Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) Immigration Petitions

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows a battered immigrant spouse, child or parent of either gender to file an immigration petition without their abuser's knowledge. If approved, a VAWA petition lets the applicant work in the United States and become a legal permanent resident (“green card” holder).

To help you better understand VAWA petitions and relief, our California immigration lawyers discuss the following, below:

Woman cowering on floor as man making fist stands over her
The Violence Against Women Act helps battered immigrants of either gender obtain a green card in secret

1. Who is eligible for VAWA protection?

There are two basic conditions for obtaining protection under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA):

  1. The abuser must be a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (“green card” holder), and
  2. The victim must be either the spouse, ex-spouse, child under 21, or parent of the abuser.

Note that even though the act is title the “Violence Against Women Act,” both male and female victims may apply for protection under VAWA.

2. VAWA eligibility

2.1. Eligibility requirements for battered spouses

2.1.1. Who is a "spouse" under VAWA?

An immigrant is a "spouse" for purposes of VAWA if:

  • He or she is currently married to an abuser who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident (green card holder), or
  • The victim's marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the 2 years prior to filing the petition, or
  • The abusive spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the 2 years prior to filing the petition due to an incident of domestic violence, or
  • The victim believed that he or she was legally married to the abuser but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the abusive spouse's bigamy.

2.1.2. Additional eligibility requirements for spouses

To be eligible under VAWA, a spouse must have:

  • Suffered battery or extreme cruelty from a spouse, or
  • Have a minor child who has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by a spouse.

In addition, a petitioning VAWA spouse must show that he or she:

  • Entered into the marriage in good faith and not solely for immigration benefits,
  • Resided with his or her spouse, and
  • Is a person of good moral character.

2.2. Eligibility requirements for battered children

2.2.1. Who is a "child" under VAWA?

To qualify under VAWA, a child must under 21 years old, and either

  • The child of an abuser who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or
  • A child of an abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence.

2.2.2. Additional eligibility requirements for a child

In addition to meeting the definition of a "child" under VAWA, a child petitioner must:

  • Be unmarried,
  • Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent,
  • Have resided with the abusive parent, and
  • Be a person of good moral character (which will be presumed to be the case without proof if the child is under 14 years of age).

2.2.3. Exception to the age requirement

An adult aged 21-25 may apply for VAWA protection if a parent's abuse was the primary reason for the delay in filing the petition and he or she meets all the other qualifications.

2.3. Eligibility requirements for battered parents

2.3.1. Who qualifies as a "parent" under VAWA?

The parent of an abuser can file a VAWA petition if he or she is:

  • The parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who is at least 21 years of age when the self-petition is filed, or
  • The parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence, or
  • The parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who was at least 21 years of age and who died within 2 years prior to filing the self-petition.

2.3.2. Additional eligibility requirements for parents

In addition to having a qualifying relationship with an abusive child, the parent must:

  • Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by the parent's U.S. citizen son or daughter,
  • Have resided with the abusive son or daughter, and
  • Be a person of good moral character.

3. Are VAWA applications confidential?

Yes. Victims of abuse can seek VAWA relief in secret so their abusers never find out.

All U.S. agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) -- including the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) -- are legally prohibited from disclosing that a victim has applied for VAWA benefits.

4. How do I file a petition under VAWA?

VAWA petitions are filed by completing Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant and providing all supporting documentation.

Someone who is living abroad at the time of filing may use Form I-360 if:

  • The abuser is an employee of the U.S. government,
  • The abuser is a member of the armed services, or
  • The victim was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty in the United States.

5. How long does it take to get an answer?

Within 150 days of filing (approximately 5 months), the petitioner will usually receive a Prima Facie Determination Notice. The notice can be presented to government agencies that provide public benefits to victims of domestic violence.

6. What happens if my petition is approved?

If the petition is approved, the battered spouse, child or parent can apply for various benefits, including a U.S. work authorization and a green card.

If the petitioner does not have legal immigration status in the United States, the USCIS may place the petitioner in “deferred action.” This will allow the petitioner to remain in the United States and not be subject to deportation.

Children listed on their parent's approved Form I-360 may also apply for work authorization and a green card.

7. What can I do if my petition is denied?

If the USCIS denies a VAWA petition, the victim may appeal the immigration decision within 33 days of receiving the rejection.

8. How much does it cost to file for VAWA protection?

There is no fee for filing a VAWA petition.

If a petitioner chooses to have a lawyer help with the petition the alien may have to pay attorney fees. The U.S. will not pay for a lawyer to help an immigrant with a VAWA petition.

If you cannot afford a lawyer, you can complete the VAWA petition on your own (self-petitioner). Or you may be able to find a low- or no-cost lawyer through your local bar association, such as the Los Angeles County Bar Association Immigration Legal Assistance Project

scared little girl with head on her knees and palm out in a "stop" gesture
It costs $0 to file for VAWA relief for a battered spouse, parent or child

9. Where else can I get help if I am a battered spouse, child or parent?

Help for victims of domestic violence is available from the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 (TDD). The hotline has information about shelters, mental health care, legal advice and other types of assistance.

10. About the Violence Against Women Act

VAWA is federal law originally passed in 1994 as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994. VAWA provides protection to battered immigrant spouses and helps revise social practices and laws that allow violence against battered spouses and children.

The provisions of VAWA are permanent and do not require congressional re-authorization. Among its provisions, VAWA includes landmark protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking.

It strengthens federal penalties for rapes and mandates that victims not be forced to bear the expense of their own rape exams. It also requires that protective be recognized in all U.S. states.

VAWA is not the only immigration relief that may be available for victims of domestic or sexual violence. Our California immigration lawyers may also be able to help you obtain asylum, a “U” visa for crime victims, temporary protected status, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals ("DACA") relief, relief under the Child Status Protection Act, or a provisional unlawful presence waiver.

Need help with a VAWA petition or appeal? Call us…

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Call us for help at (855) LAW-FIRM

If you or someone you know is an immigrant and a victim of domestic or sexual violence, we invite you to contact us for a free consultation.

Our caring and experienced Los Angeles, California immigration attorneys may be able to help you stay in the United States through a VAWA petition, “U” visa or other program.

To speak confidentially to a lawyer call us at (855) LAWFIRM or fill out the form on this page.

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