The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a law that protects and aids victims of abuse. Though the law states “women”, it applies to men, women, and children. As a result of the passage of VAWA, programs that protect and provide services to victims have increased and expanded in America.
For immigrants, this law is especially helpful to victims who want to become U.S. citizens, but are worried for their safety. If you’re a victim of violence and the abuser (spouse, child, or parent) is a U.S. citizen or holds a green card, you may be eligible to petition for a visa. More importantly, the process can take place in a way that would be safest for you: all paperwork can be filed without the abuser’s knowledge. The National Domestic Violence website contains more information for victims.
Roughly there are three categories for those who can petition for a visa using VAWA:
1. Spouse: if your spouse has abused you, and he or she is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you can file a petition for yourself. You can also apply for your children, if they are unmarried.
2. Parent: if your spouse has abused your child, you can petition for yourself and your child. In addition, you can petition for your children who were not abused. Sometimes, parents are abused by their children. In this case, if your son or daughter is a U.S. citizen, you can also petition for a visa.
3. Child: you qualify as a child if you are under the age of 21, have not been married, and the parent who abused you is a U.S. citizen. If your parent(s) abused you and you have children of your own, you can petition for them. If you have passed the age of 21, but younger than 25, then you can still apply but you will need to demonstrate that the delay in filing was due to the abuse.
If you belong to one of the categories listed above, you may be eligible to petition. But you must meet another set of requirements. This is a common feature of immigration forms. You must not only meet an initial set of criteria, but your specific case must fall into eligibility requirements as well.
If your spouse abused you but is not a U.S. citizen or green card holder, you might still be able to petition if the marriage ended due to death or separation (divorce) – but you must file within 2 years of the end of the marriage. Or, your spouse lost his citizenship or status as a permanent resident because of a domestic violence issue (again, you must file within 2 years of your spouse losing the status). Another option is that you thought you were legally married but your spouse was married to another person, making your marriage unlawful. These are just some of the conditions that must be met in order to establish that you were a victim of abuse. In addition, several other qualifications must be met. For example, it must be true that you lived with the abuser and that you did not get married just for immigration purposes.
There is a different set of requirements for a child who is petitioning or if you are petitioning for a child. The child must be able to prove his/her relationship to the abuser. If you are older than 14, you have to demonstrate that you have “good moral character”. And again, you had to have lived with the abuser.
For parents, the criteria are quite similar to the facts mentioned above. You had to have been abused, living or lived with the abuser, and have “good moral character”. If the abuser is no longer a U.S. citizen or had their green card revoked, it had to have been because of an action of domestic violence, and you must apply within 2 years of their change in status.
If you believe you are eligible to petition for a visa through VAWA, you will need to file Form I-360 plus all other documents that provide USCIS with evidence. The form comes with other benefits besides granting you a visa. If your form is approved, you might be eligible to apply for a work visa. Victims of abuse often remain with their abuser due to financial constraints. With a work visa, you may be able to finance yourself and your children independently.
An approved I-360 also opens the doors to green card issuance. Additional forms must be filed in order to apply for a permanent residence.
For more information about petitioning through VAWA, contact specialized Immigration Attorney Phillip Kim.