VAWA Green Card: What You Need to Know

depressed woman

Domestic violence is a problem that affects people from all walks of life, including immigrants. If you are an Immigrant in an abusive situation, you may feel particularly vulnerable, especially if you lack legal status or your legal status is dependent on your abuser. You need to know that you have options so you can protect yourself. If you are an immigrant in an abusive relationship, you should get yourself to a safe place away from your abuser, and various organizations can assist you

The website for Orange County Social Services has a list of hotlines and shelters where you can find help. Once you are safe, you should contact an immigration attorney who can assist you with any related immigration issues.

The Immigrant Law Office of Brudner Law assists in such matters. Contact them today.

What is VAWA?

Living your life without the fear of violence is a fundamental human right. The Violence Against Women Act safeguards human rights by protecting immigrant victims of domestic violence by petitioning for permanent residency without their abuser’s knowledge, even if the qualifying relationship for permanent residency is through the abuser. It can also provide a faster pathway to citizenship. Spouses, ex-spouses, children, and parents who are victims of abuse by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident can all qualify for VAWA even if they do not have any immigration status, and also if they entered the U.S illegally. Despite the name of the law, both male and female victims can qualify. 

Related: What are the Requirements for Adjustment of Status?

Your Safety

If you apply for permanent residency under VAWA, USCIS (the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) will not notify your abuser. However, it is still vital that you take steps to protect yourself. You should first find a safe place to stay before beginning the process to keep your abuser from knowing your location or monitoring your communications. Abusers will sometimes go to great lengths to control their victims, including following them, watching their phone and email correspondence, and sometimes even using GPS trackers. In addition to finding a safe place to stay, you may need to get a new phone and email address

What constitutes abuse?

It is important to note that you do not need to be physically abused to qualify for a green card based on VAWA. Also, you do not need to report your abuser to the police to be eligible for VAWA. Here are some of the forms of abuse.

Emotional Abuse: Emotional abusers engage in behavior designed to intimidate, threaten, put down, bully, or humiliate their victims. It can include actions such as name-calling, isolating the victim from their family and friends, relentless criticism, and threatening to call immigration authorities to have the victim deported. Other tactics include gas-lighting (making the person question their memories, perception, and judgment), stonewalling (refusing to communicate or cooperate), false accusations, destroying property, and stalking. Such actions damage the victim’s self-esteem and make them doubt their abilities, making it easier for the abuser to maintain power and control. It might or might not be combined with physical or other forms of abuse.

Financial Abuse: Financial abuse occurs when the abuser controls the victim’s access to economic resources. May include restricting the victim’s ability to make purchases and keeping the victim financially dependent on the abuser by limiting their access to career or educational opportunities. The abuser might force the victim to ask for permission before spending money. Sometimes abusers will deplete their victim’s economic resources by forcing them to hand over control of assets and depleting their savings. The abuser might also withhold or threaten to withhold necessities such as food and shelter from the victim. Older people are an age group often susceptible to financial abuse.

Physical Abuse: Actions by the abuser designed to cause bodily injury, intimidation, and pain are physical abuse. Domestic abuse doesn’t have to be physical, and physical abuse is often what most people associate with domestic violence. It can include acts such as slapping, punching, kicking, pushing, strangling, and burning the victim. It can also involve holding the victim hostage or not letting them leave or throwing objects at them. It might or might not leave visible injuries. Some, but not all abusers, use or threaten to use weapons. In extreme cases, abusers will seriously injure or kill their victims.

Sexual Abuse: Sexual Abuse is any form of sexual activity without consent or when the victim is pressured to consent, which includes but is not limited to rape. There are various forms of sexual abuse, including sexual harassment, sex trafficking, and being forced to view or create pornography. Female genital mutilation is also considered a form of sexual abuse, as is forced pregnancy. These are acts of abuse, especially if the victim isn’t capable of giving consent because they are underage or developmentally disabled. Marriage doesn’t take away someone’s right to consent to sex, and marital rape is a crime.

Related: U.S work authorization – everything you need to know.

lawyer signing documents

VAWA Eligibility Requirements

  1. You Must Live in the U.S.: In most cases, you must live in the U.S. to be eligible to apply for a Green Card under VAWA, but there are some exceptions. You can still qualify even if you are outside the U.S. if your abuser is a U.S. government employee, member of the armed services, or the abuse occurred in the U.S.
  1. You Are a Spouse, Child, or Parent of an Abuser: Your spouse can be your current or former spouse, but you must apply within two years of the end of the marriage. Parents must be abused by a child who is at least 21 years old to qualify under VAWA.
  1. The abuser must be a U.S. Citizen or Permanent Resident: Spouses, ex-spouses, and children of abusers can all qualify if their abuser is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Parents must be the victims of abuse by their U.S. citizen child to qualify. You are still eligible for VAWA if your abuser renounced or lost their U.S. citizenship, but if your abuser no longer has a Green Card, you must file within two years of when they lost their Green Card.  
  1. You Have Lived with the Abuser at One Point in Time: There is no minimum time, but you and the abuser must have lived at the same address at some point. You do not need to be living with your abuser when you file.
  1. Abuse Occurred During the Relationship: You must be able to prove that you were battered or were the victim of extreme cruelty during your relationship. The abuse can be physical, emotional, financial, or sexual. USCIS will also consider other abusive circumstances. You will have to submit evidence, such as police reports, to back-up your claim.
  1. The Marriage Was Entered in Good Faith: If your spouse abused you, your marriage must have been legitimate, meaning you could not have married just to get a Green Card. 
  1. You Are a Person of Good Moral Character: You cannot have had any criminal history within the last three years. Besides a criminal past, a history of drug and alcohol abuse, illegal gambling, or engaging in acts that harm others could also disqualify you.

Frequently Asked Questions answered by the Immigrant Law Office of Brudner Law.

Application Process

  1. Complete and submit form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant and provide supporting evidence to address the qualifications listed above. There is no filing fee for VAWA applicants
  1. Complete and submit form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence, or Adjust Status. You can send this at the same time as you submit Form I-360 if you are the spouse or underage child of your abuser. You may have to wait until a visa number becomes available before filing form I-485 for other relationship situations. You will need to provide supporting evidence with this form to document your identity and immigration history. 
  1. USCIS will send you an interview notice when they are ready to interview you for your Green Card. You will need to bring both the original documents and copies of the evidence you submitted to support your case.

Related: How can I petition my family member for a green card?

female Statue of Justice

The immigration process is very complex, and it is easy to make a mistake that can delay approval of your case, or worst of all, lead to a denial. This can be difficult for a layperson to know if they qualify for a visa, how to answer questions on USCIS forms, and precisely what and how much supporting evidence should be submitted. Having a knowledgeable immigration attorney is especially crucial if your case has complicated factors such as visa overstays or arrests.  

Contact  Brudner Law for a consultation and find out how we can help you through every step of the Green Card process.