VAWA Guide: Everything You Need to Know About VAWA

The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, is a special law which allows the spouse and/or child of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to apply for a green card by self-petition. Through VAWA, someone can apply for their green card without the help of their abusive spouse.

In this guide, I will explain what you need to know about VAWA.

Overview:

1. What is VAWA?

2. Benefits of VAWA

3. Who is Eligible to Apply for VAWA?

4. VAWA Requirements

5. VAWA Process

6. Required Documents for VAWA

7. VAWA Fees

8. VAWA Processing Time

9. Conclusion

1. What is VAWA?

VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act. Even though it is called the Violence Against Women Act, you do not need to be a women to qualify. Both men and women may be eligible under VAWA.

The Violence Against Women Act is a law which gives certain people the right to self-petition for a green card if certain conditions are met. As a general overview, to qualify, you must be the abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. We will discuss this in more detail below.

If you satisfy the VAWA requirements, you may be eligible to apply for permanent residence (a green card) without the help of your abusive spouse. You do not need to rely on your abusive spouse to file an immigrant petition on your behalf. Instead, you may be eligible to self-petition for your green card. This means that you can apply on your own.

2. Benefits of VAWA

Ability to Self-Petition

Normally, if you are applying for a green card based on marriage to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, your spouse (the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident) must act as the petitioner for your immigrant petition. This means that the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must agree to file your immigration paperwork. They must sign the immigrant petition and act as the “petitioner” for your case.

The problem with this system is that if the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse is abusive, they could use U.S. immigration as a way to control the abused spouse. For example, they could threaten to withdraw an immigrant petition if the victim reported the abuse to authorities. Congress understood this risk and enacted VAWA to help prevent this scenario.

The main benefit of VAWA is that it allows the abused spouse or child to self-petition for their green card. This means that they can file the petition on their own behalf. They do not have to rely on their abusive spouse to file their immigrant petition.

Immigration Benefits for Children

Another benefit of VAWA is that it allows you to include your children as derivative beneficiaries of your VAWA petition. What this means is that, if you are eligible to apply for your green card through VAWA, you may also be eligible to apply for green cards for your children. Your children to not need to be related to the abuser to qualify. In addition, your children do not need to be related to the abuser to qualify.

In order for your child to qualify as your derivative beneficiary, they must be unmarried and under 21 years old at the time the VAWA petition is filed.

3. Who is Eligible to Apply for VAWA?

There are 5 categories of people who may apply for VAWA:

  • Abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Spouse of U.S. citizen of lawful permanent resident whose child has been abused by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse
  • Abused child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • Abused parent of a U.S. citizen who qualifies as an “immediate relative”

4. VAWA Requirements

There are several requirements to qualify for VAWA. In this section, we will explore the VAWA requirements in some detail.

Marriage to a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

To qualify for VAWA as the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must show that you entered into a good-faith marriage with the U.S. citizen or permanent resident. What this means is that, at the time of the marriage, you must have intended to establish a life together. If the marriage was entered into just for immigration benefits, then it is not a good-faith marriage.

Important Points

  • Intended Marriages: Intended marriages can still satisfy the marriage requirement. An intended marriage for purposes of VAWA is when the abused spouse and the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident get married in good faith, but the marriage is not legitimate because the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is still marriage to someone else.
  • Termination of Marriage: In certain cases, you can apply for VAWA even if you are no longer married to the abusive spouse. In order to qualify, you must have been in a bona-fide marriage with the abusive spouse. In addition, the marriage must have terminated within the last 2 years. Also, the termination of the marriage must be connected to the battery or extreme cruelty of the abusive spouse.

Parent-Child Relationship

To qualify for VAWA as the abused child of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you must show that you have a parent-child relationship with the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Parent of Abusive U.S. Citizen

To qualify for VAWA as the abused parent of a U.S. citizen, you must show that you are the parent of the abusive U.S. citizen. You must also show that you are eligible to be classified as the immediate relative of the abusive U.S. citizen. This means that the abusive U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years old.

Residence Requirement

There are 2 prongs to the residence requirement:

  1. To qualify for VAWA, you must reside in the United States at the time the VAWA petition is filed. If you do not reside in the U.S. at the time the VAWA petition is filed, you must be able to show that the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the uniformed services or that the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident subjected you or your child to extreme cruelty or battery in the United States.
  1. To qualify for VAWA, you must have resided with the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident at some point. You do not need to currently reside with the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Also, your residence with the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident does not need to have been in the United States.

Citizenship Status of the Abuser

To qualify for VAWA, the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must either be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. If the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is no longer a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you may potentially still qualify for VAWA if you file the VAWA petition within 2 years of the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident loss of status if their loss of status was related to an instance of domestic violence.

Must Have Suffered Abuse

In order to qualify for VAWA you must have suffered abuse at the hands of the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse or parent. In cases where the VAWA petitioner is a parent of an abusive U.S. citizen child, you must show that you suffered abuse at the hands of the U.S. citizen child.

To demonstrate that you have been abused, you must show that you have been battered or that you were the subject of extreme cruelty.

Abuse is also defined by the regulations to be any act or threatened act of violence and also includes psychological abuse, rape, incest, and forced prostitution.

 Good Moral Character

To qualify for VAWA, you must be able to demonstrate that you are and were a person of good moral character for a 3-year period preceding the filing of the VAWA petition.

We typically provide police clearances, tax returns, and/or declarations from people who know you, to demonstrate that you satisfy the good moral character requirement.

5. VAWA Process

Here is a step-by-step overview of the VAWA process:

Consult with Immigration Lawyer

The first step in the process is to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer. Your immigration lawyer will help you understand whether you may have a case under VAWA. Your immigration lawyer will also be able to help you determine whether VAWA is the best option for you. After discussing with an immigration lawyer, you may determine that there is a better option for you based on your particular circumstances. Also, many immigration lawyers offer a free initial consultation!

Form I-360

After you’ve consulted with an immigration lawyer, the next step in the VAWA process is that you must file a Form I-360 with USCIS. The Form I-360 is the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

The Form I-360 is the application that is filed with USCIS to apply for VAWA.

Along with the Form I-360, you must submit all the documents that support your case. We will discuss more about these documents below.



Click here to learn more about VAWA

Published by U.S. Immigration Lawyers

Ashoori Law is a U.S. immigration law firm focused on employment-based, family-based, business, and investment immigration.

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