If you are a victim of abuse at the hands of a family member who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, or if you know victims in similar circumstances, this blog is for you.
We will explain how you can adjust your status through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and what VAWA processing time you can expect.
At Spar & Bernstein, our experienced attorneys will handle your case with care and compassion, and do everything in our power to help you stay protected and remain in the U.S.
What Is VAWA?
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a U.S. federal law that allows victims of abuse who are related to U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents file for an adjustment of status through self-petitioning, without the need to rely on their abuser.
Passed by Congress in 1994 and reauthorized in 2000, 2005, 2013 and 2022, VAWA:
- Serves as a path to lawful immigration status for victims of abuse who otherwise must rely on their abusers to file for status for them
- Raises awareness of various forms of violence, including domestic and dating violence, stalking and sexual assault
Without VAWA, if you are a spouse, parent or child of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident must file a petition to classify you as their alien relative, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) prior to or simultaneously with your adjustment of status application in order for you to obtain a Green Card.
With VAWA, you do not need a relative to file a petition to classify you as their alien relative so you can adjust your status to lawful permanent resident. Instead, you can submit a self-petition and are described as a VAWA self-petitioner.
The process of remaining lawfully in the U.S. through VAWA includes two steps:
- Filing a VAWA petition simultaneously with your application to adjust your status
- Applying for a Green Card after your VAWA petition is approved
Although the law contains the word “women” in its abbreviation, it refers to people of any gender, provided they can qualify as a VAWA self-petitioner.
Who Is Eligible For A VAWA Self-Petition?
You are eligible for a VAWA self-petition if you are a victim of violence at the hands of:
- A spouse, intended spouse or former spouse who is a U.S. citizen
- A parent who is a U.S. citizen
- A son or daughter who is a U.S. citizen
- A spouse or former spouse who is a lawful permanent resident
- A parent who is a lawful permanent resident
To file a VAWA petition, you must meet the following eligibility requirements:
- You have a qualifying relationship with your abusive relative as per the list above
- You were a victim of battery or cruelty from your relative
- You live or have lived with your abusive relative
- You are a person of good moral character
There is no fee associated with filing a VAWA petition.
What Documents Do You Need To Support Your VAWA Petition?
To file for an adjustment of status based on VAWA, you must submit:
- Your self-petition using Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant
- A declaration to describe the abuse you suffered and your relation to the abuser
- Proof that you are a spouse, child, or parent of the abuser, such as marriage or divorce certificates, birth certificates or shared accounts
- Evidence that the abuser is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, such as a copy of the abuser’s U.S. passport, certificate of naturalization, immigration document showing their immigration status or birth certificate
- Evidence that you lived with the abuser, such as lease agreements or utility bills listing both of your names, or tax returns
- Evidence that you are a person of good moral character, such as police clearance records or declarations from family members and friends
- Evidence that you suffered abuse
- A copy of your passport
- A copy of your birth certificate
- Proof that you currently live in the U.S.
In some situations, you may be permitted to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status (Green Card) and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization, concurrently.
At Spar & Bernstein, our knowledgeable attorneys we will help you prepare and file your VAWA petition, along with the additional documents needed, and follow up on your petition on your behalf.
What Documents Can Prove Abuse When Filing Your VAWA Petition?
Being a victim of battery or abuse by a loved one can affect your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. The situation can be even more overwhelming when you are in a foreign country, relying on your abuser.
To prove you have been a victim of abuse from a relative who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can submit a variety of reports, documents, photos and statements, such as:
- Transcripts of your emergency calls to 911
- Police reports based on your calls about violence against you or your property
- Arrest records of your abuser, following your calls about violence
- Police statements from police officers who have visited you after signs of domestic abuse
- Hospital records serving as evidence that you were treated for injuries, even if you did not mention your injuries resulted from abuse at that time
- Shelter records from shelters meant for victims of domestic violence or battery
- Psychiatric or therapeutic records showing you suffered mental or emotional distress related to the abuse you had suffered
- Phone records showing you were harassed through frequent phone calls or texts
- Emails with threatening or controlling messages
- Photos of the injuries you have suffered as a result of the abuse
- School records, if a child shared information about the abuse with a teacher, principal or other staff members
- Declarations from neighbors, coworkers or friends who have witnessed the abusive behavior against you
What Is The Typical VAWA Processing Time?
