VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act. This act was passed by Congress in 1994. VAWA created a special route to lawful immigration status for victims of domestic abuse who normally must rely on their abusers to file for status for them. VAWA self-petitioning allows victims of abuse who are close relatives of US citizens and lawful permanent residents to file for status on their own.
The way regular immigration law works is that if you are the spouse, child, or parent of a US citizen (USC) or the spouse or child of a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the USC or LPR relative must file a petition with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) on your behalf for you to get legal status. That relative controls the process until you get your own lawful permanent residence (“green card”). VAWA changed that by allowing victims of abuse in this situation to get legal status without the participation or control of the abuser through a VAWA self-petition.
What to Prove
VAWA self-petitioning is similar to filing a regular family immigration application but with some additional requirements. You must prove the relationship to the abuser. You also have to prove that you have “good moral character” and have suffered “battery or extreme cruelty,” which is how Congress described domestic abuse in the immigration law.
The eligibilities for VAWA petition are:
- You are currently married to a US citizen or lawful permanent resident who is abusive.
- You have got divorced from your US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse within the past two years.
- You married your US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse believing s/he was unmarried but later found out s/he was already married.
- You married a US citizen spouse who died within the past two years.
- You married your US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse but s/he lost his/her immigration status within the past two years due to domestic violence.
If you qualify these criteria, you must prove to the USCIS that your marriage was in good faith.
USCIS cannot require you to provide a particular type of evidence to prove that you married your spouse in good faith, and there is no magic piece of evidence that will provide definitive proof of your good-faith marriage. However, common types of evidence include:
- a statement from you in which you explain how your relationship developed and why you decided to marry your spouse;
- birth certificates of any children that you have together;
- photographs of you and your spouse at different times, in different locations;
- evidence of your courtship, such as text messages, call records, emails, and letters;
- evidence of shared financial assets or responsibilities, such as joint tax returns, joint property ownership, joint leases, joint bank accounts, joint credit cards, and shared insurance plans; and
- statements from friends or family who were familiar with your relationship or your reasons for marrying your spouse.
There are two steps to applying for a Green Card through VAWA Self-petition.
First, you must file Form I-360 and supporting evidence with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The next step is to file an application for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), using Form I-485 and supporting documents.
If you are the spouse of a U.S. citizen, you can combine these steps into one, and file the I-360 and the I-485 together, or “concurrently.” If your U.S. spouse is a lawful permanent resident (a green card holder), then you are not an immediate relative, and your only choice is to file the Form I-360 first, wait for approval, wait for your Priority Date to become current, and then file the I-485 application.
What to Include With Form I-360
- a declaration describing your relationship, the abuse you suffered, your good moral character, and anything else relevant to proving your eligibility
- other evidence of the abuse, such as police or hospital records or court-issued protective orders
- police clearance records showing your criminal record, or lack thereof, and other evidence that you are a person of “good moral character”—you can obtain the certificates from the police department of any town you have lived in during the last three years for more than six months
- proof that the abuser is a US citizen or Green Card holder.
- proof that you are the abuser’s spouse, child, or parent (marriage or birth certificate)
- proof that you lived with the abuser, and
- proof that you currently live in the U.S.
- include a cover letter on top of the application describing how you meet each requirement and the evidence you have submitted to prove it.
- file the VAWA petition with the Vermont Service Center
How Much Time Needed
It’s tough to say how much time the USCIS is going to take to process the VAWA petition. USCIS’s processing times have changed over the years, and it is difficult to predict how long a self-petition that is filed now will take. The online source says it is taking about 24-30 months currently. Some other sources suggest it to be 16-21 months.
There is no fee required to file Form I-360. Currently, the fee to file Form I-485 is $1,225. But the fee for Form I-485 can be waived if you satisfy some particular conditions.