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VAWA protections for victims of abuse

The VAWA self-petition offers protection for immigrant victims of domestic violence and abuse. It provides an opportunity to legally stay in the USA. Learn about who qualifies and how to apply. Find help and support.

Mizajou October 31, 2023

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What is VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) immigration program is for immigrants abused by a family member who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR). Abuse and domestic violence are actions meant to hurt and control someone in a close relationship.

Sometimes people stay in dangerous situations because their immigration status is dependent on their family member. VAWA is called a “self-petition” because it provides you a way to adjust your status without your abuser’s help or cooperation.

If your VAWA is approved, you will be granted deferred action and become eligible to apply to be a lawful permanent resident with a Green Card. Deferred action means you can live and work in the USA. 

If your VAWA petition is approved you can:

  • Live and work in the U.S. legally
  • Apply for a Green Card
  • Receive public benefits (if you are the spouse or child of an abuser)

Who can apply?

Both men and women can apply for VAWA. You do not have to have legal immigration status. It is for survivors of domestic abuse

You can apply for a VAWA self-petition if:

  • You were abused by your parent, spouse, former spouse, or adult child. 
  • Your abusive relative is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • You live with or have lived with your abusive relative.
  • You have good moral character.

You must prove the abuse you experienced was battery or extreme cruelty to qualify for VAWA. This includes:

  • Threats of violence 
  • Physical abuse & emotional harm 
  • Rape & sexual abuse
  • Financial control 
  • Forceful detention 
  • Forced prostitution & labor

If you currently live outside the USA, you must also show that you were abused in the United States or your abusive relative works for the U.S. government or armed forces. 

How do I apply?

You apply for VAWA through U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). It does not cost anything to apply. You will need to:

  • Complete Form I-360.
  • Provide evidence that you have a qualifying relationship with the abuser. 
  • Provide evidence of the abuser’s U.S. citizenship or legal permanent residence status. 
  • Provide evidence that you were severely abused.
  • Include a personal statement about your experience.
  • Provide evidence of good moral character.

You will mail your forms to the USCIS Nebraska Service Center. If you do not feel safe getting mail at your home, you can get a safe address to use on applications.

You may be able to file for a Green Card at the same time you file for VAWA if your abuser is a U.S. citizen. See more information below.

It is important to get legal advice. A lawyer or accredited representative can help you find out if you qualify and complete your application.

Work permit

A work permit is also called an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). An EAD shows employers that you are allowed to work in the USA. 

You will automatically get your EAD card when your Form I-360 is approved if you check “Yes” on Part 10, Question 12. You do not need to file a separate application. 

If you did not request an EAD on your Form I-360, you and your derivative children can file Form I-765 after your form is approved. 

Green Card 

To apply for a Green Card you will need to file Form I-485. Learn about the requirements and process for VAWA. There are fees to file for a Green Card. If you can not afford the fees, you can ask for a fee waiver

The options to file are different based on your abuser’s immigration status:

If your abuser is a U.S. citizen, you can apply for a Green Card when you are applying for VAWA or wait until your VAWA is approved. If you apply at the same time as VAWA your Green Card will be processed after your petition is approved. A legal representative can help you make the best decision on when to apply. 

If your abuser is a lawful permanent resident, you must wait for your VAWA to be approved and for a visa to be available. Depending on what your relationship is with your family member, you may need to wait several years.

You can add your child to your Green Card application as a derivative applicant. Your child does not have to file a new petition. 

If approved for a Green Card, you may be eligible to apply for citizenship after 5 years. You can also apply for family members to join you in the USA.

Public Benefits

You are eligible for certain federal and state public benefits if you filed as an abused spouse or child and if you have either:

  • A Notice of Prima Facie Case (NPFC). This is given to those who are considered eligible for Form I-360 upon first review.
  • A notice of an approved Form I-360. 

Public benefits you can apply for include:

  • Housing assistance
  • Food and income assistance
  • Employment assistance
  • English language training
  • Health and mental health services

Your safety

USCIS will keep all your information confidential. They will not share your information without your permission except in rare cases.

Many undocumented immigrants worry that if they report a crime, they may be deported. The VAWA program is there to help people who are victims of crimes and make it safer to report them. You are not required to have legal immigration status to apply for VAWA. 

Find help and support

Legal Help

This process is complex. You are strongly encouraged to get legal help. An immigration lawyer or accredited representative can help you find out what you qualify for and help you complete your application and prepare your evidence. This will increase your chances of approval and help make sure you do not put your status at risk.

Find free or low-cost legal help.

Domestic violence help

Call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 800-799-7233 or text START to 88788. You can speak to a person 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Interpreters are available in over 140 languages.

Your abuser may check where you go on the internet. Be sure to regularly clear your browser history or use a safe device like a friend’s phone or public library computer. Learn more about getting help for domestic violence.

Call 911 if you are ever in immediate danger.

Emotional support

Survivors of abuse may experience trauma, leading to sadness or depression. Getting mental health support can help you feel better. Learn more about trauma and where to find help.

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