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VAWA Immigration Law: Green Card for Domestic Abuse Victims

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Most immigrants rely on their family members of spouses to file a green card petition in their name in order to adjust their status. However, domestic abuse situations will prevent immigrant victims from adjusting their status, as their green card is reliant on their abuser’s cooperation. In order to help these victims, the VAWA immigration process was created.

Immigrant victims of domestic abuse can still fix their status without the cooperation of their abusive spouse or relative with a VAWA self-petition. What’s more, ff you qualify for a VAWA self-petition you can get a Green Card even if you entered the country without inspection or are considered a public charge.

This guide explains how the VAWA process works, eligibility requirements for VAWA self-petitions and the evidence you need to collect to build your case.

This article was written by legal experts from the Law Office of Shelle Ann-Simon. While we explain how the immigration law works, none of this is intended as legal advice. If you need help with your immigration case, you can schedule a consultation with attorney Shelle-Ann Simon. All details about your case are confidential.

What is the Violence Against Women Act?

The Violence Against Women Act is a comprehensive set of laws that was first created in 1994 to protect individuals against gender-based crimes. Better known as VAWA, this United States Federal Law also protects immigrant victims who have been abused by close relatives or spouses who are US citizens or legal permanent residents.

What is VAWA Immigration Law?

VAWA Immigration Law are benefits, protections and exemptions that apply to qualifying immigrant victims of domestic violence. These are laws and policies that are designed to help victims in tough situations without exposing them to their abuser. With VAWA, these non-immigrant victims can fix their immigration status.

What is a VAWA self-petition?

A VAWA self-petition is an immigration benefit available to immigrant victims of domestic abuse. If you are eligible for a family-based green-card, but depend on your abuser to file the petition for you, you can present the petition to adjust status on your own with a VAWA self-petition.

VAWA Immigration Requirements

In order to qualify for a VAWA self-petition, you need to prove that you are suffering from domestic abuse, and that you are closely related or married to the abuser. The abuser must be either a US citizen or legal permanent resident.

You qualify for a VAWA self-petition if you are the victim of battery or cruelty committed by an abusive:

  • US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident Spouse or Former Spouse
  • US Citizen or Legal Permanent Resident Parent
  • US Citizen Son or Daughter

Do minors qualify for VAWA?

You can file a VAWA self-petition as the child of an abusive legal permanent resident or US citizen until the age of 21. You may be able to obtain an extension up to the age of 25 if you can connect your late filing to the abuse you suffered from your parent.

Can my children request a green card through VAWA?

Children of VAWA petitioners can also file a petition to adjust their status if they are under the age of 21 and unmarried. Stepchildren also qualify for this benefit, even if their abused parent has divorced the abuser.

Is my gender a factor for VAWA self-petitions?

Although the W in VAWA stands for women, anyone can apply for a VAWA self-petition regardless of their gender or the gender of their abuser. Although statistically most victims of domestic violence are women, there is a significant number of men who suffer from domestic violence at the hands of their partners.

You can learn more about VAWA eligibility and special cases with our VAWA eligibility guide.

What can I do if I don’t qualify for a VAWA self-petition?

If you cannot get your green card through the VAWA process, you may still be able to fix your status with a different visa. The U Visa and the T Visa are special immigration benefits available to immigrant victims of serious crimes and immigrant victims of human trafficking, respectively. You can consult an attorney to evaluate your case and decide which visa better suits your situation.

What qualifies as domestic violence for VAWA Immigration?

Domestic violence is not restricted to physical abuse, battering, sexual assault and/or rape, although these are extremeley common. Emotional abuse and economic control over the victim, as well as threats, intimidation and isolation can also be considered domestic abuse.

The UN defines domestic abuse as a “pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner”. Domestic abuse can look very different from case to case and it can happen to anyone, no matter their gender, age, sexual orientation, religion, immigration background, ethnicity or any other factor.

VAWA Immigration Process

To apply for a green card through the VAWA immigration process, you have to file a VAWA self-petition and present supporting evidence for your case. If USCIS approves your self-petition, you can file for adjustment of status. Once this petition is approved, you will receive your green card.

How to file VAWA self-petition and adjustment of status

To file a VAWA self-petition, you have to use the form I-360 Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. VAWA self-petitioners do not have to pay the filing fee, which normally costs $435.

Once your self-petition has been approved by USCIS, you have to file the form I-485 or Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. If your abusive family member filed a petition for you, you can request USCIS to make a change to the pending I-485 so that is is based on your VAWA self-petition and it doesn’t rely on your abuser’s.

You need an approved Form I-360 to qualify for a Green Card. However, if a visa is immediately available to you, you do not have to wait until the I-360 is approved to file your I-485 (adjustment of status).

To check whether a green card is immediately available to you, see the VISA bulletin guidelines and categories.

Gathering supporting evidence for your VAWA self-petition

To file a VAWA self-petition, you need supporting evidence that you were a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of your US Citizen spouse, former spouse or close relative. Gathering evidence can be quite difficult in these cases, as your abuser may withhold important documents, or you may be unable to go back to your shared residence to get them.

USCIS recognizes that collecting evidence in VAWA cases is uniquely challenging. However, you still have to present as much evidence as possible in order to build your claim. You can work together with an immigration attorney to find suitable documentation to support your claim, and to find alternatives when certain documents are not available.

In order to file a VAWA self-petition, you need evidence of:

  • The abuser’s status as a US citizen or legal permanent resident
  • Your relationship with the abuser (like marriage or birth records). If the abuser is your spouse or former spouse, you must present evidence that you entered the marriage in good faith.
  • Evidence that you live or lived with the abuser. This must be a document that includes both of your names and the address you both lived in.
  • Evidence of the Abuse. You may present police records, medical records, records, restraining orders, visits to the shelter, court records and any document that can prove there was physical, emotional, financial or any other form of abuse.
  • Good Moral Character. You have to present police records that show that you area law-abiding individual and have committed no crimes. VAWA petitioners with a record can request a waiver if they can prove their record is a consequence of the abuse they endured.

Any other relevant information that can strengthen your case. Additional information goes a long way to build your case and can make up for documents that you were unable to procure. It’s a good idea to work with a lawyer to collect evidence for your case and gather additional documentation to strengthen your petition.

Working with an attorney during the VAWA Process

Although you do not need an attorney to file any USCIS petition, it is strongly advised to hire legal counseling before you start any immigration process. The VAWA process is particularly delicate and challenging as the petitioners are in a vulnerable situation and their safety may be compromised if their abuser finds out about their VAWA self-petition.

An attorney can help you gather the evidence you need for your case without your abuser finding out. They can also help you take extra measures to protect yourself and your loved ones from retaliation should the abuser find out, and they can hold on to your documents and receive your USCIS mail on your behalf.

Put an end to abuse

Domestic abuse is an awful thing to endure. Immigrant victims often stay with their abusers out of fear of what will happen to them if they leave. But you don’t have to stay in an unsafe and violent situation. You can get your green card without your abuser, and without exposing yourself to further violence during the process.

The VAWA immigration process was created for people like you. The Law Office of Shelle-Ann Simon has helped several clients file their VAWA petition and we have seen them through the process from start to finish. We are based in Houston, Texas, and are fluent in both English and Spanish.

You don’t have to do this alone. Let us help you find your way out.

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