London: Britain has changed immigration rules to ensure that migrant-spouses from India and other non-EU countries who become victims of domestic violence here are given access to public funds to help them escape abuse.

Every year, many spouses holding Indian citizenship arrive in the UK to join their married partners, who are mostly British citizens of Indian-origin. Some of them face domestic violence soon after, and face considerable hardship to escape the situation and maintain themselves. Campaign group Southall Black Sisters and 26 other women's and human rights groups have hailed the change in rules as a victory. Until now, such foreign nationals did not have recourse to public funds.

The Home Office announced that the new scheme targeted at such victims will assist foreign national spouses and partners who are victims of domestic violence.

It provides victims, who would otherwise be destitute or have no access to public funds, with an avenue to escape abuse and access vital support services.

The scheme, announced by Immigration minister Damian Green, follows a successful pilot scheme, the Sojourner Project, which helped 1,522 individuals.

The government estimates that each year this scheme will help 500 people to escape from abusive relationships across the UK.

Immigration Minister Damian Green said: "Domestic violence is a terrible crime affecting people of all ages and backgrounds and this government is determined to tackle it. No one should be forced to stay in an abusive relationship and this scheme helps victims in genuine need escape violence and harm and seek the support they deserve." Eligible spouses will be granted a limited period of exceptional leave by the UK Border Agency which will permit access to public funds and support services, such as a refuge, allowing victims to leave an abusive relationship and apply for residence in the UK.

A release from the Home Office defined domestic violence as any threatening behaviour, violence or abuse that occurs between adults who are together in a relationship, or were previously in a relationship.

It includes physical, sexual and emotional abuse.

It can also be behaviour of this type that occurs between family members, regardless of their age, gender, or sexuality.

A statement from Southall Black Sisters said that monitoring data collected from some key agencies from across the UK found that during the period 24 October – 18 November 2011 alone, there were 137 women and 74 children experiencing abuse with an insecure immigration status looking for accommodation and/or support.