Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA)

Family-Based Immigration


The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows individuals to escape abusive relationships without jeopardizing their chances of getting a green card. It began in 1994 after the discovery of abusive relationships occurring with many immigrants in the US. Many endure these relationships because they feel it is their only way to a green card.

What Is VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows individuals to escape abusive relationships without jeopardizing their chances of getting a green card. It began in 1994 after the discovery of abusive relationships occurring with many immigrants in the US. Many endure these relationships because they feel it is their only way to a green card.

VAWA helps you file for a green card by making information and assistance accessible without needing the abuser. In that way, you can be free of that relationship as soon as possible.

How Do I Know I Am Eligible For a VAWA Green Card?

There are several requirements necessary to apply under VAWA. While it may seem like it is only for women, both males and females can be eligible. Here are the requirements:

  • The abuser must be a permanent resident or citizen of the US.
  • You must be a current or former spouse or child of the abuser.
  • You suffered extreme cruelty or battery.
  • The marriage must be in good faith (not one to obtain a green card).
  • You must be living in the US. The only exception is if the abuser is an employee of the US government or armed services.
  • You must have lived with the abuser at some point before application. You do not have to be currently residing with the abuser during the application process.
  • You must have had no criminal history during the past three years.

Can I Still Apply if I Committed Crimes in the Past?

As long as you are of good moral character within the last three years, you can apply. If you have committed crimes, you must show that it connects to the abuse. Some victims do criminal activities because their abusers force them. You can file for a waiver of criminal acts of the following crimes:

  • Moral turpitude
  • Simple possession of marijuana (less than 30 grams)
  • Commercialized vice
  • Prostitution
  • Assertion of immunity from prosecution
  • Multiple convictions

What Counts as Abuse?

There are two types of abuse considered in the VAWA Act. The first is physical abuse or battery, which can include sexual abuse or forced sexual engagement.

The second category is non-physical abuse or extreme cruelty. Many immigrants don’t suffer physical abuse but are instead inflicted with other harsh treatments. Victims may receive threats of divorce or deportation. Other actions that count towards extreme cruelty are:

  • Threats to physically harm
  • Threaten to report to authorities
  • Withholding food
  • Withholding money
  • Preventing contact with family

The sad truth is that abuse is more common than people think. Many immigrants live in fear and pain, trapped by these controlling relationships because their abuser uses a green card to control them.

When Can I File for a Petition?

For spouses, they can file for a self-petition during their marriage. You can also file within two years after marriage, whether it ended through divorce or death. The same applies to a child within an abusive relationship with a parent.

If there is an ongoing petition for the spouse or child, it will move to the new self-petition. The self-petition can help accelerate the approval process because you no longer have to wait for an immigrant visa in your category to open.

What Do I Need When Applying for a VAWA Self Petition?

You will need to complete Form I-360. You can submit it concurrently with a green card Form I-485 application if your spouse or parent is a US citizen. If not, you will have to wait for the approval of the I-360. You’ll also need to bring:

  • A cover letter describing how you meet each requirement
  • Proof that the abuser is a green card holder or US citizen
  • Marriage or birth certificate (proof of connection to the abuser)
  • Written declaration describing the details of the relationship, details of the abuse, and information relevant to prove eligibility
  • Police clearance records
  • Proof that you lived with the abuser and that you currently reside in the US
  • Other evidence proving abuse

How Do I Prove Abuse?

The proof is essential to validate a VAWA petition. Proving abuse is the key to getting approval. The challenge is that it is not always available. The abuser isn’t likely to assist in providing these documents. Here are some things you can gather to help your case:

  • A recorded personal declaration
  • Medical records
  • Police reports
  • Affidavits from witnesses or supporters
  • Affidavits from school personnel
  • Affidavits from social workers

What if I’m Unable To Assist Law Enforcement?

It’s not uncommon for minors and the disabled to be unable to cooperate with law enforcement. In these cases, a guardian or parent may assist on your behalf. The guardian or parent will be the one with most of the work.

What if I’m Barred Entry in the US?

Some VAWA green card applicants are inadmissible. You may be able to request a waiver of your inadmissibility if you can connect the abuse to the cause of the bar. You also won’t need to worry about living in the US for over six months if you can show that the abuse connects to the reason for the unlawful stay.

My Deportation Was Because of the Abusive Relationship, Is There a Way That VAWA Can Help Me?

If you are under removal proceedings, you can apply for a VAWA cancellation if you fulfill these requirements:

  • You must have been subject to abuse (extreme cruelty or battery).
  • The abuser must be a permanent resident or citizen of the US.
  • You have been in the US for at least three years before removal.
  • During the last three years, you have displayed good moral character (no crimes).
  • Your removal to your native country will result in hardship.

You must still be under proceedings with the immigration court to apply. If there is a final removal order, you should consult with an immigration attorney because of the complexity involved. You will have to file for a motion to reopen before pursuing the cancellation.

What Do I Need When Filing for a VAWA Cancellation of Removal (Deportation)?

There are several requirements that you will need to provide:

  • Proof of abuse
  • Proof of US residency
  • Proof of identity
  • Proof of abuser’s immigration status

It will be the immigration judge who will verify these documents and not a USCIS officer.

Will I Get Deported if My VAWA Application is Denied?

Yes, you can face deportation after a denial of the application. They can expedite the process upon discovering that you:

  • Lied during application
  • Have a criminal history
  • Have undergone deportation in the past

It’s of the utmost importance to prepare thoroughly for the application to reduce the risk of any denial. An experienced immigration attorney can help check each need and ensure completion.

Do I Need a Lawyer When Applying for VAWA?

A lawyer is not required when applying for a VAWA. However, we recommend you get one because of the extensive requirements. Help from an experienced legal professional will improve your chances. It also helps to have a third party assisting in the application to avoid getting the attention of the abuser.

While there are costs associated with getting legal help, many organizations provide aid. It’s best to talk with the immigration attorneys first and clarify your options.

When Can I Apply for US Citizenship?

VAWA cardholders can apply for US citizenship in three years, as opposed to the usual five. This is to help victims transition faster to an independent state, free from their relationship with the abuser.

Next Steps

VAWA applications can get overwhelming due to the many requirements and processes involved. To make the process more manageable, you’ll need legal counsel to help gather requirements and ensure you have everything you need. Do not hesitate to contact us if you’re preparing for a VAWA application or have yet to start. Our team has helped many escape their abusive relationships with a VAWA green card. We can help you too.


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