The Basis of the VAWA

The Violence Against Women Act was enacted in 1994. It was and is more than just a statement against the nonstop gender-based violence against young girls and women.

The bill provides vital and legal avenues for domestic violence and abuse survivors. Self-petitioning is one of the legal avenues available to these individuals. With this tool, they can seek a green card independently of their abusive family member, who they have come to depend on because they are a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR).

It empowers victims by giving them control over their immigration status and offering them an opportunity to escape their abusive circumstances. Immigration lawyers and the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) consider VAWA petitions under humanitarian immigration.

The Eligibility Criteria for VAWA Petitions

The dedicated USCIS link for VAWA petitioners mentions a straightforward eligibility criterion. It says that a VAWA petitioner must be a victim or survivor of battery or “extreme cruelty” by one or more of the following:

  • A spouse or former spouse who is a US citizen or LPR;
  • A parent who is a US citizen or LPR;
  • An adult child with US citizenship.

Thus, the USCIS does not approve VAWA petitions if a victim’s abusive child is an LPR or if the abusive party is a sibling or extended family member. However, it may approve petitions filed by minor victims of abuse.

Below is an extended version of the department’s eligibility criteria for VAWA petitioners. As the applicant, you must establish these facts to be eligible for a green card on humanitarian grounds.

  • Battery/Extreme Cruelty: The petitioner must establish that they have been subjected to abuse or extreme cruelty by their US citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or adult child through evidence;
  • Relationship: You don’t have to be biologically related to your abuser, but they must be your legal parent, children, or spouse. The latter could be a former spouse, but you must possess the official documents proving you were legally married to them at least two years before filing the petition;
  • Cohabitation: You must have lived under the same roof with your abuser at some point. Cohabitation only becomes optional when the petitioner has a parent-child relationship with their abuser;
  • Pass the Character Test: You should demonstrate good moral character during all the phases of the immigration process;
  • Current Legal Status: A VAWA petitioner has the right to a green card on humanitarian grounds whether or not they are a documented immigrant. Their immigration status might be scrutinized, but it does not make or break their case;
  • The Timeframe: There is no official timeframe for filing a VAWA petition. However, if you’re divorced, you must file your VAWA petition no later than 2 years after your divorce.

The Green Card Process for VAWA Petitioners

The process of submitting a VAWA petition involves several key steps.

  • Collecting Evidence: You must establish the grounds for a VAWA self-petition by gathering evidence of the abuse. Admissible documents include medical reports, police reports, photographs, witness statements, and other media relevant to the abuse claim;
  • Complete Form I-360: You must submit the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) to the USCIS;
  • Additional Evidence: If needed, you can attach relevant evidence with Form I-360 or submit a personal statement about the abuse and your relationship with the abuser in your own words. This statement provides context and humanizes your petition;
  • Apply for Employment Authorization: A VAWA petition could take years to process. To ensure you are financially independent during this time, apply for employment authorization if you are eligible to file a concurrent I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status;
  • Green Card Interview: The USCIS may schedule you for an interview to further assess the authenticity of your claims. They will then decide whether to issue you a green card and make you a lawful permanent resident.

Once you become an LPR, you don’t have to depend on a spouse, parent, or child to maintain permanent status in the US. You can live your life and pursue legal avenues to distance yourself from your abusive situation.

Are You Ready to File a VAWA Petition to Start Anew in the US?

The VAWA petition remains a beacon of hope for victims of domestic violence, offering a lifeline to those trapped in abusive situations. It provides victims and survivors a pathway to safety, independence, and justice.

By understanding the eligibility criteria, compiling relevant evidence, and navigating the petitioning process diligently, survivors can assert their rights and move toward a future devoid of their abuser(s).

As society progresses towards a more equitable future, so should you with the VAWA petition. While our guide covers most bases, ensure you take all the right steps with Ingrid Borges Perez’s immigration law consultations. Capitalize on her experience to ensure success with your immigration application process.

Schedule your virtual appointment online.

Attorney Ingrid Borges Perez speaks
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