What Is VAWA?
Congress established VAWA as a way to address high rates of violence against women in the US. Part of the VAWA legislation protects non-citizen women, and men, who have been victims of abuse and violence carried out by a US citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or child. This kind of violence can take the form of physical, sexual, emotional, and/or psychological harm. With the VAWA legislation, immigrant victims can petition for a Green Card due to the harm they suffered. The race, age, or sexual orientation of a victim/petitioner does not matter. Men can be petitioners as well as members of the LGBTQ+ community. All victims receive the same opportunities and legal protections under VAWA.
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Victims of domestic violence do not have to remain married to their abusers for the sake of the VAWA application. A victim can file for a VAWA self-petition while they are married to their abuser, in the process of a divorce, or even after they are divorced. Victims can also divorce their abuser even if they have a pending I-360. Although any and all status changes will have to be disclosed and properly assessed by USCIS, there is absolutely no requirement for a victim to remain with their abuser for the purposes of the application. If an applicant is filing for VAWA self-petition after their divorce, it must be within 2 years of the date of the divorce.
Although physical abuse is often the easiest form of abuse to document and show evidence of, physical abuse is not the only type of violence that qualifies someone for VAWA. Abuse can come in many different forms and abusers can often utilize multiple types of abuse to victimize. Some victimizers may not use physical violence at all but are still abusers inflicting pain and anguish on their victims. Abuse such as degrading behavior, threats, social isolation, intimidation, as well as economic control and manipulation are all types of abuse that can qualify a victim for VAWA that do not necessarily include any physical abuse. It is important to contact an experienced immigration attorney to discuss each case and the abuse suffered, especially to ensure that the proper evidence and documentation is provided for each case.
Immigrant victims of domestic abuse only qualify for a VAWA petition if their abuser is a US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident (LPR). If an abuser has some other immigration status or is undocumented or in the US with some expired status, then the victim does not qualify for a VAWA petition. It is important to note that a victim may have additional avenues to help them and so it is important to consult an immigration attorney to discuss other options.
An attorney is not required to complete and file a VAWA application. However, the VAWA application process can be complicated. The specifics of an individual case will determine the forms necessary, the timeline and process of application, as well as determine eligibility. An experienced immigration attorney can be crucial to determining the proper steps, documents, and processes for each applicant. The assistance of an attorney can be critical to ensuring that all forms are correctly completed and submitted. This is especially important as incomplete forms, or associated mistakes can result in a rejected application. Attorneys also help to track your case over the extended period of time that it takes to complete the entire application process up to and including the adjustment of status and the associated interview. While not required, it is highly recommended that an applicant work closely with an immigration attorney to file their VAWA application.