VAWA

Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”)

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In 1994, The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was established to provide protection for victims of domestic violence which includes physical, emotional, psychological or mental abuse. Under VAWA, the U.S. government takes into consideration domestic violence situations when applying immigration policies.  

VAWA Provisions for Immigrants

As a battered spouse, child or parent, of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident you have the right to file an immigrant and visa petition under the Immigration and Nationality ACT (INA). The VAWA provisions apply equally to men and women and they do not require congressional authorization. Clauses in VAWA allow victims of domestic violence to petition for themselves and for their dependents for permanent residency. This is of specific importance in domestic violence situations, as the victim may file for immigration benefits without the need to alert the abuser. Furthermore, abuse victims may self-petition even after they have divorced the abuser, if it is within two years’ time.  Thanks to VAWA, victims of domestic violence do not have to rely on the sponsorship of abusive spouses or parents.

Who is Eligible to Apply?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website explains the eligibility criteria for spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who have been victims of domestic violence (physical, psychological, emotional or mental)to apply for an immigrant and visa petition as follows:

Spouse

You may file for yourself if you are or were the abused spouse of a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident. You may also apply as an abused spouse (physical, psychological, emotional or mental)if your child has been abused by a U.S. Citizen or permanent resident spouse.  On your petition you may also include your unmarried children who are under 21 years of age, if they have not filed for themselves.

Eligibility Requirements for a Spouse

  • Qualifying spousal relationship

o You are married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser or

o Your marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the two years prior to filing your petition, or

o Your spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the 2 years prior to filing your petition due to an incident of domestic violence, or

o You believe that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was no legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.

  • You have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse:

o You have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, or

o Your child has been subject to battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse

  • You entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely for immigration benefits.
  • You have resided with your spouse.
  • You are a person of good moral character.

Parent

You may file if you are the parent of a U.S. Citizen and you have been abused by your U.S. Citizen son or daughter.

Eligibility Requirements for a Parent

  • Qualifying parent/son or daughter relationship:

o You are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who is at least 21 years of age when the self-petition is filed, or

o you are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence, or

o you are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who was at least 21 years of age and who died within 2 years prior to filing the self-petition.

  • You have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
  • You have resided with the abusive son or daughter.
  • You are a person of good moral character.

Child

You may file for yourself if you are an abused child (physical, emotional, psychological or mental)under 21 years of age, are unmarried and have been abused by your U.S. Citizen or permanent resident parent. Your children may also be included in your petition. You may also file for yourself AFTER age 21 but before age 25 if you can prove that the abuse was the main reason for the delay in filing.

Eligibility Requirements for a Child

  • Qualifying parent/child relationship:

o You are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser, or

o you are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence.

  • You have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent.
  • You have resided with your abusive parent.
  • You are a person of good moral character; a child less than 14 years of age is presumed to be a person of good moral character.