSHD in October 2022, the domestic abuse route has been updated for people who have experienced transnational marriage abandonment. Before this change to the law, if you had experienced transnational marriage abandonment, you had to be in the UK to make an application to stay in the UK – meaning that many people were excluded from re-entering the UK after being abandoned. 

Now, if you have been stranded overseas and your relationship has broken down permanently, you will be able to apply for indefinite leave to return to the UK.

It is now no longer necessary for the relationship breakdown to have happened during the last grant of leave. This means that it can happen after your visa has expired. 

Making an application for entry 

You need to use this form to make an application to re-enter the UK after transnational marriage abandonment. 

Legal aid 

Because applications involving domestic abuse are complicated, it is a good idea to get legal advice. 

Legal Aid is usually available for people making applications under the domestic abuse rules.

You can use this page to help you find a legal advisor. 

Learn more about Legal Aid and how to work with your lawyer in our Toolkit page.

Experiencing domestic abuse as an asylum seeker


If you are an asylum seeker, and you have experienced domestic abuse, you are eligible for support from the Home Office. If you are in asylum support accommodation with an abuser, you will need help to move to safe alternative accommodation.

The Home Office has specific guidance on how to respond to reports of domestic abuse from asylum seekers.

See this helpful factsheet from the organisation ASAP. 

Organisations to contact for help 

  • National Domestic Violence helpline is a 24 hour phone line offering emergency support and referrals. The number is 0808 200 0247, and there are translation options.

  • See general information on the NHS website.

  • The Organisation Rights of Women provides advice on immigration law relating to domestic abuse. If you have questions, you can access free legal advice by calling 020 7490 7689 on Mondays and Thursdays, 10am-12pm and 2-4pm. If you are a professional you can access free second tier legal advice on 020 8138 8028 open fortnightly on Fridays, 10am – 12pm.

  • Women’s Aid is a national charity working to end domestic abuse. See their website for how to access help.

  • Men experiencing domestic abuse can call the Men’s Advice line on 0808 8018 327 Monday to Friday 10am to 8pm for non-judgemental information and support.

  • Southall Black Sisters offer free advice, support and advocacy to women and girls who have experienced domestic abuse. You can contact them on 020 8571 0800 or email at info@southallblacksisters.co.uk.

  • Karma Nirvana work with people who have experienced forced marriage and honour crimes. You can contact them on 0800 5999 247.

  • Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS) offers free and confidential services for Latin American women, including legal immigration advice.

  • Ubuntu Women’s Shelter is a Glasgow based charity which provides unconditional practical support for destitute women and people of other marginalised genders who are NRPF and have insecure immigration status. For short-term accommodation, you can call +447570877817.

  • Safety4Sisters are a Manchester based organisation offering support to women experiencing abuse. You can call on 0161 464 9505.

  • IDAS are a charity in North Yorkshire, including Sheffield and Barnsley. They have a free confidential advice line and offer specialist support.