What is VAWA self-petition and how does it work?
- Business Immigration
- Individual Immigration
Under the Immigration and Nationality Act, victims of abuse have the right to file for a special petition regarding abuse they suffered in the United States by an immediate U.S. citizen family member or lawful permanent resident.
If you or a close relative has suffered abuse, whether physical, financial, or emotional, it is important that you understand VAWA’s self-petition.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was signed into law by Congress in 1994.
The Act was amended by adding a new provision to protect abused non-citizens who remain in abusive relationships because they believe abusive family members hold the key to their immigration status in the United States.
What is VAWA self-petition and who is eligible?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) has been one of the most successful ways victims of abuse have been able to obtain protection from deportation, a work permit, and possibly their residency.
Although the name sounds like only women are eligible, this is not true. In reality, VAWA protects anyone who has been abused, including men, women, and children.
VAWA allows for the confidential filing of an individual’s petition. This means that the abusive immediate family member, whether spouse, parent, or child, is not notified of the pending petition.
- Spouse: If you have been personally abused by a spouse who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident, or if your spouse has abused your child, which may include unmarried children under the age of 21.
- Parents: If you have been personally abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter who is 21 years of age or older.
- Children: If you have been personally abused by your parent, U.S. citizen, or lawful permanent resident, and are currently under the age of 21.
When you decide to apply for VAWA self-petition, you have no contact with the abuser because you can complete the process through a “self-petition.”
How long does the process take?
Currently, USCIS has been experiencing some delays with these cases, so processing your VAWA application can take on average between 16 and 21 months.
Spousal Eligibility Requirements:
Current spouses or former spouses of United States citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) may file a self-petition under VAWA.
According to your marriage to the abuser, a VAWA self-petitioner must meet one of the following requirements:
- Currently married: The victim is currently married to the abusive USC or LPR abuser.
- Divorced: If the victim has divorced their abusive USC or LPR spouse, the event must have occurred within the last 2 years. The victim cannot remarry and cannot remarry until their own VAWA petition is approved.
- Widow(er): If the victim’s USC spouse has passed away, the event must have occurred within the last 2 years. Unfortunately, this only applies to abusive USC spouses and cannot be applied to abusive LPR spouses.
- The victim is believed to be married: If a victim believes they are in a valid marriage but was deceived because the abusive USC or LPR spouse was legally married at the same time to someone else. The simultaneous marriage of the abusive spouse invalidates the marriage of the victim and the abuser, but if the victim can prove that it was an “intended marriage,” then the victim can still file a petition for themself.
A victim may still qualify for a VAWA self-petition if their abusive USC or LPR spouse loses their citizenship or permanent residence within 2 years of filing.
The loss of status must be linked to a related incident of domestic violence.
According to your marriage to the abuser, a VAWA petitioner must prove that your marriage or intended marriage was bona fide (real and legitimate). A victim can do this by trying the following:
- The marriage was entered into in good faith and not to obtain immigration benefits;
- Evidence of establishing a life together. This can be done by presenting evidence showing the combination of finances (credit cards, taxes, and joint bank accounts), joint ownership or lease of property, both biological and adopted mutual children, medical records of upcoming pregnancies or fertility treatments, evidence of trips made together and receipts for gift purchases for each other, wedding invitations or wedding-related expenses, photos together and with family, affidavits from family and friends, etc.
In addition to establishing a qualifying relationship and a bona fide marriage, a VAWA self-petitioner must establish:
- Abuse: The USC or LPR spouse subjected the self-petitioner to “extreme beatings or cruelty” during the marriage.
- Residency: The self-petitioner lives or lived with the abusive spouse, and resides in the United States or, if living abroad, was abused by the USC or LPR spouse while in the United States. An exception would be if the USC or LPR spouse is an employee of the U.S. government or armed forces.
- Good moral character: The self-petitioner is a person of good moral character.
A self-petitioning spouse may add their unmarried child under the age of 21 to their application as a derivative.
Requirements for parents:
Biological parents, stepparents, or adoptive parents of United States citizen (USC) sons or daughters at least twenty-one years of age may file a VAWA self-petition.
According to the parent-child relationship, a VAWA self-petitioner must meet one of the following requirements to demonstrate a qualifying relationship:
- Biological parents: The abusive child was born into wedlock. If the abusive child was born out of wedlock, the relationship must be legitimized. If the victim is the father of a child born out of wedlock, he or she must have had a bona fide parent-child relationship with the child.
- Stepparents: The marriage that creates the stepparent relationship must have occurred before the abusive child turned 18.
- Adoptive parents: The adoption must have been finalized before the abusive child’s 16th birthday or before age 18 if the abusive child is the sibling of a child adopted by the same parents.
The qualified relationship must exist at the time of filing.
In addition to establishing a qualifying parent-child relationship, a VAWA self-petitioner must establish:
- Abuse: The USC child subjected the self-petitioner to “extreme beatings or cruelty” during the existence of his parent-child relationship.
- Residency: The self-petitioner lives or has lived with the abusive USC or LPR son or daughter.
- Good moral character: The self-petitioner is a person of good moral character.
How to file a VAWA petition?
Filing your VAWA case requires you to file the following:
- Complete and sign Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.
- Present evidence to support the abuse suffered. For example: personal statement, police reports, photographs of the abuse, etc.
- Submit your request to the Vermont Service Center.
Generally, VAWA applications are filed by those currently residing in the United States. However, there is still a chance that you may be able to apply for a VAWA visa if you live outside the United States.
Sometimes the agency considers petitions from non-citizens living outside the United States, as long as abuse occurred while in the United States.
However, there is an exception if the abuser is a U.S. government employee or a member of the U.S. armed forces.
What about LGBT marriages?
Like marriages between men and women, same-sex marriages and the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender) community enjoy the same protection rights if they are victims of domestic violence.
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