The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a groundbreaking piece of legislation that was first enacted in 1994 and has since been reauthorized multiple times. Its primary purpose is to provide legal protection and support to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of abuse. One crucial aspect of VAWA is its provisions for immigrant victims of abuse, who often face unique challenges in escaping their abusive situations and seeking safety. As part of its humanitarian immigration provisions, VAWA offers a pathway for eligible immigrant victims to obtain legal status and protection in the United States, helping them rebuild their lives free from violence and fear.
Under VAWA, eligible immigrants who have been subjected to abuse or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) family member can self-petition for a Green Card without the involvement of their abuser. This self-petition process allows victims to obtain lawful immigration status independently, providing a pathway towards safety and eventual U.S. citizenship.
In this article, we will discuss the various aspects of VAWA as it pertains to immigrant victims of abuse, including,
To qualify for immigration relief under VAWA, applicants must meet specific eligibility criteria. These criteria help ensure that the protections provided by VAWA are extended to those who genuinely need them. The following are the primary eligibility requirements for VAWA self-petitioners:
- Relationship to Abuser: Applicants must demonstrate that they have a qualifying relationship with the abuser, who must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR). Qualifying relationships include:
- Spouse or former spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR (Green Card holder);
- Child of a U.S. citizen or LPR abuser, under the age of 21 and unmarried;
- Parent of a U.S. citizen abuser, if the petitioner is an abused parent.
- Abuse or Extreme Cruelty: Applicants must provide evidence of being subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or LPR family member. This can include physical, emotional, or psychological abuse, as well as economic coercion or manipulation.
- Residence with Abuser: The applicant must have resided with the abuser at some point. There is no specific time requirement, but evidence of cohabitation will be required.
- Good Moral Character: Applicants must demonstrate good moral character. This generally involves providing evidence that the applicant has not been convicted of any serious crimes or engaged in any activity that would make them inadmissible to the United States.
- Current Residence: If the applicant is residing in the United States, they must be able to prove that they entered the country lawfully or that their unlawful entry was connected to the abuse.
- Extreme Hardship: In some cases, applicants may need to demonstrate that they or their child would face extreme hardship if they were forced to leave the United States.
It’s important to note that VAWA self-petitions are not limited by gender; both men and women can apply for VAWA relief if they meet the eligibility criteria. Each case is unique, and the evidence required to establish eligibility will vary depending on the specific circumstances of the applicant.
VAWA Self-Petition Process
The VAWA self-petition process allows eligible individuals to apply for a Green Card independently, without the involvement of the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member. The following steps outline the VAWA self-petition process:
Step 1. Prepare the VAWA Self-Petition
The first step in the process is to complete and submit the required forms and documentation to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The primary form for a VAWA self-petition is Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. Along with the form, applicants must provide supporting evidence to establish their eligibility, including proof of the qualifying relationship, evidence of abuse, and documentation of good moral character.
Step 2. File the VAWA Self-Petition
Once the I-360 form and supporting documents are prepared, the applicant should file the VAWA self-petition with USCIS. There is no filing fee for a VAWA self-petition. It is important to ensure that the application is complete and accurate, as incomplete or incorrect submissions may result in delays or denial of the petition.
Step 3. USCIS Review and Decision
After receiving the VAWA self-petition, USCIS will review the application and supporting evidence. USCIS may request additional information or evidence if necessary. Upon completing the review, USCIS will either approve or deny the self-petition. If approved, the applicant will be granted “deferred action” status, which temporarily protects them from removal proceedings and allows them to apply for employment authorization.
Step 4. Apply for Adjustment of Status
Once the VAWA self-petition is approved, the applicant may be eligible to apply for adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) if an immigrant visa number is immediately available. To apply for adjustment of status, the applicant must submit Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, along with the required supporting documents and fees.
Step 5. USCIS Interview and Green Card Approval
After filing the adjustment of status application, USCIS will schedule an interview to verify the applicant’s eligibility and review the submitted documents. If the application is approved, the applicant will receive a Green Card, granting them lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
It is essential to work with an experienced immigration attorney throughout the VAWA self-petition process, as the process can be complex and requires a thorough understanding of immigration law and regulations. An attorney can help ensure that the application is accurate, complete, and supported by the necessary evidence to maximize the chances of approval.
