VAWA, the Violence Against Women Act, provides avenues for certain immigrant battered spouses, children and parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs), to leave their abusive family members without jeopardizing their immigration status.
In 2013, The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act was signed expanding protection measures to include gays, lesbians, transgender individuals, Native Americans, and immigrants.
The law established the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to work to combat and reduce violence against women in a broad range of areas including college campuses and low-income communities. Since its beginning, VAWA’s focus has grown to include domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking.
Immigrant victims who file for VAWA-related relief become eligible for a variety of federal and state public benefits. Under the law, battered non-citizens who are married to or recently divorced from US citizens or LPRs can self-petition (without the help or knowledge of their abusive spouse) to obtain a green card, remove the conditions on their 2-year Conditional Permanent Residence cards or apply for cancellation of removal. For more information, click on the appropriate link below:
- Self Petition for Permanent Residence
- Battered Spouse Waiver
- Cancellation of Removal
- Spouses with Pending or Approved Family Based Visa Petitions
- Ability to become a “Qualified Immigrant”
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The USCIS website provides as follows:
Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident (get a Green Card) if you are the victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by:
- A U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse;
- A U.S. citizen parent;
- A U.S. citizen son or daughter;
- A lawful permanent resident spouse or former spouse; or
- An lawful permanent resident parent.
You may self-petition by filing a Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) without your abusive family member’s knowledge or consent. A person who files a self-petition is generally known as a VAWA self-petitioner. If your self-petition is approved and you meet other eligibility requirements, you may be eligible to apply to become a lawful permanent resident.
In order to be eligible for a Green Card as a self-petitioner under the Violence Against Women Act, you must meet the following requirements:
- You properly file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status;
- You are physically present in the United States at the time you file your Form I-485;
- You are eligible to receive an immigrant visa;
- An immigrant visa is immediately available to you at the time you file your Form I-485 and when USCIS makes a final decision on your application;
- None of the bars to adjustment of status apply to you;
- You are admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other form of relief; and
- You merit the favorable exercise of USCIS’ discretion.
Depending on how you entered the United States or if you committed a particular act or violation of immigration law, you may be barred from adjusting status. However, VAWA self-petitioners and beneficiaries are exempt from all of these bars to adjustment. For more information, please see USCIS Policy Manual Volume 7, Part B, 245(a) Adjustment
VAWA – USCIS Resources
- Legal Rights Available to Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence
- Guidance For Approved VAWA Self-Petitioners
- Revocation of Self-Petitions
- Domestic Violence During the Pandemic: Resources for Victims and Survivors (11-10-20)
- Apply for a Green Card under the Violence Against Women Act
- How to Prove Your Case
- Waivers and Exceptions to Grounds of Inadmissibility
- National Domestic Violence Hotline
- Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013
- Violence Against Women Act Provides Protections for Immigrant Women and Victims of Crime (11-23-19)
- AAO Non-Precedent Decisions on Battered or Abused Spouse or Child
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Carl Shusterman served as an INS Trial Attorney (1976-82) before opening a firm specializing exclusively in US immigration law. He is a Certified Specialist in Immigration Law who has testified as an expert witness before the US Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Carl was featured in the February 2018 edition of SuperLawyers Magazine.