VAWA for Parents of US Citizens

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) supports and protects victims of abuse that are in a relationship with a US permanent resident or citizen.

Under the VAWA program, parents that have been the victim of mistreatment or abuse in their relationship with their child can apply for their green card without the knowledge or assistance of their child.

What Is the Violence Against Women Act?

We all have the fundamental human right of living our lives without fear of violence — VAWA protects those rights and immigrant victims of spousal abuse, domestic violence, and extreme cruelty.

The Violence Against Women Act gives those victims a way to petition for their green card without their abuser knowing — even if they only qualify for residency through their abuser.

Despite the name of the act, both men and women can qualify for VAWA.

Who Is Protected Under VAWA?

VAWA protects spouses, children, and parents of abusive permanent residents and citizens of the U.S. that meet the eligibility requirements.

Those requirements include:

  • The abuser must be or have been a US permanent resident or citizen.
  • You are or were the child, parent, or spouse of the abuser.
  • You must live in the U.S. except for specific exceptions (if your abuser is a government employee and part of the armed services).
  • At one point, you must have lived with the abuser.
  • You must show “good moral character.”

How to Qualify for VAWA as a Parent of a U.S. Citizen

The qualifications to apply for VAWA as the parent of a U.S. citizen vary depending on your situation. You could qualify for a green card through VAWA if:

  • Your abusive child is a U.S. citizen. If your child is a lawful permanent resident, you do not qualify for VAWA as a parent.
  • You suffered from extreme cruelty or abuse by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
  • You do or have lived with them when the abuse occurred.
  • Your abusive child died or lost their citizenship status in the past two years.

How to File for VAWA as Parents of US Citizens

If you qualify for VAWA as the parent of an abusive US citizen, the first step to filing is filling out and submitting Form I-360.

The usual filing fee associated with this form is waived for those self-petitioning for a VAWA green card.

If you also qualify for your green card, you’ll also need to file Form I-485 — VAWA self-petitioners do not need to wait for the approval of Form I-360 to file this form; you can file Form I-485 with Form I-360 while it’s pending approval or after it is approved. Depending on your immigration history, you may only qualify for the I-360 self-petition to obtain work authorization and deferred action, and not a green card.

What Evidence Is Needed for VAWA?

In addition to filing those two forms, you’ll need to submit evidence to prove to the USCIS that you meet the VAWA requirements. This evidence should include:

  • A personal declaration describing your relationship with your abuser and the abuse you went through
  • A copy of your birth certificate or passport
  • Proof that your abuser is or was a citizen of the U.S.
  • Documents showing that you are the parent of the abuser
  • Proof that you live in the U.S.
  • Evidence that you lived with the abuser at one point
  • Police clearance records or similar documents proving your standing as a person of good moral character
A woman looking through documents

It can also help to include a cover letter with this package of evidence to describe what you submit to the USCIS. In the cover letter, you explain what your evidence is and how you qualify for VAWA rather than leaving it completely up to USCIS to decide how to interpret your evidence.

Is It Hard to Get VAWA?

If you meet VAWA’s eligibility requirements, getting approval primarily comes down to having sufficient evidence and correctly filing your forms — this is why seeking the help of an experienced immigration attorney is crucial for VAWA petitions.

If your VAWA application was denied and you meet all of the requirements, it was likely because:

  • You submitted the incorrect forms
  • You submitted incorrect information
  • You missed a filing deadline
  • You didn’t submit sufficient evidence to establish your relationship with the abuser
  • You didn’t submit sufficient evidence showing that you suffered from battery or extreme cruelty
  • You failed to prove any of the other VAWA requirements
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How Long Does VAWA Take to Approve?

After you submit your VAWA application, approval isn’t instant. First, you’ll receive a prima facie determination from the USCIS that informs you whether or not you’re eligible for certain benefits. It can take months to receive this determination.

If approved, your prima facie letter entitles you to basic public assistance. It does not mean your application was approved; however, it is a good sign as it means you have provided enough minimum evidence to show your eligibility.

Getting an official decision about your VAWA application can take much longer — the USCIS currently states that they make a decision on 80% of VAWA cases within 30.5 months.

What Happens When VAWA Is Approved?

Upon approval of your VAWA self-petition, you’ll need to apply to adjust your status (i.e., receive your green card). How this works depends on if your abuser is a green card holder or a US citizen:

  • If they are a citizen, you are eligible for a green card as soon as you get approval for your VAWA application.
  • If they are a permanent resident, you must wait for a visa to become available. However, you receive work authorization and remain in the US while you wait.

What Are the Benefits of VAWA?

Other than getting your green card and allowing you to live and work legally in the U.S. without your abuser, the Department of Health and Human Services provides funding for services available to many immigrants, including VAWA petitioners.

While some have additional eligibility requirements (such as income limits), VAWA petitioners can qualify for various public benefit programs, including:

  • Medicare
  • SNAP and food stamps
  • TANF and welfare
  • HUD housing programs
  • Federal grants, loans, and student aid

What Should Parents of US Citizens Do While Waiting for VAWA Approval?

A woman waiting for her VAWA approval

We understand that it’s an overwhelming and difficult time waiting for VAWA approval. However, there are a few things you might want to do:

  • After receiving your prima facie determination, apply for any services you need
  • If you have Form I-485 also pending you will get a work permit while your case is pending and you can start applying for jobs
  • Look for a support group
  • Stay in touch with your immigration lawyer to know updates about your case and understand your rights

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