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Everything You Need To Know About VAWA

Finding the right visa for your situation is like finding a needle in a haystack. Just when you think you’ve discovered the right one, another issue crops up.

When you’re experiencing domestic violence, searching for a visa is even more difficult than usual.

Every minute, the United States alone sees twenty people abused by an intimate partner. When it seems like there’s no way out, the VAWA visa is available to meet you halfway.
What is a VAWA visa and how can it help you in your situation? Read below to learn about the benefits, how you can apply, and the general application process.

What Is VAWA?

The VAWA visa is one of your most potent tools to escape a domestic violence situation and restore your legal independence.

The term VAWA is short for the Violence Against Women Act, which was established back in 1994.

The Violence Against Women Act has been supported by organizations, senators, and millions of voters ever since. This act ensures there are always legal and financial resources toward victims of abuse, such as effective prosecution or visa resources. The VAWA visa is specifically targeted toward immigrants who are victims of domestic abuse in the United States.

If you’re one of many struggling to escape an intimate partner, we highly recommend you seek out the VAWA visa program.

What Are the Benefits of VAWA?

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One of the most common side-effects of abuse is feeling completely alone in your struggle. While abusers frequently isolate their victims, there’s only so much they can do against the legal system.

The VAWA visa puts control back in your hands by enabling you to obtain permanent residency and leave your spouse in one fell swoop.

Some visas allow citizenship only if you’re in a relationship with another, which is prime fuel to make abusive situations even worse. Many abusers take advantage of their abused spouse being too afraid of deportation to fight back.

You don’t need to have a current residence with your abuser to qualify for the VAWA visa, as long as you have resided together at some point in the past. If you’ve committed a crime in the past, you can still qualify for good moral character depending on the crime. You also will not be required to leave the country if you apply for the VAWA visa.

If you already have a green card case filed (Form I-485) and you are experiencing abuse in your marriage, you should apply for an adjudication for the VAWA visa.

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Who Can Apply for VAWA?

The VAWA visa is open to any immigrant married to a U.S. citizen or LPR that is experiencing domestic violence. You can also apply if you have been divorced from your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse within the last two years.  An LPR is short for a Lawful Permanent Resident, a non-citizen with a green card allowed to live in the United States.

You may be concerned you can’t apply for a VAWA visa for a number of reasons. Many survivors of domestic violence are afraid they don’t have enough evidence for a case or are afraid their abuser will retaliate further.

Any immigrant experiencing domestic violence of any kind is eligible to apply.

We’ll explore the different forms domestic violence takes below so you’re ready to apply.

VAWA Requirements and Process

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The requirement process for the VAWA visa is a little different due to its roots in legal protection for victims. You need to gather as much evidence as possible to self-petition for a VAWA visa. 

Keep in mind that lawyers are very aware that abusers try to withhold information or lie to the courts to keep you under control.

Do your best to gain the following information so you have the highest possible chance of being approved:

  • Documented evidence of your relationship with the abuser
  • Documented evidence of the abuser’s citizenship status or green card
  • Documented evidence of your shared residency with the abuser
  • Documented evidence of abuse (which do not have to be police records. This can be letters from people who know about the abuse, text messages you have received, and even your own detailed personal statement about the abuse.)
  • A criminal background check

What qualifies as domestic violence? It’s not just physical abuse that counts in the legal system. Domestic violence also looks like the following:

  • Emotional abuse and control
  • Intimidation
  • Isolation
  • Stalking
  • Sexual assault
  • Financial abuse

Does your abuser regularly follow you to work, school, or a friend’s house? Do they threaten to get you deported or keep you from accessing your bank account? These examples are just a few common tactics used to keep you under the thumb of an abuser.

If your abuser threatens to get you deported, you are nonetheless encouraged to apply for a VAWA visa with any evidence you have.

Even if you came to the United States illegally, you can still apply. Immigration will not share any information you provide with your abuser.

Approval Process for VAWA

The approval process for the VAWA visa has a few steps designed to keep your case running smoothly.

If you’re ever confused about what to do next, ask questions as soon as possible.

Consult With Your Immigration Lawyer

Your first step on the path of VAWA visa approval is to discuss your situation with your immigration lawyer.

They will provide the best possible legal advice for your situation and any other factors, such as child custody or relocation.

Fill Out Form I-360

Your next step is to fill out Form I-360.

This form is a petition to help vet and process your case.

You’ll be informed which documents to bring to successfully fill the form out.

Other forms you may need include (but aren’t limited to):

  • Cover letter and legal argument
  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificate
  • I-94 Arrival and Departure Record
  • Joint tax returns
  • Joint bank statements
  • Evidence of good-faith marriage (such as photos, joint assets, children together

Consider Filling Out Adjustment of Status

You may need to fill out an Adjustment Of Status form.

This form will allow you to gain permanent resident status. Depending your case, you may not be  eligible for adjustment of status. You might only be eligible for a work permit under VAWA. 

Total Processing Time for VAWA

Lawyers are well aware that time is of the essence when it comes to escaping an abuser. In order to avoid problems with the filing of your VAWA application, including a potential rejection or request for more evidence, both of which can slow the process down, you need legal assistance on your side.

The processing time for the VAWA visa depends heavily on the amount of evidence you have and the legal assistance on your side.

You can wait anywhere from twenty four to thirty one months to have your VAWA visa processed and approved. 

Contact An Immigration Attorney

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The VAWA visa is one of the most effective tools to get you out of an abusive situation with a U.S. citizen or LPR. The sooner you contact an immigration attorney to help you make your case, the sooner you can start over.

The VAWA visa is available to any immigrant experiencing domestic violence from an American citizen or green card holder.

The abuse does not have to be physical to count as domestic violence, nor are you required to contact the police about your situation. Processing your VAWA visa depends on the effectiveness of your attorney, your paperwork, and legal fees.

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