Generally, those seeking to gain citizenship in the United States need the help of their citizen family members. But what if the person you’d typically seek help from is also your abuser? What if this person is threatening to withhold or withdraw your petition so they can gain control over you?
If this situation sounds familiar, you may qualify for a VAWA self-petition. Passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act offers noncitizens who have been abused by relatives who are US citizens/residents the opportunity to apply for residency or citizenship independently. Under VAWA, you can apply for residency or citizenship without your abuser knowing and hopefully escape your dangerous situation.
However, you first need to make sure you qualify. Read the below guide to learn about VAWA qualification requirements.
Who is Eligible to File for VAWA?
Those who are eligible for VAWA include:
- Spouses: You can file for VAWA if you were abused by a legal resident or US citizen spouse. You can also file as a spouse if your spouse has abused your child. If you have unmarried kids under 21, you can also file as a spouse on their behalf.
- Child: If you have suffered abuse from your parent who is a US resident or citizen, you can file for VAWA if you’re 21 and unmarried. Keep in mind parents can also include children on their petitions. Additionally, you can file between the ages of 21-25 if you can prove that you delayed filing due to the abuse you suffered.
- Parent:If you suffered abuse at the hands of your U.S. citizen son or daughter who is age 21 or older, you can also file for VAWA.
VAWA Self-Petition Eligibility Requirements
You need to demonstrate the following eligibility requirements to qualify for VAWA:
- You have a qualifying relation as the parent, child, spouse, former spouse, or intended spouse of a US citizen or resident
- If your marriage was legally terminated by death or divorce, you could qualify if you file your petition within two years of either of those events
- You were subject to extreme cruelty or battery by your spouse/parent/child
- You reside/have resided in the US with your abusive relative/partner
- You have “good moral character” (i.e., don’t have certain criminal convictions or a lengthy criminal record, can produce character witnesses to speak of your good moral standing)
If you are married or were married to your abuser, you also need to demonstrate that you married your spouse in good faith and not with the intent of evading immigration laws. In some instances, you can still be eligible for VAWA if your abusive relative died, lost, or renounced their citizenship.
If you’re living outside of the US when filing, you need to demonstrate one of the following eligibility requirements:
- Your abusive relative/spouse is an employee of the US government
- Your abusive relative/spouse is a member of the US armed forces
- You suffered from abuse in the United States
Applying with Family Members
Suppose you apply as a child or spouse of an abusive US citizen/resident. In that case, you may also include your children on the self-petition as derivative beneficiaries, as long as they are under 21 and not married.
However, if you apply as a parent of an abusive US citizen/resident, you may not list any derivative beneficiaries.
If your self-petition is approved, your derivative beneficiaries will receive the same priority date and immigration classification as you. Derivative beneficiaries are also eligible to apply for permanent residency once their visas are available and if they meet the visa requirements.
You can also add eligible children or children born after your self-petition is approved and you decide to apply for lawful permanent residence status. In this case, you will not need to fill out a new self-petition.
How to Apply
You must fill out Form I-360 to apply for VAWA, and there is no fee to fill out this form. As a part of your petition, you will need to provide evidence that you meet all the eligibility requirements.
You will also need to provide evidence that any derivative beneficiaries are under 21 and unmarried. Note that approval of Form 1-360 does not automatically make you a U.S. resident. Instead, it qualifies you to apply for U.S. residency (aka, obtain a Green Card) which comes with different requirements.
An approved Form I-360 allows you to apply for jobs in the United States. You must check the appropriate box on the 1-360 to request an employment authorization document.
You will not need to file a separate form. However, if you didn’t check the box to request employment authorization, you’ll need to request and fill out Form 1-765 after the U.S. government approves your Form 1-360.
Derivative beneficiaries can also apply for work authorization after your self-petition has been approved.
Applying for a Green Card
You and your derivative beneficiaries can apply for green cards if your VAWA application is approved and you meet certain other requirements.
If you are currently in the U.S., you can file Form 1-485 to apply for a green card without leaving the country. If a visa is available immediately, you can also file Form 1-485 co-currently, with Form I-360, while it’s pending, or after it’s approved.
You can check with the USCIS to learn about immigration visa availability dates.
VAWA: Next Steps if You Qualify
If you believe you meet the above eligibility requirements, filing a self-petition is the next step. In this petition, you’ll need to provide details about your relationship with your abuser.
We recommend working with a lawyer during the VAWA process, as this can help ensure the best outcome possible.
Contact us today to begin the VAWA process!