Living in the U.S. without proper legal documentation can feel precarious and isolating. Unfortunately, that kind of high-stress environment often leaves one vulnerable to domestic violence. That’s why the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides many legal protections for immigrant men and women. This article explains how a VAWA green card works and helps you determine whether you are eligible for one.
Table of Contents
- What is the Violence Against Women Act?
- What Does a VAWA Green Card Provide?
- Who Is Eligible for a VAWA Green Card?
- Eligibility Requirements for a VAWA Green Card
- If Your Abuser Is/Was a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident
- If You Are/Were the Spouse or Child of a U.S. Citizen/LPR
- The Marriage Was in Good Faith
- Abuse or Battery Occurred During the Relationship
- Good Moral Character
- If You Are in Immediate Danger
- Let Us Help You Today
Find Out if You are Eligible for a VAWA Green Card
Our immigration attorneys will evaluate your case to determine whether you meet the eligibility requirements for a VAWA green card. If you are, we will walk you through every step of the application process. Call 303-688-0944 today to start your free case assessment. If you prefer to speak with us in Spanish, please call 720-359-2442. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.
What is the Violence Against Women Act?
Passed by Congress in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act was designed to improve the criminal justice system’s responses to sexual assault, domestic violence, dating violence, and stalking. VAWA also aimed to expand the services available to domestic violence victims and survivors.
Under VAWA, certain foreign nationals are no longer forced to rely on their abusers to help them obtain lawful residency in the United States. Instead, they may self-petition for a VAWA green card using USCIS Form I-360.
What Does a VAWA Green Card Provide?
An approved VAWA self-petition will grant work authorization, deferred action, and an approved non-citizen petition that will allow you to apply for lawful permanent residence.
Who Can Apply for a VAWA Green Card?
Despite its name, the Violence Against Women Act covers men and women. VAWA self-petitions are available to spouses, children, and parents.
You may file a VAWA self-petition if you are, or were, married to an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
You may also file as an abused spouse if your child has been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse — even if you have not been abused. Additionally, you may include your unmarried children if they are younger than 21 and have not filed for themselves.
If you are an abused spouse who is filing, you may also include your children on your petition.
Children may also file for themselves as long as they are younger than 21, unmarried, and have been abused by their U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent. There is a little leeway on the cutoff age. Adult children can file before they turn 25 if they can demonstrate that the abuse was the main reason for the delay in filing.
You may file if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen who has abused you.
Eligibility Requirements for a VAWA Green Card
Now that we’ve covered who can apply for a VAWA green card, let’s take a look at the eligibility requirements.
You need to be able to demonstrate one of these qualifying relationships:
Spouse, intended spouse, or former spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident if:
- You are married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser;
- Your marriage to the abuser was legally terminated by death (U.S. citizen spouses only) or a divorce (for reasons related to the abuse) within the 2 years prior to filing your petition;
- Your spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the 2 years prior to filing your petition due to an incident of domestic violence; or
- You believed that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse
Child of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent
Parent of an abusive U.S. citizen son or daughter who is 21 years old or older
In addition to proving abuse, you must also establish:
- that your marriage was in good faith if the abuser is a spouse or stepparent
- your relationship to the abuser
- your abuser’s immigration status
- your good moral character
- that you live with the abusive family member
- parent-child relationship if you are a non-abusive, non-citizen parent whose U.S. citizen or legal resident spouse abused your child.
8 U.S. Code § 1154
U.S. immigration courts have held that:
“coverage is not extended to aliens who are married to non-United States citizens and non-lawful permanent residents, because such persons lack ‘immigration leverage’ over their spouses.”
Matter of L-L-P-, 28 I. & N. Dec. 241 (B.I.A. February 24, 2021)
This means if your abusive spouse is not a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, he or she has no control over your legal status. Therefore, you are not eligible for a VAWA green card.
How to Prove Your Eligibility
If Your Abuser Is or Was a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident
You must provide evidence that your abusive qualifying relative is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. However, you may still file an I-360 self-petition under VAWA if the abuse occurred before your abuser became a citizen or green card holder.
Documents that Prove Abuser’s Status
- birth certificate
- U.S. passport
- naturalization certificate
- copy of green card
If you do not have copies of any of these documents, an attorney can assist you with potentially obtaining them through the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
If Your Abuser Lost Legal Status
You can also file a petition under VAWA even if your abuser has lost his or her permanent residence or citizenship. However, there is a deadline. If your abusive family member loses legal status due to domestic violence, you must file the I-360 petition within two years of the abuser losing status.
You are not required to be living with your abuser when you file your VAWA self-petition. However, you must have lived with your abuser in the past.
Documents that Prove You Live(d) with Your Abuser
- employment records
- utility receipts
- school records
- other relevant documents
Marriage was in Good Faith
A spousal self-petition cannot be approved if the self-petitioner entered into the marriage to the abuser for the primary purpose of circumventing the immigration laws.
A self-petition will not be denied, however, solely because the spouses are not living together and the marriage is no longer viable.
Documents that Prove a Good-Faith Marriage
- insurance policies
- property leases
- income tax forms
- bank accounts
- testimony or other evidence regarding your courtship, wedding ceremony, shared residences, and experiences
- birth certificates of any children born to you and your abuser
- police, medical, or court documents providing information about your relationship
- affidavits from people with personal knowledge of your relationship
Matter Of Y-E-L-G, 2016 Immig. Rptr.
Abuse or Battery Occurred During the Relationship
Obtaining a VAWA green card requires proving that you have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by your abusive family member.
It’s important to remember that abuse isn’t always physical. The United Nations defines domestic abuse as “a pattern of behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate partner.”
Any physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats that influence another person qualifies as abuse:
“Other abusive actions may also be acts of violence under certain circumstances, including acts that, in and of themselves, may not initially appear violent but that are a part of an overall pattern of violence.”
MATTER OF L-S-E-, 2016 Immig. Rptr. LEXIS 8128, *1
Documents that Prove Abuse
- police reports
- restraining orders
- medical records
- dental records
- prescriptions for medication
- letter from your therapist or psychologist
Good Moral Character
To accompany your VAWA I-360 self-petition, you must submit an affidavit. Additionally, you should include a local police clearance or a state-issued criminal background check from each U.S. locality or state in which you lived for six months or longer during the three-year period immediately before you filed the self-petition.
If you lived outside the U.S. during this time, you should submit a police clearance, criminal background check, or similar report issued by the appropriate authority in each foreign country in which you lived for six months or longer during the three-year period immediately before you filed the self-petition.
If these reports are not available for some or all locations, you may include an explanation and submit other evidence with your affidavit. One example is an affidavit from a responsible person who can attest to your good moral character.
If You Are in Immediate Danger
If you are in a crisis or need immediate help, dial 911 or call the National Domestic Violence Hotline: (800) 799-SAFE (7233) or TTY (800) 787−3224.
Colorado Immigration Attorneys
A 2019 Colorado Sun article reported a sharp increase in the number of Colorado immigrant women reporting that their partners are threatening them with deportation as part of broader abuse. Do not let your abuser hold your life hostage. The R&H Immigration Team will assess your eligibility for a VAWA green card and be your fiercest advocate during the application process. Call 303-688-0944 today to begin your free case assessment. Si gustarÍa hablar con nosotros en español, por favor llámenos al 720-359-2442.