The Violence Against Women Act and Immigration

Frequently Asked Questions About VAWA

What is VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act (also called VAWA) is a United States federal law that was signed by President Bill Clinton in 1994 to handle investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women.

How is VAWA linked to immigration?

VAWA allows for the possibility that certain individuals who might not otherwise be eligible for immigration benefits may petition for US permanent residency on the grounds of a close relationship with US citizens or permanent resident (green card holder) spouse.

Who Qualifies for VAWA?

A wife or husband who has been abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident is eligible. The petition will also cover the petitioner’s children under age 21. A child abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent can also be eligible.

The petition can be filed by an abused child or by her parent on the child’s behalf. A parent who has been abused by a U.S. citizen child who is at least 21 years old can also qualify.

Is There a Difference if my Abuser is a Green Card Holder or a Citizen?

Yes, if you are filing for relief from abuse by a green card holder, you are considered a “preference relative” and may spend up to 5-7 years for a citizenship status change based on your application. If your abuser is a US citizen, you can apply immediately for adjustment to lawful permanent resident status.

The VAWA Application Process

Hire a lawyer to help you complete your petition. Together, you and your lawyer will prepare a petition on your own behalf using USCIS Form I-360 if applying as a self-petitioner. Preference relatives are individuals who are related to the green card holder. If you are a preference relative, you will submit your petition to USCIS as a separate package. Immediate relatives are spouses and children of a US citizen. If you are an immediate relative, you can combine this petition with your application to adjust your status and receive a green card.

It is important to note that with USCIS form I-360 that you can use a mailing address that is not your own for all mail receipts if you are worried your abuser may punish you for filing these forms. Ensure that the address you list is somewhere you can receive mail that your abuser will not see if you have this concern.

For preference relatives only: you must submit a visa petition to USCIS before going any further with the green card process. You will be issued an I-797 Notice of Action within
30 days of your petition being received if they have accepted your petition. If the USCIS requires more information, they will send you a letter to the mailing address you selected requesting more information about your petition. You will have 60 days to provide them with the new evidence or an explanation as to why you cannot do so. If the USCIS does not believe you qualify, they will issue you a “Notice of Intent to Deny” to your chosen mailing address. This notice will state the reasons USCIS believes you do not qualify and will give you additional time to provide reasons and evidence as to why you should.

After receiving your I-797, you will be placed on a waiting list for visas. This waiting process may be long, and even take a few years because of the limited number of visas allowed.

The final step in this process is to file an adjustment of status. Using the I-485 form, and with the $315 filing fee ($215 if applicant is under 14) or a fee waiver, along with supporting documents such as your biographic information, application for employment authorization and medical examination, you will file these with the USCIS office, and in a period of a few months you will be scheduled to attend an interview for your claims. Your abusive spouse or parent will not be required to accompany you to that interview.

After the completion of this interview, USCIS will determine if your self-petition meets the requirements for a citizenship change and will notify you whether or not you have been accepted for a green card.

Why are Women Uniquely Protected for Immigration Under VAWA?

VAWA recognizes the complicated situation of women in relation to immigration. Female immigrants are more likely to work in the informal market as domestic workers or caretakers and less able to assert their rights. They are also more likely to be brought to the United States through human trafficking networks. Both legal and unauthorized immigrant women may face challenges related to domestic violence, especially if their immigration status depends on an abusive spouse. VAWA’s access to immigration allows these women to seek refuge from those who may be using immigration status as a means of controlling or harming them.

Should I Hire a Lawyer?

Hiring a lawyer would be extremely helpful in navigating the complex legal pathways to obtaining citizenship through VAWA. Without any delays, this process can be completed within the span of a year, however, in some cases these cases can stretch to take multiple years to complete. For a quicker and easier application process, it is highly recommended to get a lawyer’s assistance.

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