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Victims of Domestic Violence/VAWA


Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is an immigration benefit that allows certain abused or battered family members of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents to obtain legal status through a "self-petition." This means that instead of relying on their abusive family member to file an I-130 petition on their behalf, certain non-citizens may be eligible to file a petition on their own, which may allow them to escape their abusive relationship. Importantly, if the abusive relationship ends (either through divorce or death of the abuser), the VAWA petition must be filed within two years of the relationship ending. Please note that although the law is called the "Violence Against Women Act" it is available to people of all genders.

Who is Eligible to File a VAWA Petition?

The following people are eligible to file a self-petition under VAWA:

  • Abused spouses of U.S. citizens and lawful permanents residents;
  • Spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents whose children are abused;
  • Abused parents of U.S. citizen children; and
  • Abused children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents

What Must a VAWA Petitioner Prove?

A VAWA petitioner must submit evidence to prove the following:

  • That the abuser is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • A bona fide relationship to the abuser:
    • In the case of an abusive spouse, the VAWA petitioner must prove a good faith marriage and prove that he or she lived with the abusive spouse.
  • That he or she was the victim of battery or extreme cruelty by the abuser
    • This includes physical, sexual, emotional, and psychological abuse
  • Good moral character

One important benefit of VAWA is that it often allows people to apply for adjustment of status even if they entered the United States illegally. Unfortunately, some people may still be barred from obtaining a green card through VAWA if they have committed certain crimes or immigration violations.