Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, gives abused spouses and children of U.S. citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPRs) who are living in the U.S. a procedural mechanism by which to “self-petition” for lawful permanent resident status (a U.S. green card). This mechanism acts as a substitute for the usual process, in which the immigrant must rely on participation by the U.S. spouse or parent. The reason being, for many immigrant victims of domestic violence, battery and extreme cruelty, the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members who would sponsor their applications will threaten to withhold legal immigration sponsorship as a tool of abuse. VAWA effectively cuts the abuser out of the process and limits his or her control over the immigrant. It allows battered immigrants to petition for legal status in the United States without relying on abusive U.S.citizen or legal permanent resident spouses, parents or children to sponsor their Adjustment of Status (Form I-485) applications.
Eligibility to self petition for VAWA
Immigration law allows the following relatives of abusive USCs and LPRs to self-petition for lawful status in the US. You may be eligible to self-petition for lawful permanent residence without the assistance of the abuser if you are abused by:
- your spouse and s/he is US citizen (USC) or legal permanent resident (LPR) (or if you are the spouse of a USC or LPR and s/he has abused your children if they are under 21 years old and unmarried),
- a USC or LPR parent (including a step-parent), or
- a USC (not LPR) son or daughter (son/daughter must be over 21 years old)
Non-abused spouses of a USC or LPR can self petition if the USC or LPR spouse has abused your unmarried and under 21 years old children. The non-abused spouse’s children who are under 21 years old and unmarried may also be eligible. Abused children (under 21 years old and unmarried) of a USC or LPR, and their children (under 21 years old and unmarried) can be included as derivatives.
It may be possible for an abused child between the ages of 21 and 25 to self-petition if s/he can show s/he qualified when she was under 21 and the abuse was at least one central reason for the delay in filing.
Battery or extreme cruelty: During your marriage, your USC/LPR spouse must have battered (physically abused) you or your child or subjected you or your child to “extreme cruelty.” Extreme cruelty is any form of power and control, including but not limited to, the following.
It includes being a victim of any act or threatened act of violence, including any forcible detention that results in physical or mental harm, psychological or sexual abuse, rape, molestation, incest, forced prostitution, and acts that may not appear violent but are part of a pattern of violence.
Note: You must have been abused in the United States, or if you were solely abused abroad, then your spouse must have been an employee of the US government or a member of the US uniformed services (the military).