VAWA Adjustment of Status
Once a VAWA self-petition has been approved, the next step is to apply for adjustment of status to become a lawful permanent resident (LPR) or “Green Card” holder. The VAWA adjustment of status process involves the following steps:
Step 1. Check Visa Availability
To adjust status under VAWA, an immigrant visa number must be immediately available. Most VAWA self-petitioners are considered immediate relatives of a U.S. citizen, which means there is no wait for visa availability. However, certain petitioners, such as abused spouses or children of lawful permanent residents, may need to wait for a visa number to become available.
Step 2. File Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
Once a visa number is available, the applicant can file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, with USCIS. Along with the application, the applicant must submit the required supporting documents, including a copy of the approved I-360 petition, evidence of eligibility for adjustment of status, and any applicable fees.
Step 3. Submit Required Medical Examination
As part of the adjustment of status process, VAWA applicants must undergo a medical examination by a USCIS-designated civil surgeon. The results of the medical examination must be documented on Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, and submitted to USCIS with the I-485 application or at a later time, as instructed by USCIS.
Step 4. Attend Biometrics Appointment
After filing the I-485 application, USCIS will schedule a biometrics appointment for the applicant to have their fingerprints, photograph, and signature taken for background and security checks.
Step 5. USCIS Interview
In some cases, USCIS may schedule an interview to further assess the applicant’s eligibility for adjustment of status. During the interview, the USCIS officer will review the submitted documents and ask questions related to the applicant’s VAWA self-petition and eligibility for a Green Card.
Step 6. Receive Decision on Adjustment of Status Application
After the completion of the above steps, USCIS will make a decision on the adjustment of status application. If approved, the applicant will receive a Green Card, granting them lawful permanent resident status in the United States.
VAWA for Battered Spouses of Nonimmigrants
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) also provides certain protections to battered spouses of nonimmigrant visa holders, who may not be eligible to file a VAWA self-petition for a Green Card. These protections are available for abused spouses of A, E-3, G, or H nonimmigrant visa holders. The process for obtaining protection and legal status under VAWA for battered spouses of nonimmigrants involves the following steps:
Step 1. Determine Eligibility
To be eligible for VAWA protections as a battered spouse of a nonimmigrant, the applicant must demonstrate the following:
- They are married to an A, E-3, G, or H nonimmigrant visa holder;
- They have been abused or subjected to extreme cruelty by their nonimmigrant spouse during the marriage;
- They are residing in the United States, or if residing abroad, the abuse occurred in the United States, or the nonimmigrant spouse is an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. uniformed services;
- They entered the marriage in good faith, not solely for immigration benefits; and
- They are a person of good moral character.
Step 2. File Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
Eligible applicants must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with USCIS. Along with the form, the applicant must submit supporting documents demonstrating their eligibility, including evidence of the abuse or extreme cruelty, marriage, nonimmigrant spouse’s visa status, and good moral character.
Step 3. Obtain Deferred Action and Work Authorization
While the I-360 petition is pending, battered spouses of nonimmigrants may be eligible for deferred action, a discretionary protection from deportation. Applicants can also apply for work authorization by filing Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, with USCIS. If approved, they will receive an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) allowing them to work legally in the United States.
Although VAWA protection for battered spouses of nonimmigrants does not lead directly to a Green Card, it provides crucial temporary protection and work authorization. It is important to consult with an experienced immigration attorney to understand the available options and potential pathways to permanent residency in these situations.
Confidentiality and Safety Provisions
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) recognizes the importance of maintaining confidentiality and ensuring the safety of victims of domestic violence. To protect the privacy and safety of VAWA self-petitioners, certain confidentiality provisions have been established to prevent the abuser from being informed about the self-petition or using the immigration process as a tool for further abuse. These provisions include:
- No Contact with the Abuser: USCIS is prohibited from contacting the abuser or their family members during the adjudication of a VAWA self-petition. All communication must be conducted directly with the self-petitioner or their authorized representative.
