The Violence Against Women Act and Immigration:

The Violence Against Women Act and Immigration:

What is VAWA?

  • The Violence Against Women Act (also called VAWA) is a United States federal law which 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 a US citizens or permanent resident (green card holder) spouse. 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.

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 for these women to seek refuge from those who may be using immigration status as a means of controlling or harming them.

How do I know if I qualify?

  • 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.
  • Congress has created a few avenues for those who are seeking immigration protection under VAWA.
    • U visa (please see here for more information about the U-Visa)
    • T visa (for individuals who have been victims of human or sex trafficking, is in the United States on account of trafficking, assist law enforcement officials in the investigation or prosecution of the traffickers if the individual is over the age of 18, and can demonstrate that she will suffer extreme hardship involving unusual and severe harm if removed from the United States.)
      • 5,000 T Visas are available each year. T Visa recipients are given permission to work in the United States and are eligible for cash assistance, food stamps, and job training. Spouses and unmarried children may also qualify as dependent family members of the trafficking victim.
    • Battered Spouse Waivers (Allows victims of domestic violence to remove conditional status for a marriage-based green card without the assistance of an abusive spouse.)
    • WAVA “self petition”

Note: Immigrants, including battered immigrants, are ineligible to become lawful permanent residents of the United States if they are likely to become “public charges”. Your likelihood of being a public charge will not depend on previous welfare receivement but on the likelihood of needing future assistance. Self-petitioners should demonstrate during the adjustment interview that they will be employed and are not receiving benefits and/or have other means to support themselves and their children.

  • In addition, immigrants will not be eligible for admittance to the United States if they have a communicable disease that is significant to public health, including HIV and tuberculosis, or if they do not prove that they have been vaccinated for certain diseases, or show a history of physical or mental disorders or substance abuse problems.
  • Immigrants with criminal records may also be denied under certain circumstances. An attorney will be able to help you determine if you qualify for this petition. If you have been deported or re-entered the US illegally, or have been unlawfully present in the country for more than 180 days, you do not qualify for this petition.

What is a VAWA self-petition?

  • A VAWA self=petition allows for immigrant victims of domestic violence, or child or elder abuse to “self petition” for lawful permanent resident status without the cooperation of an abusive spouse, parent, or child. It is confidential, and allows the petitioner to apply for lawful permanent residency.

Who is Eligible for WAVA Self-Petition?

  • Spouses and former spouses of abusive US citizens and lawful permanent residents. Those who are divorced due to the abuse or have been divorced for less than two years may also qualify.
  • Children of abusive citizens or lawful permanent residents who file before turning 25.
  • An immigrant parent of an abused immigrant child, even if the immigrant parent is not herself abused.
  • Non-citizen spouses whose children are abused by the child’s other U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent.

In all of these categories, petitioner must be able to approve abuse, relationship to the abuser, the immigration status of the citizen, good moral character, and residency with the abusive family member.

How do I begin this process?

  • The first step in the process to immigration through VAWA would be to contact a lawyer to help you begin the process of filing a self-petition form.

What forms do I need?

  • USCIS Form I-360 with supporting evidence to your relationship to the abuser and the abuse you suffered, other evidence of the abuse such as police or hospital records or court-issued orders, police clearance records showing your criminal record to prove “good moral character”, proof that the abuse is a US citizen or a green card holder, proof that you are related to the abuser (such as a marriage or birth certificate), proof that you live with the abuser, and proof that you currently live in the US.
  • USCIS Form I-485, the application to register permanent residence or adjust status to be eligible for a green card.

Should I hire a lawyer?

  • Hiring a lawyer would be extremely helpful to 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.

Do I need to speak English?

  • You do not need to be able to speak English in order to undergo this process. If you do not speak English you may want to have a translator to help you understand the forms and questions which will be asked of you. Your translator does not have to be certified, but must be someone who is at least 21 years old and is fluent in English as well as your native language.

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.

What does this process look like?

  • The first step is to 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 a 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.

What happens after my citizenship has been granted?

  • After your citizenship status has been approved, you have the right to live and work in the United States. You are, however, still subject to immigration laws in the US. The only person who can take away your lawful permanent resident status is an Immigration Judge after a full and fair hearing. So long as you do not violate any criminal or immigration laws, you will not be subject to deportation, and your abuser cannot threaten you with deportation.

Helpful External Links:

American Immigration Council:

https://www.americanimmigrationcouncil.org/research/violence-against-women-act-vawa-provides-protections-immigrant-women-and-victims-crime

US Citizenship and Immigration Services:

https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-vawa-self-petitioner

Legal Services Corporation:

https://www.lsc.gov/sites/default/files/LSC/pdfs/11.%20Appendix%20X%20%20BB%20CHP%20Self-Petitioning.pdf
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