Spousal abuse often happens behind closed doors, making it difficult for victims to find relief. For married couples living in the United States, the situation gets more complicated when the victim is not a citizen or permanent resident. VAWA is a legal act that can allow abused spouses stay in the U.S. without needing the abuser’s cooperation.
If you’re in a situation like this, you should know all about VAWA and how it can help you with your immigration status. For an overview, read these answers to common questions about the act.
What is VAWA?
Passed in 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law designed to prevent—and give recourse for—violent crimes committed against women. It gave the government, lawmakers, and police more resources and a legal framework to investigate these crimes, prosecute them, and offer victims more legal support.
When it comes to immigration, VAWA can help victims get a green card independently of the abuser. In other words, it lets you petition for permanent residence on your own without needing your spouse or relative to cooperate—as long as you meet the requirements.
Who qualifies for VAWA?
Although it’s called the Violence Against Women Act, the law allows men to petition as well. If you are applying for a green card as a battered or abused spouse, or as a spouse whose child was abused, you have to prove that:
- Your spouse or ex-spouse is a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident, and you either live together or have lived together in the past.
- If you are divorced, you have to prove the divorce was connected to the abuse you suffered.
- You and your spouse were married in good faith. That means your marriage was legitimate, and not done simply to get around U.S. immigration law.
You may also qualify if you are unmarried, under 21, and were abused by a parent or stepparent, or if you were abused by your adult child who is over 21. One of the main requirements here is that the abusive relative is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident.
Unfortunately, these VAWA protections do not apply to civil unions or other types of relationships.
How do I apply?
You will most likely need a number of forms, along with documents like your birth certificate and other identification. Self-petitioning means your abusive relative doesn’t need to know about or consent to your petition—you can do it all yourself.
VAWA gives you special confidentiality protections, meaning USCIS cannot give your information to others. Your abusive relative is also prevented from giving out information that could lead to your application being rejected.
How can I boost my chances?
Besides the forms and general requirements, there’s one more thing you’ll need to make a successful green card petition under VAWA. You must show that you have “good moral character.” You have a few options for proving this:
- Get your friends, family, bosses, landlords, or community leaders to write statements about your good character.
- Show that you participate in volunteer or charity work.
- Request a letter from police to prove you have no criminal record.
Generally, the more documentation you have to support your claims in this petition, the better. That said, it may not be wise to prepare your application without help. You should consult a qualified immigration attorney to make sure your petition is complete, legally sound, and free of mistakes.
LaGrone Law specializes in the intersection of immigration and criminal law. We are passionate about helping women and victims of abuse overcome their circumstances and secure their immigration status in the U.S. Call our law firm for dedicated, compassionate legal representation when you need it most.