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How Long Does VAWA Take To Be Approved?

VAWA is known as the Violence Against Women Act. It was passed in 1994, creating a lawful immigration route for those victims of domestic abuse who rely on their abusers to file immigration paperwork for them to obtain lawful status. VAWA has changed how victims in abusive situations can get legal status without the control or participation of the abuser. If you need to know about the VAWA process, consider these facts for your application. 

Are you looking for the next steps for your immigration application? At Abogada Ashley Immigration, Inc., we have experienced attorneys who can help walk you through these associated processes. 

How Long Does VAWA Take To Be Approved?

Over the years, the processing times for USCIS’s VAWA have varied. The waiting times can take a few years for many cases involving self-petitions. In May 2021, the USCIS started approving applications from the previous two years. You can find the updated processing time on the USCIS website. Unfortunately, the agency can take a long time to review the self-petition. With that in mind, you must keep your mailing address updated while processing the petition. 

After your attorney files your self-petition, the USCIS will send a receipt to your mailing address. The receipt will let you know they have received the application. Since many applicants are in an abusive relationship, you will want to provide an address to which the abuser may not have access to it. In many cases, the applicant will put down the address of their lawyer’s office. During the process, the USCIS may request additional information from you.

Related: Everything You Need To Know About VAWA 

If the USCIS believes you have met all the requirements and the information is accurate, you will be issued an “establishment of prima facie case” notification. With this notice, you can access certain benefits in your state. Remember that a notice of prima facie case does not mean the USCIS approved your VAWA self-petition. It only means that USCIS has preliminarily reviewed your packet and determined that the basic required evidence is included.

Who Can File for a VAWA I-360 Petition?

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A VAWA self-petition is similar to a regular family immigration application, but there are a few other requirements. The VAWA self-petition is for those close family members of lawful permanent residents or U.S. citizens. To file, you must prove your relationship with the abuser. You must also demonstrate a “good moral character” and that you have suffered extreme cruelty or battery from the abuser. While the title includes the word “women,” men can also file for the petition. They will need to demonstrate the exact same above requirement for the self-petition. Additionally, a spouse in a same-sex relationship is also allowed to self-petition for VAWA. 

When filing a VAWA self-petition, you may include a few close relatives as “derivatives.” If the abuser is a spouse, you can include children under 21 and unmarried in the petition. If the abuser is your parent, you can include unmarried children under 21 years old. However, if the abuser is your adult child, no other relatives can be included as derivatives. Also, if you are filing as a parent of an abusive child, your child must be 21 years or older and a U.S. citizen.  

Related: Everything You Need To Know About U Visa 

How Do You Submit the VAWA Self-Petition?

You can self-petition under VAWA by filling out the Widow or Special Immigrant Status, Form I-360. You must list all of the basic information about yourself. There will be questions about the basis of your eligibility, and you need to designate a U.S. consulate for processing if you will be doing consular processing instead of adjustment of status. The form also asks about details regarding children and the spouse. Along with filing the paperwork, you might have to pay a fee. As of 2022, the I-360 petition fee was $435, but those are waived with self-petitioning applicants under VAWA

Before you mail your application, you want to make sure to copy all of the documents. Remember never to send original documents to the USCIS. In many situations, working with an experienced immigration attorney will be beneficial. Being in an abusive relationship is stressful, and you want to ensure that you don’t miss any important details with these applications. You also want to make sure that USCIS does not send information about your case to your home or a mailing address where your abuser might have access to it, which is another reason to have an attorney representing you.

Once your petition is approved, in some cases you can file for permanent resident status (green card) if you haven’t already filed for your green card at the same time that you filed your form I-360.  If are already in the United States, you may be able to adjust your status. Depending on your eligibility category, you can send your “adjustment of status” application to the USCIS with your I-360 form, or after your I-360 form has been approved. 

Issuing a green card to someone from abroad differs from issuing it to someone living in the United States. For those overseas cases, the USCIS will approve your I-360, communicate with the National Visa Center (NVC), and then send the information to the local U.S. consulate. After that, you will receive further instruction on how to proceed

What Is a Prima Facie Determination for VAWA?

With a prima facie determination, the immigration agency has received the application for VAWA. In VAWA cases, there are specific requirements for the applicant to qualify. If you made the marriage in good faith but experienced abuse, you must prove those allegations via your detailed personal statement and any other available evidence and show your good moral character. A prima facie determination indicates that the immigration agency has reviewed the package, and there is a minimum amount of evidence for the case. However, remember that it differs from a full case review of the VAWA. Prima facie determination does not mean there has been a decision on the case. But instead, it shows that the applicant has submitted the required evidence for the self-petition. 

Why Do VAWA Applications Get Denied? If So, What’s Next?

woman wearing a blue blazer looking at her VAWA application

Cases can be denied for using incorrect forms or sending insufficient documents. Therefore, working with an experienced attorney is crucial to ensure everything is correct before submitting it to the USCIS. They may be denied if a form is sent to the wrong location. Your application will not be redirected if you send it to the incorrect address. It is always important to make sure all information is correct. 

In most cases, the VAWA applications are denied due to false or incorrect information, or if USCIS does not believe you.  Any missing or conflicting information is very problematic for these applications. Everything must be correct, including addresses, dates of birth, and names. It can be denied if the information on your visa or USCIS documents does not match the application data. 

Pay attention to deadlines. Missing a deadline could lead to a denied application. 

Finally, there must be enough evidence to prove your good faith marriage if the abuse is from a spouse, including joint tax returns, lease agreements, bills, bank statements, and other documentation. If you cannot verify the proof of abuse, it can lead to a denied application. 

Some applications are rejected due to not submitting evidence of good moral character. Anyone with a criminal history may be denied.  It is important to note, however, that the law does not require “proof” of abuse via police reports or physical injuries. Physical violence is not a requirement to qualify under VAWA nor is having a police report even if there was physical violence. 

Many cases can be approved with a strong personal statement that details different kinds of abuse, such as emotional, financial, or psychological. This is because the evidentiary standard for VAWA is lower than for other kinds of immigration cases, as immigration knows that victims may not always have access to the kind of evidence they might have if they were not victims.

After a denial, the applicant will have to speak to their attorney. In some situations, the applicant would qualify for a U visa, encouraging a victim to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute certain crimes without being deported. 

Related: Adjustment Of Status: The Complete Guide

Speak To an Immigration Attorney

Victims of abuse already know the challenges of living with an abuser. Working with an experienced immigration attorney may help them secure a green card without relying on the abuser. The attorney at Abogada Ashley Immigration, Inc. can walk the victim through the VAWA process with compassionate, personalized representation. 

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