What is VAWA?
In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), creating special routes to immigration status for certain battered non-citizens. VAWA allows a non-citizen who is being abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to self-petition independently, and without the knowledge of their abusive spouse or family member. Immigrant victims of domestic violence or an abusive relationship often feel compelled to stay with their abuser since the victim needs the abuser’s help to get a green card. This dynamic gives the abuser power to manipulate his or her victim.
Who is Eligible?
The intending self-petitioner must prove that he or she is:
- A spouse, child (unmarried and under age 21)/parent of an abused child (unmarried and under age 21), or parent
- Who was physically battered and/or subjected to “extreme cruelty” by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent or adult child within the United States.
For a marriage-based petition, the intending self-petitioner must additionally prove that:
- The abusing spouse is (or was) a green card holder or U.S. citizen;
- The abuser spouse was legally married to the VAWA applicant;
- The VAWA applicant lived with the abusing spouse;
- The VAWA applicant was abused during the marriage;
- The marriage was based on a relationship that was entered into for bona fide, good faith reasons and not solely for obtaining immigration benefits; and The marriage must be still valid or terminated less than 2 years prior to petition;
- The VAWA applicant is a person of good moral character.
How to Apply?
The non-citizen will file Form I-360 Self-Petition with supporting documentation.
Is VAWA available for Men?
Despite the name, VAWA also protects men. Battered spouses of a same-sex marriage could also eligible for a VAWA case. The same legal standard would apply regardless of the VAWA applicant’s gender or sexual orientation.
A VAWA self-petitioner must wait to get remarried until after USCIS approves the petition. If the applicant remarries before USCIS approves the petition, it will be invalidated.
I-751 Waiver Petitions for Conditional Residents
A battered immigrant may apply for a waiver of the joint petition requirement and file his or her own I-751 petition to remove conditions. In order to apply for a waiver of the joint filing requirement, the immigrant spouse holding conditional resident status must prove that:
- The marriage was entered into in good faith and not for fraudulent immigration purposes;
- The conditional resident falls into one of the following categories:
- His or her removal from the U.S. would result in extreme hardship, or
- The good faith marriage was legally terminated by divorce, or death of U.S. citizen spouse, or
- He or she was subjected to battering or extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen spouse/lawful permanent resident during the course of marriage (or for a child applicant, the abuse occurred at the hands of U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent).
If the VAWA petition is approved, the immigrant is granted deferred action status in most cases, meaning that removal, or deportation, proceedings will not be initiated. Self-petitioners who are immediate relatives of U.S. Citizens (spouses, parents, unmarried children under the age of 21) are eligible to adjust status to a lawful permanent resident status when their VAWA petition is approved.
Spouses and children of lawful permanent residents must wait for an immigrant visa to become available for their category. Upon approval of his or her petition, an applicant is also eligible for work authorization (with proof of approved VAWA application or pending I-485). Derivative status is available to certain children and parents of the principal immigrant.