Once USCIS receives your self-petition, they will assess your statements and supporting documents, and determine if your petition is approvable.
If your petition is approved, USCIS will send you a Prima Facie Approval letter that will allow you to receive public benefits as a victim of violence, serving to support you until USCIS makes a final decision on your petition.
Form I-360 VAWA processing times vary depending on different factors, but typically, it ranges from 18 to 24 months.
Under limited circumstances, USCIS can expedite your VAWA request if you have submitted a request for expedited processing based on emergency situations.
For example, if a member of your family is about to die in your home country and you need permission to leave the U.S. and return to your home country.
To check the status of your petition, visit the USCIS website and enter your information contact an experienced immigration attorney.
Possible Outcomes After Filing A VAWA Self-Petition
Your VAWA self-petition can lead to several different outcomes. Here’s what to expect for each:
Your VAWA Petition Is Approved
If your VAWA petition is approved, you can apply for work authorization while waiting to submit Form I-485 (Green Card application).
If you were eligible to file Form I-360 and I-485 concurrently, it is likely that you already filed for work authorization, by submitting Form I-765.
Your Petition Is Not Granted
Your petition may be denied due to a number of factors, such as:
- Failure to provide evidence of your relationship with the abuser
- Failure to provide evidence of your abuser’s status as a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- Failure to provide evidence that you have been a victim of cruelty or abuse
- Failure to provide evidence that you have lived with the abuser
- Failure to provide evidence of your good moral character
If your petition is not granted, you may appeal the decision or submit your VAWA application again.
If your petition is denied, contact a knowledgeable immigration attorney to help you resubmit your VAWA petition or research other options to adjust your status in the U.S.
How Can VAWA Immigration Attorneys Help You?
With 50 years of experience in all areas of immigration law, the Law Offices of Spar & Bernstein has a team of knowledgeable attorneys who have helped thousands of people seeking U.S. asylum and refugee protection, citizenship and naturalization, family immigration and employment immigration.
With the utmost patience and care in times of uncertainty, fear and despair for our clients, we have helped victims of violence under VAWA:
- File a VAWA petition, accompanied by the additional documents needed
- Pursue applicable benefits for victims of abuse
- Track the progress of their petition
- File an application for travel while waiting for a decision on a VAWA petition
- File for a VAWA-based Green Card
- File for employment authorization
For more information on VAWA, watch the episode below of Brad Show Live, where our Managing Partner, Brad Bernstein, explains how he advises a victim of abuse regarding VAWA.
How To Apply For A Green Card If Your VAWA Petition Was Approved
To be eligible for VAWA-based Green Card, you must:
- File Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status
- Be physically present in the U.S, at the time you submit Form I-485
- Have an immigrant visa immediately available to you at the time you file Form I-485 and when USCIS decides on your application
- Be eligible to receive an immigrant visa
- Have no adjustment of status bars applying to you
- Be admissible to the U.S. for lawful permanent residence or eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility
Key Takeaways On VAWA And VAWA Processing Time
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows you to file for an adjustment of status in the U.S. without relying on an abusive relative to file for you.
The process of submitting a VAWA petition and applying for a Green Card once the petition is approved, can be complicated and overwhelming to handle on your own.
Our attorneys at the Law Offices of Spar & Bernstein can help you navigate through the process, providing legal and emotional support from start to finish.
Bradford H. Bernstein
This article was written and reviewed by Bradford H. Bernstein, a second-generation leader at Law Offices of Spar & Bernstein, P.C., who has helped over 100,000 clients with immigration and personal injury issues. Brad joined the firm in 1993, became a partner in 1997, and assumed leadership in 2000 after Harry Spar retired.View Brad's Bio