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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.

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.

What Exactly Is VAWA?

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. 

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.  

VAWA Self-Petition Processing Times 

In 2022, USCIS shared how long it took to handle VAWA self-petitions, like those from abused spouses, children, and parents. On average, it took about 28.3 months for a spouse’s petition, 28.4 months for a child’s, and 19.7 months for a parent’s. They calculated this from when USCIS got the petition to when they made a decision, either approving or denying it. But not all petitions they worked on in 2022 were received that year, so the data might not only be about petitions from 2022.

The most up-to-date processing time for VAWA petitions, as of 2024,  is around 3-3.5 years.

How Do You Submit the VAWA Self-Petition?

  • Fill Out Form I-360: You can self-petition under VAWA by completing Form I-360, Widow or Special Immigrant Status. Ensure you provide all necessary personal information and answer questions about your eligibility basis.
  • Designate Consulate: If you opt for consular processing over adjustment of status, you must designate a U.S. consulate for processing in the form.
  • Include Family Details: The form also requires details about your children and spouse.
  • Pay Fee (if applicable): There is no fee if you are using Form I-360 to self-petition under VAWA.
  • Make Copies of Documents: Before mailing your application, make copies of all documents. Never send original documents to USCIS.
  • Consider Legal Assistance: Working with an experienced immigration attorney can be beneficial, especially given the stress of being in an abusive relationship. They can help ensure you don’t overlook crucial details and protect your privacy.
  • File for Permanent Resident Status: If your petition is approved, you may be eligible to apply for permanent resident status (green card). If you’re already in the U.S., you can adjust your status depending on your eligibility category.
  • Overseas Processing: For cases involving individuals residing abroad, USCIS approves the I-360, communicates with the National Visa Center (NVC), and sends information to the local U.S. consulate. Further instructions will then be provided on how to proceed.
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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. 

VAWA Self-Petition Approval Rate

Insights into the volume of VAWA self-petitions received by USCIS during FY 2022, along with the number of approvals and denials within the same period, reveal that many of the self-petitions either approved or denied during FY 2022 were typically lodged with USCIS in previous fiscal years. Therefore, while the data illustrates the approval and denial outcomes, they may not exclusively pertain to petitions received in FY 2022.

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

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Cases can be denied for using incorrect forms or sending insufficient documents. It’s crucial to work with an experienced attorney to ensure everything is correct before submitting to USCIS. Make sure to verify the following:

  • Form Location: Denial may occur if a form is sent to the wrong location, and applications won’t be redirected if sent to the wrong address. Ensuring accuracy in all information is essential.
  • Reasons for Denial: Most denials stem from false or incorrect information, or if USCIS doubts the applicant’s credibility. Missing or conflicting information and discrepancies between application data and other documents can lead to denial.
  • Deadline Adherence: Paying attention to deadlines is crucial as missing them can result in a denied application.
  • Evidence of Marriage: Providing sufficient evidence to prove a good faith marriage, especially in cases of spousal abuse, is vital. This includes joint tax returns, lease agreements, bills, and bank statements.
  • Moral Character: Some applications are rejected for not submitting evidence of good moral character. Individuals with a criminal history may face potential denial.
  • Proof of Abuse: It’s important to note that proof of abuse doesn’t necessarily require police reports or physical injuries. Physical violence isn’t a requirement for VAWA eligibility.
  • Personal Statement: Strong personal statements detailing various forms of abuse (emotional, financial, psychological) can increase the likelihood of approval. The evidentiary standard for VAWA is lower than for other immigration cases, acknowledging the difficulty victims face in obtaining evidence.

After a denial, consulting with an attorney is necessary. In certain situations, the applicant may qualify for a U visa, which requires cooperation with law enforcement without facing deportation.

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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