Understanding prima facie determination and USCIS investigation process
After an immigrant submits their VAWA self-petition to USCIS, the agency must examine their case and determine whether that person is qualified to receive an immigrant visa (green card) or not. Before reviewing your case, USCIS must first make sure that you have filed the petition properly. Once they do, they will examine your application at length before reaching a decision.
If you are considering submitting a VAWA self-petition, this guide will help you understand how USCIS investigates VAWA cases and what to expect during this process. We also have an overview article that explains VAWA and how to start the process.
Please note that our articles are merely informational, and do not constitute legal advice. If you need a lawyer for your VAWA case, you can contact the Law Office of Shelle-Ann Simon for an initial consultation. We are fluent in both English and Spanish.
What is prima facie determination?
After you hand in your VAWA self-petition, USCIS officers will review your application and the submitted evidence to determine whether it establishes a case “at first look” or prima facie. This means that you have submitted all the required evidence in compliance with the immigration law (8 CFR 204.2(c)(6)(ii)).
If USCIS determines that your VAWA applications demonstrates prima facie eligibility, they will issue a notice of Prima Facie Case or NPFC. This does not mean that your petition is approved: it only establishes that your petition meets the required eligibility criteria and has sufficient evidence.
What happens if I don’t get prima facie determination?
If your VAWA petition does not meet the eligibility criteria, they may deny your petition. If they do, they will inform you via notification and you may appeal their decision or file a new self-petition.
In other cases, USCIS officers may consider that your application is missing key information but may warrant discretion. In that case, they will issue a Request for Evidence or RFE. This means that they need additional evidence to establish eligibility. If you answer they RFE, they will once again review your application and determine whether you have prima facie eligibility or not.
What happens after I get prima facie eligibility?
After you get VAWA prima facie determination, USCIS will assign someone to review your application. When USCIS officers review VAWA applications, they take a thorough look at the evidence the self-petitioner has presented.
Legal experts and advocacy groups recommend preparing your VAWA application with the help of a lawyer because USCIS review process is extremely thorough. Your evidence must not only be properly presented; it has to be airtight. VAWA attorneys know what makes an application successful, and they know how to keep their client protected from possible repercussion from their abusive spouse or relative while their petition is being processed.
Requests for additional information
Because VAWA cases are complex, USCIS may request additional information regarding certain circumstances detailed in your application: maybe the police got involved, maybe you didn’t have legal status because as a result of the abusive situation. It is important to offer a coherent explanation for these situations and provide acceptable evidence.
Prima Facie Determination Benefits
If you get a Notice of Prima Facie Case (NPFC), you will be eligible for certain public benefits like food stamps (SNAP), Medicare or public housing (HUD), among others. Your eligibility for the program may vary depending on your state, so you should consult with an attorney to determine which public benefits you are eligible for as an immigrant with an NPFC.
Renewing your NPFC document
An NPFC is initially valid for one year. If USCIS has not reached a decision regarding your VAWA case after a year passes, they will send you a renewed NPFC within 60 days of your current NPFC expiration date. This NPFC is renewed for a period of 180 days and will be renewed again for a similar period until USCIS reaches a decision. If they deny your petition, they will not issue a new NPFC.
More VAWA information and other immigration options
For further information about the VAWA immigration framework, check our articles about VAWA eligibility (in-depth look at each category and criteria) and VAWA waivers and exceptions to grounds of inadmissibility.
Immigrant victims of domestic abuse who do not qualify for VAWA self-petitions may be eligible for other special immigrant visas like the U-Visa. To explore your immigration options, do contact an attorney experienced in immigration law.