U.S. Residency Through VAWA for Victims of Domestic Violence
What is VAWA?
VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) is a law which allows certain immigrants or foreign nationals (men and women) and their children, who have been victims of domestic violence by their spouse, parent or child, who is a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident or Citizen, to self-petition to obtain their U.S. Residency or Green Card.
Who Is Eligible for a VAWA based U.S. Residency?
Non-resident Spouses who entered their marriage in good faith (not for immigration fraud), and were abused by their US resident or citizen spouse, or whose children have been abused by their US resident or citizen spouse (children under 21 may also be included in the spouse VAWA self petition), even when:
- The marriage was terminated by death or a divorce within 2 years of the filing of the VAWA petition, (Form I-360);
- The abusive spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within 2 years of the filing of the VAWA petition, due to an incident of domestic violence (see INA § 204(a)(1)(a)(iii))); or
- You believed that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not valid because the abusive spouse engaged in bigamy
- Non-resident Children under 21, unmarried who have been abused by their US resident or citizen parent (a child may file after age 21 but before age 25, if they can prove that the delay was caused by the abuse).
- Non-resident Parents abused by their US resident or citizen sons or daughters
In addition to being in one of the above categories, if you are living outside of the United States when you file the VAWA self-petition, you must also demonstrate that the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident relative is an employee of the U.S. government, the U.S. armed forces, or that you were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty in the United States.
Once Granted Legal Permanent Residency What is its Duration?
Once the Legal Permanent Residency status is granted, it does not expire as long as the alien meets all the conditions regarding the US Permanent Residency. The actual Green Card or Residency Card does expire (like a driver’s license) and has to be renewed every 10 years.
Family Benefits of VAWA
Certain members of the immediate family of the alien might be eligible to obtain the permanent residency and all its benefits. Specifically, abused spouses and children of abusive US citizens or US Legal Permanent Residents (LPR) may include unmarried children under 21 years of age as beneficiaries on their self-petition, while abused parents by their US citizen or LPR children may not.
Permanent residency allows all family members to live, study and or work legally in the U.S.
What Documentation Do I Need for a VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) Immigration case?
- Copy of Birth Certificate, including birth certificate of abusive spouse and child if available
- Copy of Marriage Certificate (if applicable)
- Copy of Divorce Certificate(s) (if applicable)
- Complete copy of Passport
- Copy of Form I-94 [https://i94.cbp.dhs.gov/I94/#/recent-search] (if applicable)
- 6 USCIS Photographs
- Copy of Evidence of Citizenship or Resident Status of Abusive Spouse/Parent:
- Green Card
- Birth Certificate
- Certificate of Naturalization
- Complete copy of any prior immigration applications, notices, records, and supporting documents filed with or received from any US government agency (USCIS, ICE, CBP,NVC, Consulate, EOIR ….)
- Complete copy of any criminal case, including certified court records, police report, criminal complaint, plea, court orders, probation records, and any other document – (if applicable)
- Copy of complete court records for any other legal proceeding including Restraining Orders, Child Custody, Divorce, or other matter – (if applicable)
Evidence of Domestic Violence
- Copy of Medical Records which document the abuse
- Copy of Counseling Records documenting the abuse
- Copy of Police reports;
- Copy of Court Records; (Restraining Orders, Divorce Proceedings based on abuse);
- Copy of documents from school officials;
- Copy of documents from clergy, social workers, and other social service agency personnel
- Affidavit (must be detailed with information of relationship & incidents of abuse)
- Copy of Evidence of Marriage in Good Faith (in the case of spousal abuse):
- Joint bank records with direct deposit from all employers;
- Joint utility bills / receipts;
- School records;
- Hospital or medical records;
- Birth certificates of children;
- Deeds, mortgages, rental records;
- Insurance policies;
- Joint Tax returns;
- Employment Records;
- Licenses / State ID’s; or
- Photographs and Affidavits – extremely detailed (if necessary)
- List of Social Media accounts that are used and copy of recent pages (if applicable)
- Copy of Tax Returns for every year since marriage [https://www.irs.gov/individuals/gettranscript] (if available)
What is the VAWA Process Like?
- Complete the Form I-360 (Immigrant Visa Petition), Form I-485 (Adjustment of Status), Form I-765 (Work Authorization Application). Form I-131 (Application for Travel Authorization) and other applications that may be pertinent to the individual situation, such as a Form I-601 waiver.
- File the Forms I-360, I-485, other applications and the supporting documents (The VAWA Petition) with the appropriate USCIS Service Center
- Upon receipt of the VAWA Petition, USCIS will send receipt notices and may issue a notice for a biometrics appointment with a local USCIS Application Support Center.
- Appear at the local USCIS Application Support Center for Biometrics processing (30-120 days). NOTE: The Biometrics appointment may be waived if USCIS re-uses prior Biometrics records.
- Approval of the Work Authorization Application (I-765) and the Travel Authorization (I-131) from USCIS will be issued after the initial review of the applications and the processing of the biometrics (usually within 8-11 months from the date of filing the applications).
- Receive the “Prima Facie Determination Notice” which is valid for a period of time and provides certain benefits to certain victims of domestic violence, such as access to healthcare and counseling programs.
- The foreign national may be required to attend an interview with a USCIS officer, for either the I-360, the I-485 or both, otherwise a decision may be issued by the USCIS Service Center.
Please note that green card may be granted at the time of the interview if the priority date is current, but occasionally the USCIS will need additional time to complete mandatory security background checks.
What are the USCIS Filing Fees?
You will generally be required to pay the filing fees for the Form, I-485 and Biometrics, unless you are eligible for a Fee Waiver. Click here to verify the U.S. Immigration Service fees as these change regularly.