- Information Disclosure Protections: USCIS is restricted from disclosing any information provided by the VAWA self-petitioner to unauthorized third parties, including the abuser. This includes any information about the applicant’s whereabouts, the existence of a VAWA self-petition, or any other information that could compromise the safety of the self-petitioner.
- Limited Exceptions to Confidentiality: There are limited exceptions to the confidentiality provisions, such as situations where the information is necessary for law enforcement purposes or national security concerns. However, even in these cases, the self-petitioner’s safety and confidentiality will be prioritized.
- Violation of Confidentiality: If a USCIS employee violates the confidentiality provisions, the employee may be subject to disciplinary action, including termination of employment.
- Safety Planning and Resources: Self-petitioners are encouraged to develop a safety plan and utilize available resources, such as local domestic violence shelters, hotlines, and support services.
VAWA’s confidentiality and safety provisions play a critical role in protecting victims of domestic violence and ensuring that they can safely seek legal remedies without fear of retaliation or further harm.
If you are a victim of domestic violence, know that help is available to you. Reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) for immediate support and assistance. The hotline offers round-the-clock aid, while their website provides information on local resources such as shelters, medical and mental health services, legal guidance, and additional forms of support. To learn more, visit the National Domestic Violence Hotline website.
Benefits of VAWA
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides critical support and protections for victims of domestic violence, offering numerous benefits to those who are eligible for a VAWA self-petition. Some of the key benefits include:
Path to a Green Card:
Successful VAWA self-petitioners can obtain lawful permanent resident status (a Green Card) through the VAWA adjustment of status process. This allows them to live and work in the United States permanently, providing long-term stability and security. Furthermore, after meeting the necessary requirements, they can apply for citizenship through naturalization, further solidifying their place in the United States.
Upon approval of the VAWA self-petition, applicants may be eligible for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), allowing them to work legally in the United States.
Access to Public Benefits:
VAWA self-petitioners may also become eligible for certain public benefits, including financial assistance, healthcare, and housing support, depending on their state of residence and specific circumstances.
Protection from Deportation:
VAWA self-petitioners who have successfully filed a petition receive protection from deportation while their application is pending. If the self-petition is approved, they are no longer at risk of removal from the United States based on their previous immigration status.
Derivative Benefits for Family Members:
In certain cases, family members of VAWA self-petitioners may also be eligible for immigration benefits, such as lawful permanent resident status. This includes qualifying children and, in some instances, parents of the VAWA self-petitioner.
Emotional and Psychological Relief:
The VAWA self-petition process provides a sense of empowerment and control for victims of domestic violence, enabling them to break free from abusive relationships and rebuild their lives independently.
Confidentiality and Safety Provisions:
As mentioned earlier, VAWA has built-in confidentiality and safety provisions that protect the self-petitioner’s privacy and prevent the abuser from gaining knowledge of the VAWA self-petition or using the immigration process as a tool for further abuse.
These benefits make the VAWA self-petition an essential lifeline for many victims of domestic violence, offering them the opportunity to achieve safety, stability, and independence.
Common Challenges and Issues
While the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) offers essential support and protection for victims of domestic violence, applicants may face certain challenges and issues during the self-petition process. Some common difficulties include:
Collecting sufficient evidence to demonstrate abuse and meet the eligibility criteria can be challenging for VAWA self-petitioners, particularly when the abuse was predominantly psychological or emotional in nature. Obtaining documents such as police reports, medical records, and witness statements may be difficult, but they are crucial for building a strong case.
Emotional Toll of the Process:
The VAWA self-petition process can be emotionally draining, as applicants are often required to recount painful experiences and relive traumatic events. Seeking support from a qualified therapist or counselor can help manage the emotional challenges during this process.
Fear of Retaliation:
Many VAWA self-petitioners may fear retaliation from their abuser, especially if they are still living in the same household. Although VAWA offers confidentiality and safety provisions, it is essential to take additional steps to ensure personal safety and seek help from domestic violence organizations, shelters, or law enforcement when needed.
