VAWA: Green Cards for Victims of Abuse

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows certain victims of familial abuse to apply for a green card.

Who is Eligible for VAWA?

Despite its name, the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) applies equally to both men and women. So you may be eligible to apply for a green card under VAWA if you qualify for a group listed below regardless of your gender.

Abused Spouses

If you are the abused spouse of U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, then you may file on your own behalf. You may also file as a spouse if your child has been abused by your spouse. You may include in your petition your unmarried children who are under the age of 21.

As an abused spouse you must show that:

  1. You are/were in a qualifying marital relationship;
    1. You are legally married to the abuser,
    2. Your marriage to the abuser was terminated y death within the two pears prior to filing your I-360.
    3. Your marriage to the abuser was terminated by a divorce related to the abuse within the two years prior to filing your petition,
    4. Your spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the two years prior to filing your petition due to an incident of domestic violence, or
    5. You believed that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.
  2. You have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse;
  3. You entered into the marriage in good faith and not solely for immigration benefits;
  4. You have resided with your spouse; and
  5. You are a person of good moral character.[i]

Abused Children

If you are a child under the age of 21 and unmarried who has been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent, then you may file on your behalf. You may include in your petition any of your own children. You may be able to file after the age of 21 but before the age of 25, if you can show that the delay in filing was caused mainly by the abuse you suffered.

As an abused child you must show that:

  1. You are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser (or you are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence);
  2. You have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent;
  3. You have resided with your abusive parent; and
  4. You are a person of good moral character.[ii]
    1. NOTE: a child less than 14 years of age is presumed to be a person of good moral character.

Abused Parents

If you are the parent who was abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter, then you may file on your own behalf.

As an abused parent you must show that:

  1. You are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who:
    1. is at least 21 years of age when the self-petition is filed, or
    2. lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence, or
    3. was at least 21 years of age and who died within 2 years prior to filing the self-petition;
  2. You have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen son or daughter;
  3. You have resided with the abusive son or daughter; and
  4. You are a person of good moral character.[iii]

How to Apply for a Green Card under VAWA

Self-petitioning for a green card under VAWA is generally a two-step process. First, you will have to have an approved I-360. Then, you can apply for both work authorization and adjustment of status (i.e. a green card).

Form I-360

First, you will need to fill out form I-360 which can be found here.

Then, you will need to prepare evidence to be submitted with your I-360. You will want to give the USCIS officer reviewing your application every piece of evidence he or she needs to help approve your application. It is suggested you submit as much of the following as you can:

  1. Evidence of your abuser’s U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status;
  2. Evidence of your relationship to the abuser (e.g. marriage certificates, birth certificates, etc.);
  3. Evidence that you and the abuser have resided together in the U.S. (e.g. utility bills, school records, medical records, mortgages, leases, sworn affidavits by individuals with first-hand knowledge, etc.);
  4. Evidence that you are now residing in the U.S.
  5. Evidence of the abuse (e.g. police records, court records, medical records, sworn affidavits by individuals with knowledge such as police, doctors, social workers, clergy, etc.);
  6. Evidence of your good moral character accompanied with a local police clearance, state0issued background check for any location where you have lived 6 or more months during the last three years.
  7. Evidence of any extreme hardship that would be caused of you were to be removed (for instance towards U.S. citizen children).[iv]
  8. If applicable, evidence that your marriage to your abusive spouse was in good faith (e.g. joint accounts, shared lease, sworn affidavits by individuals with first-hand knowledge, photographs of the wedding and family events, proof of courting before marriage, etc.).[v]

It may also be helpful for you to include a personal narrative documenting the abuse you have suffered. For instance, if you are filing as an abused spouse, then consider stating with your courtship and marriage and speak on how times have changed and the relationship has become abusive.

USCIS will respond to your application with either a Request for Evidence (find more information here) or a Notice of a Prima Facie Case. The latter is a notice that tells you that you have submitted all the required information and your application is now under review. This Notice can be used to obtain certain federal benefits.

After your application goes through final review, it will either be approved or denied. If your application is approved, then you may proceed to apply for a green card and for temporary work authorization. If your application is denied, then you have a right to appeal the decision.[vi]

Form I-485

After your I-360 is approved, you will want to file Form I-485 to adjust status to a permanent resident. The form can be found here.

If your abuser was a U.S. citizen, then you can apply for your green card immediately.

However, if your abuser was a permeant resident, then you will have to wait until your priority date (i.e. the date your I-360 was approved) comes due before applying for your green card. The Visa Bulletin is updated monthly and can be found here. It is your means to determine when you can apply for your green card. For more information regarding the Visa Bulletin, check out our post What is the Visa Bulletin?

The application process will be very similar to your I-360. Just be sure to fill the form out and submit the evidence as listed in the Form’s instructions.

Form I-765

You may also want to file Form I-765 to get authorization to work in the U.S. while your application to adjust status is pending. This is a rather straight forward application that can be found here. You will certainly want to file this Form if your abuser was a permanent resident because you may have to wait well over a year to get your green card.

Conclusion

The path to permanent residency can be a tough one; especially when suffering domestic abuse. As hard as it all may seem, remember that you do not have to do it alone. There are countless organizations and resources for victims of domestic abuse. There are many clinics and pro bono service projects that can help you navigate legal red tape. If you need to talk to someone today, reach out to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.


[i] 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(c)(1)(i).

[ii] 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(e)(1)(i).

[iii] See USCIS Policy Memorandum 602-0046 (August 30, 2011) available at http://www.ilrc.org/files/documents/vawa-elder-abuse.pdf

[iv] See id; 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(e)(2); 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(c)(2).

[v] 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(c)(2).

[vi] 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(c)(3)(ii); 8 C.F.R.§ 204.2(e)(3)(ii).

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