The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a way for battered and abused spouses (and in certain cases, parents and children) to get permanent residency (green card) without the help of the abusive spouse. Despite its name, VAWA benefits both men and women.
You may qualify if:
- You are married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident and your spouse abused you or your child;
- Your US citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or stepparent abused you or your child; or
- Your adult US citizen child has abused you.
If you are the spouse, you also have to prove that you entered the marriage was legal, entered into in good faith, you lived together at some point, and that you have good moral character. If divorced, you must also prove a connection between the divorce and abuse.
These limitations mean that if you only live together, are engaged, or are in a civil union, but there is no marriage, you are not eligible.
A marriage is legal if it was legal at the time and place it occurred and both parties were free to marry. That means that any prior annulments or divorces were actually final before entering into the subsequent marriage; this is particularly important in those jurisdictions where there is a wait time after the judge grants the divorce but until the appeal period has not run out, or in certain cultures where there was no legal divorce, but only a religious one. A marriage is also void if there was bigamy, incest, fraud, one spouse or both were underage or incapacitated, there was duress, or one party was not present when the marriage occurred.
You are also not eligible if you cannot prove that your marriage was intended to be a real marriage and not one entered into for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit. Some signs that the marriage may be fake include: a big age difference, inability of spouses to speak a common language, vast cultural and ethnic background, relatives and friends unaware of marriage, arranged marriages or one that occurred immediately following notices from ICE or immigration authorities, different statements of fact, not living together, prior petitions for other spouses, etc. These can be overcome with significant documentation of joint financial responsibility and other evidence showing your life together.
To be approved, you must show that you have good moral character. There are many ways to prove good moral character: by showing proof of community involvement, paying taxes throughout your entire presence in the United States, no criminal record or minimal, etc.
If the abuser is not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, you are not eligible. You are not eligible if you are an adult child (over 21) who was battered or abused by your parents.
If the VAWA self-petition is approved, you will be eligible to receive permanent residency.
If you are in removal proceedings, VAWA may allow you to qualify to stop the deportation if you are a VAWA victim. To qualify, you need to prove the same as the above, prove that you have been physically present in the United States for at least three years prior to your VAWA application and the issuing of the Notice to Appear (NTA), prove that your deportation would cause extreme hardship to you, your children, or your parents, and that you are admissible. Usually, the hardest thing to prove is the hardship in these cases, so it is critical that you have an immigration lawyer experienced with these cases on your side. If your application is denied, you may be ordered removed (deported) by the immigration judge, but you may still file an appeal.
Affirmative or defensive VAWA applications are rather complicated and you should consider hiring an immigration attorney who handles these cases regularly and is up to date on all regulatory changes.