Language barriers can create difficulties for non-English-speaking VAWA self-petitioners, making it challenging to understand the application process and complete the required paperwork. Access to translation services or seeking assistance from an immigration lawyer with experience in VAWA cases can help overcome this issue.
The costs associated with filing a VAWA self-petition and adjusting status can be burdensome for some applicants, particularly if they have limited resources due to their abusive situation. Exploring options for fee waivers, low-cost legal services, and financial assistance from domestic violence organizations may help alleviate this concern.
Limited Awareness of VAWA:
Some victims of domestic violence may not be aware of the VAWA self-petition process or may have misconceptions about their eligibility. Raising awareness and providing accurate information about VAWA is crucial to ensure that more victims can access this essential lifeline.
VAWA self-petition processing times can be lengthy, causing additional stress and uncertainty for applicants. Working with an experienced immigration attorney can help ensure that the application is complete and accurate, potentially reducing delays in processing.
Addressing these challenges and seeking professional assistance from an experienced immigration lawyer can significantly improve the likelihood of a successful VAWA self-petition and help victims of domestic violence secure the protection and support they need.
How an Immigration Lawyer Can Help
Navigating the VAWA self-petition process can be complex and emotionally challenging for victims of domestic violence. An experienced immigration lawyer can provide valuable assistance and support during this critical time. Here’s how an immigration lawyer can help with a VAWA self-petition:
An immigration lawyer can assess your situation and determine whether you meet the eligibility criteria for a VAWA self-petition. They can also help you understand your rights and options, guiding you towards the best course of action for your specific circumstances.
Collecting the necessary evidence to support your VAWA self-petition can be challenging. An immigration lawyer can help you identify the appropriate documentation and guide you in obtaining police reports, medical records, witness statements, and other essential evidence to build a strong case.
Preparing and Filing the Application:
An immigration lawyer can help you complete the required forms accurately and ensure that your application package is well-organized and comprehensive. They can also assist with writing a detailed personal statement that effectively communicates your experiences of abuse and meets the VAWA self-petition requirements.
Addressing Challenges and Issues:
Immigration lawyer are well-versed in addressing the common challenges and issues that may arise during the VAWA self-petition process. They can provide guidance on overcoming language barriers, dealing with financial constraints, and ensuring your safety and confidentiality throughout the process.
Advocacy and Representation:
An immigration lawyer can serve as your advocate and represent you in communications with USCIS, ensuring that your best interests are protected. If any issues or requests for additional information arise during the application process, your attorney can help address these promptly and effectively.
Support during Adjustment of Status:
If your VAWA self-petition is approved, an immigration lawyer can assist you with the subsequent adjustment of status process to obtain your Green Card. They can guide you through the necessary steps and help you prepare for any interviews or additional requirements.
Staying Informed and Up-to-Date:
Immigration laws and policies can change, and an immigration lawyer can help you stay informed of any developments that may affect your VAWA self-petition or adjustment of status process. They can also provide updates on the progress of your case and advise you on any necessary actions.
By working with an experienced immigration lawyer, you can significantly improve your chances of a successful VAWA self-petition and secure the protection and support you need to escape an abusive situation and rebuild your life in the United States.
If you or a loved one is a victim of abuse and seeking help through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), don’t hesitate to contact the compassionate and experienced immigration lawyers in Atlanta at Glenn Immigration. Our team will guide you through the VAWA self-petition process, ensuring that your case is handled with care and discretion. Let us help you gain the independence and security you deserve. Contact us today to schedule a confidential immigration consultation and take the first step towards a brighter future.
In this section, we address some of the most frequently asked questions about the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the self-petition process for immigration relief.
Who can apply for VAWA?
VAWA is available to abused spouses, children, or parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Both men and women may apply for VAWA relief, as the provisions are not limited to female victims of domestic violence.
How long does the VAWA self-petition process take?
The processing time for a VAWA self-petition varies depending on the complexity of your case and the workload of the USCIS office handling your application. On average, it can take anywhere from 12 to 24 months to receive a decision on your self-petition.
