For many women, domestic violence is a bitter reality that is rarely met with an appropriate institutional or legal answer. Immigrants are affected even more since their delicate legal status puts them in a very vulnerable position, unable to reach for help from the authorities.
However, there are many immigration programs that aim to eradicate violence against women and other vulnerable individuals. The Violence Against Women Act, also known as VAWA, can help immigrants access special immigration benefits to help them escape from violent households or dangerous situations by presenting a self-petition to enroll in the program.
But, who is eligible for VAWA? Shelle-Ann Simon is an experienced immigration lawyer that has worked extensively with immigrants affected by domestic violence and violence against women. In this guide, we will cover the most important points of the VAWA Act and how it can help immigrants get the help they need.
- The VAWA Guide for Immigrants: General requirements and eligibility
- Overview of VAWA self-petition eligibility requirements
- What types of evidence are required to file a VAWA self-petition?
The VAWA Guide for Immigrants: General requirements and eligibility
Passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) helps protect victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. But VAWA not only applies to US citizens, it also includes special protections for immigrants victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, as well as various other crimes and forms of abuse.
Under the protection guaranteed by VAWA, immigrants victims of violence can get access to a special visa that allows them to work and live in the United States while cooperating with law enforcement to investigate and prosecute their abuser.
If you are an immigrant and a victim of domestic violence or another crime, you may be eligible for a VAWA visa or other special immigration benefits designed to help immigrants get out of vulnerable situations. Act now, call us today at 281-606-5362.
Overview of VAWA self-petition eligibility requirements
To begin the self-petition process for VAWA you must first file USCIS form I-360. Although it is not required, USCIS recommends getting in contact with a qualified and experienced VAWA immigration lawyer in order to avoid making costly mistakes.
You are eligible for a VAWA self-petition if you demonstrate to USCIS that you comply with the following requirements:
- You must have a qualifying relationship as the:
- Spouse, intended spouse, or former spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
- Child of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent.
- Parent of an abusive U.S. citizen son or daughter who is 21 years old or older.
- You were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative during the qualifying relationship.
- You are residing or have resided with your abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative (with some exceptions)
- You are a person of good moral character.
Depending on the circumstances, even if your abusive relative has died or lost their citizenship or legal status as a permanent resident, you might still be able to be eligible for the VAWA self-petition.
If you moved and are living outside the US at the time of your self-petitioning, you must demonstrate one of the following items in addition to the previous requirements:
- Your abusive US citizen or lawful permanent resident relative is a government employee.
- Your abusive US citizen or lawful permanent relative is a member of the US armed forces
- You were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty while in the United States.
On the abuser’s legal status
The legal status of the abuser must be established by USCIS in order to approve a self-petition for a VAWA Visa through form I-360. Although any kind of evidence might be helpful, including a receipt or approval notice for an I-130 filed by the abuser is considered primary evidence and will greatly help immigration officers evaluate your case.
Also, a marriage certificate or license that states that the abuser was born in the US can be useful. In any case, USCIS takes into account the fact that for many victims, it is not always possible to have thorough access to the abuser’s documentation, so any form of evidence that helps narrow the identification process will be of use.
On marriage validity
To qualify for the VAWA self-petition process, a marriage must be considered valid in the place it was originally celebrated. This means that USCIS can recognize a “common law marriage” for VAWA purposes. However, when possible, self-petitioners should submit primary evidence of a valid marriage.
In the cases where the marriage is not considered valid under US law, a petitioner might still be able to file a VAWA self-petition as an “intended spouse”. In order to meet this requirement, the self-petitioner must have believed that they legally married a US citizen or legal permanent resident.
For a child to be able to file a VAWA self-petition based on parental abuse, USCIS requires that they must be under 21 at the time of filing. However, the petitioner might be exempted from this requirement as long as they file before age 25 and can establish that the abuse suffered was a central reason for the delay.
Also, in order to be eligible, a self-petitioning child must also be unmarried at the time of filing and adjudication.
Types of parental relationship
- Biological Child. A self-petitioning child abused by their biological parent is
- required to submit sufficient evidence of the parental relationship.
- Stepchild. An abused stepchild must submit evidence of the relationship between
- themselves and the biological or legal parent. They must also prove that their biological/legal parent married the stepparent before they turned 18.
Requirements to demonstrate a qualifying parent-child relationship are similar for self-petitioning parents and children. This means that USCIS applies the same rules to both groups of VAWA petitioners.
Violence inflicted by other relatives
In cases where physical violence or extreme cruelty was inflicted on the victim by a person other than the abusive relative but with their permission or knowledge, USCIS recognizes the victim’s right to file a VAWA self-petition form.
On having good moral character
All VAWA self-petitioners must demonstrate that they were persons of good moral character (GMC) for the last three previous years according to USCIS requirements. Immigration fraud, engaging in prostitution, drug possession, or failure to pay taxes on time are all examples of actions that can negatively affect a GMC evaluation by immigration authorities.
A petitioner can also be permanently barred from establishing GMC if they were convicted of murder, aggravated felony, or involved in persecution, genocide, and torture. If any of the bars to the GMC requirement apply, the self-petitioner must prove that they are eligible for a special VAWA exception to this rule.
What types of evidence are required to file a VAWA self-petition?
Since USCIS recognizes the difficulties that many victims of abuse may have obtaining specific documentation of their abusers and legal situation, all credible evidence is accepted as total or partial proof of the validity of their claims. However, USCIS considers primary evidence (legal or court documentation) to have more weight, and thus crucial in order to properly evaluate an immigration case.
Working with an experienced immigration attorney can help you get access to better documentation and prepare a stronger case for the immigration authorities with credible evidence and proof of the abuse, including medical and police reports, court documentation, and any other official documents.
If you are in need of immigration legal advice, do not hesitate to contact us! At the Law Office of Shelle-Ann Simon we have wide experience in immigration proceedings, family law, and personal injury and have successfully defended our clients for over 10 years.
Immigrant Legal Resource Center – VAWA resources