Violence Against Women Act or VAWA

Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) is one of the most pivotal pieces of legislation ever passed to protect the rights and status of women, including immigrant women. It encompasses many benefits for victims of domestic violence, not all of which has to do only with immigration. Specifically,as it relates to immigration, it affords protections for victims of domestic violence who are abused by their U.S. Citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses. In order to qualify, you must meet certain requirements, such as:

  • The abuser is (or was) a U.S. citizen (USC) or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).
    • You may still file a petition under VAWA if the abuse occurred before the abuser became a citizen or green card holder. In addition, you can file a petition under VAWA even if the abuser loses his or her green card or citizenship.
  • You were abused during the marriage by the U.S. citizen or the legal permanent resident.
    • The law requires the self-petitioner to show that he or she “has been battered or has been the subject of extreme cruelty” by the LPR or USC. You do not have to show both. USCIS has found that many things qualify under this standard. In addition, USCIS will consider emotional abuse, controlling behaviors, threats to harm or deport you, forcibly detaining you against your will, and other behaviors used to scare you.
  • You are (or were) the spouse of an LPR or USC abuser, or the parent of a child who was abused by your LPR or USC spouse.
    • There are several important points to keep in mind with this requirement. First, if the marriage ends because of abuse, you can still file a VAWA petition within two years of the end of the marriage. Similarly, if the abuser dies, you can file a VAWA petition within two years of the death. If the marriage ends after a petition is filed, then it has no effect on the VAWA petition. Finally, if you remarry prior to the approval of your VAWA petition, the petition will be denied. It is important that you not marry again if you are considering filing a VAWA petition.
  • Generally, you must reside in the United States in order to file a petition under VAWA.
    • However, you can file even if you are living abroad if the abuser is an employee of the U.S. government or armed services, or the abuse occurred in the United States.
  • You entered the marriage in “good faith.”
    • This basically means that you did not enter the marriage with your LPR or USC spouse solely in order to obtain a green card. If the marriage is fraudulent, you will not qualify for a green card through VAWA. The USCIS takes fraud very seriously.
  • You must have lived with the LPR or USC abuser at some point.
    • There is no length of time that you must have lived with the abuser and you do not have to currently be living with the abuser when you file for VAWA benefits.
  • You must be a person of good moral character.
    • In order to qualify for relief under VAWA , you have been a person of good moral character for at least the past three years. Some things that may prevent you from showing good moral character are: committing crimes, using drugs, illegal gambling, lying under oath, or harming others.

VAWA allows such victims to “self-petition” for their permanent resident status.Abuse can come in many forms, not necessarily physical. If you are a victim of any kind of abuse at the hands of your spouse and he (or she) is threatening you with withholding your immigration status, you may be interested in having a consultation with our attorneys to determine if you qualify for protection under the Violence Against Women Act.