Can I work while my VAWA self-petition is pending?
Yes, once you file a VAWA self-petition, you can apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD) by submitting Form I-765. This will allow you to work legally in the United States while your VAWA self-petition is being processed.
Can my abuser find out about my VAWA self-petition?
VAWA contains strict confidentiality provisions to protect the safety of applicants. USCIS is prohibited from disclosing any information about your VAWA self-petition to your abuser or any third parties without your written consent.
What happens if my VAWA self-petition is denied?
If your VAWA self-petition is denied, you will receive a written notice from USCIS explaining the reasons for the denial. You may have the option to appeal the decision or file a motion to reopen or reconsider the case.
Can I apply for VAWA if I am in removal proceedings?
Yes, you can apply for VAWA relief even if you are in removal proceedings. If your VAWA self-petition is approved, you may be eligible for cancellation of removal, which can result in the termination of the removal proceedings and the grant of lawful permanent resident status.
Can I include my children in my VAWA self-petition?
Yes, you can include your unmarried children under the age of 21 as derivative beneficiaries on your VAWA self-petition. If your VAWA self-petition is approved, your children may also be eligible for immigration relief and lawful permanent resident status.
Can I travel outside the United States while my VAWA self-petition is pending?
While it is possible to travel outside the United States during the pendency of your VAWA self-petition, it is generally not recommended, as it may complicate your case.
How does a VAWA self-petition affect my current immigration status?
Filing a VAWA self-petition does not automatically change your immigration status. However, if your self-petition is approved, you may be eligible to adjust your status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
Do I need a police report or a restraining order to apply for VAWA?
While having a police report or restraining order can strengthen your VAWA self-petition, it is not required. You can still apply for VAWA relief based on other evidence of abuse, such as medical records, witness statements, or photographs of injuries.
Can I apply for VAWA if I am divorced from my abusive spouse?
Yes, you can still apply for VAWA if you are divorced from your abusive spouse, as long as you file your self-petition within two years of the date of the divorce and can show a connection between the abuse and the divorce.
Can I apply for VAWA if my abusive spouse is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident?
In most cases, VAWA relief is only available to victims of abuse by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. However, if your abusive spouse was a nonimmigrant (e.g., on a temporary work or student visa), you may be eligible for relief under the Battered Spouse of a Nonimmigrant provision.
What happens if my abusive spouse loses their immigration status while my VAWA self-petition is pending?
If your abusive spouse loses their immigration status while your VAWA self-petition is pending, your case may be negatively affected.
Can I be deported while my VAWA self-petition is pending?
While USCIS generally does not initiate removal proceedings against VAWA self-petitioners, there is no absolute guarantee that you will not be placed in removal proceedings while your self-petition is pending.
Can I apply for VAWA if I entered the United States without inspection?
Yes, you can still apply for VAWA relief even if you entered the United States without inspection. However, you may face additional challenges when adjusting your status to that of a lawful permanent resident.
Can I apply for VAWA if I am in removal proceedings?
Yes, you can apply for VAWA relief even if you are in removal proceedings. If your VAWA self-petition is approved, you may be eligible to seek cancellation of removal based on your approved VAWA status.
Can I apply for VAWA if my abusive spouse has filed an I-130 petition on my behalf?
Yes, you can apply for VAWA even if your abusive spouse has filed an I-130 petition on your behalf for a marriage-based Green Card. If your VAWA self-petition is approved, you will no longer need the I-130 petition filed by your abusive spouse to adjust your status.
Can I remarry while my VAWA self-petition is pending?
If you remarry while your VAWA self-petition is pending, it may complicate your case, as your eligibility for VAWA relief is based on your previous marriage to your abusive spouse.
How can I check the status of my VAWA case?
To check the status of your VAWA case, you can visit the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) website and use the “Case Status Online” tool. You will need to provide your case receipt number, which can be found on the receipt notice you received from USCIS after filing your VAWA self-petition (Form I-360).
Please note that these FAQs provide general information and should not be considered legal advice. It is essential to consult with an experienced immigration lawyer for guidance specific to your immigration situation.