The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed by Congress in 1994, is a federal law in the US that enables the relatives of US citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who are abuse victims to apply for an adjustment of status by self-petitioning, independent of their abuser. It was intended to protect abuse victims while raising awareness about forms of domestic and dating violence, stalking, and sexual assault. 

This post will explore the VAWA self-petition processing time and key details you should know about before submitting your application.

VAWA Processing Times 

Victims of abuse who choose to self-petition through VAWA must go through a legal process to officially submit their case. Depending on the political climate, application backlog, and case complexity, this can take 24 to 36 months. VAWA petitions are processed by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Lately, this department has been facing significant delays due to staffing shortages and underfunding. To check the most up-to-date processing times, VAWA petition applicants can check USCIS processing times by selecting form type I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant and form category Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). 

The self-petition processing time typically takes around 24 months to three years because of the detailed information that must be provided to USCIS. They may have questions for the victim or require additional documentation. For this reason, self-petitioners should ensure they have all their contact information updated and follow the steps for the procedure carefully. Many victims may submit a mailing address that their abuser does not have access to, so they may decide to put down a lawyer’s address or the address of a family member. Even though the process can take up to three years, applicants must ensure their mailing address is up-to-date throughout the entire process. 

How to Submit a VAWA Petition

Eligible spouses, children, and parents can submit a VAWA petition in 3 simple steps:

  1. Complete Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
  2. Gather supporting documentation (e.g. pictures of abuse, police reports, marriage certificate, death certificate, criminal record, etc.)
  3. File the VAWA petition with the Nebraska Service Center

Generally speaking, VAWA petitions are submitted by individuals already living in the United States. In cases where the petitioner is living abroad, USCIS will accept the petition as long as the abuser is employed by the US government or a member of the US armed forces. In some cases, the agency may consider petitions from foreign nationals outside the US if the alleged domestic abuse occurred while visiting the United States.

Processing a VAWA Self Petition

After USCIS receives the victim’s self-petition, Form I-360, they will review their statements, check all required supporting documents are present, and approve or deny the petition. They will send the victim a Prima Facie Approval letter if the petition is approved. This document is valid for 150 days. This allows a victim self-petitioning through VAWA to receive public benefits as abuse or violence victims. It provides interim support to the victim before a final decision is made on their case. 

In some circumstances, self-petitioners can expedite their VAWA case by submitting a request that proves they have an emergency. Examples include urgently needing to visit a family member abroad due to illness or imminent death or being stuck in a dangerous living situation. 

If the VAWA self-petition is denied, the applicant will receive a notice of decision from USCIS regarding why their case was not approved. They will have the option of appealing the decision or filing a motion to reopen their case. Appeals must be submitted to the Administrative Appeals Office (AAO) within 30 days of the denial notice and state why the USCIS decision was incorrect. The applicant must provide additional evidence to support their case.

The process for VAWA is relatively straightforward, but due to the delicate nature of most cases, petitioners may need additional support. An experienced immigration lawyer or legal team can help victims through the process to ensure the best outcome possible. 

FAQs For VAWA Self-Petition Processing Time

What is VAWA self-petition, and how long does it take to process it?

VAWA self-petition is a way for victims of domestic violence who are married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) to apply for lawful status without the abuser's interference. Processing times for VAWA self-petitions vary based on various factors, including the case's complexity, the volume of applications received, and the USCIS workload. Generally, it can take 24-36 months for USCIS to process a VAWA self-petition.

How can I check the status of my VAWA self-petition?

You can check the status of your VAWA self-petition by logging into your USCIS online account or by calling the USCIS customer service number. You will need your receipt number to access your case status information.

What happens after USCIS approves my VAWA self-petition?

After USCIS approves your VAWA self-petition, you may be eligible to apply for lawful permanent residency, aka a green card and work permit.  The process for obtaining a green card may take several months and involves submitting additional forms and supporting documents.

Can I work while my VAWA self-petition is pending?

You can continue to work if you already have employment authorization when the petition is filed. Filing the VAWA self-petition does not permit the applicant to work in the US. Once USCIS approves the petition, they will provide a legal work permit and an Employment Authorization Document (EAD).  

What happens if my VAWA self-petition is denied?

If your VAWA self-petition is denied, you may have the option to appeal the decision or file a motion to reopen or reconsider. It is advised to consult with an experienced immigration attorney if your VAWA self-petition is denied or if you have any questions about the process.

Can men apply for the VAWA self-petition?

Even though the ‘W’ in VAWA stands for women, people of any gender can file a self-petition if they are a victim of abuse and meet the qualifying criteria. 

Conclusion For VAWA Self-Petition Processing Time

In conclusion, the VAWA self-petition is a vital avenue for abuse victims to secure safe and independent legal status in the U.S. Typically taking 24-36 months, the process requires careful preparation and patience. Maintaining contact details and being prepared for potential delays are essential. If denied, options for appeal are available.

Despite its length and complexity, the VAWA self-petition offers a necessary pathway to protection and justice for victims, regardless of gender.

If you have any questions, don't hesitate to get in touch with our law firm for assistance. We have lawyers ready to help answer your questions regarding VAWA self-petition processing times.