August 11, 2023

VAWA Self Petition | How It Works

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a federal law designed to protect victims of domestic violence, battery, or extreme cruelty perpetrated by certain family members. Under this act, survivors can pursue legal status and eventually obtain a Green Card through a process known as VAWA self-petition. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve into the details of VAWA self-petition, its eligibility criteria, and the steps involved in the application process.

What is a VAWA Self-Petition? 

A VAWA self-petition allows individuals who have experienced abuse by specific family members, including U.S. citizen spouses or parents, U.S. citizen sons or daughters, or lawful permanent resident (LPR) parents or spouses, to independently file a petition for immigration benefits without the knowledge or consent of their abuser. This empowering measure ensures that victims of domestic violence can break free from their abusive situations and seek safety and legal status in the United States.

Related Link: VAWA Processing Time – Is It Worth It?

Eligibility for VAWA Self-Petition

To be eligible for a VAWA self-petition, survivors must meet certain criteria:

  • Abuse by a Qualifying Family Member: The abuse must be committed by a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse, parent, or child.
  • Evidence of Abuse: Survivors need to provide compelling evidence of extreme cruelty or battery endured at the hands of the abusive family member.
  • Self-Petition Filing: Applicants must properly submit the Petition for Widow(er), Amerasian, or Special Immigrant (Form I-360) without the abuser's knowledge or consent.

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Eligibility for Adjustment of Status

Once a VAWA self-petition is approved, eligible applicants can move forward with the adjustment of status process, which grants lawful permanent residency, commonly known as a Green Card. To be eligible for adjustment of status as a VAWA self-petitioner, certain requirements must be met:

  • Form I-485 Filing: Applicants must properly file Form I-485.
  • Physical Presence in the United States: Applicants must be physically present in the United States at the time of filing Form I-485.
  • Eligibility for Immigrant Visa: Applicants should be eligible to receive an immigrant visa.
  • Immediate Visa Availability: An immigrant visa should be immediately available when filing Form I-485 and when USCIS renders a final decision on the application.
  • No Bars to Adjustment: Applicants should not be subject to any bars to adjustment of status.
  • Admissibility to the United States: Applicants must be admissible to the United States for lawful permanent residence or be eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility or other forms of relief.
  • Favorable Exercise of USCIS' Discretion: USCIS will assess the case and exercise discretion in favor of the applicant.

Understanding Grounds of Inadmissibility

To qualify for a Green Card, applicants must be admissible to the United States. Grounds of inadmissibility refer to reasons that may prevent someone from being approved for permanent residency. Common grounds of inadmissibility are listed in INA 212(a) and include issues like health-related concerns, criminal convictions, fraud, and certain immigration violations.

For VAWA self-petitioners, certain grounds of inadmissibility do not apply, such as public charge (INA 212(a)(4)) and entry without inspection (INA 212(a)(6)(A)). However, other grounds may still be relevant, and in such cases, applicants may need to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility or other forms of relief.

Related Link: Advantages Of Dual Citizenship

How to Apply for Adjustment of Status

If the VAWA self-petitioner is currently in the United States and meets the other eligibility criteria, they can file Form I-485 together with their approved Form I-360. This process allows eligible applicants to apply for a Green Card without having to leave the country.

It's important to have an approved Form I-360 before applying for adjustment of status. If a visa is immediately available to the applicant, there is no need to wait for Form I-360 approval before filing Form I-485.

If the VAWA self-petitioner is already in the United States with a pending Form I-485 based on an approved Form I-130 filed by an abusive family member, they can request to convert their Form I-485 to be based on their VAWA self-petition instead. USCIS must be informed of the intent to file a VAWA self-petition within 30 days of making the request. If USCIS approves the VAWA self-petition, the application for adjustment of status will be based on the VAWA self-petition instead of the original Form I-130.

Confidentiality Protections for VAWA Self-Petitioners

woman at a VAWA protest

Special confidentiality protections are in place for VAWA self-petitioners under 8 U.S.C. section 1367. USCIS cannot deny an application solely based on information provided by the abuser or other prohibited sources. Additionally, USCIS cannot disclose any information about the applicant to third parties, except in specific limited circumstances.

Family Members and Derivative Applicants

Family members of VAWA self-petitioners may also be eligible to apply for a Green Card as derivative beneficiaries of an approved VAWA self-petition. This includes unmarried children under 21 years old of the principal applicant.

Derivative applicants must meet similar eligibility requirements for adjustment of status and file their own Green Card applications. They should also provide the necessary supporting documents and evidence to apply for permanent residency.

Visa Availability for Derivative Applicants

The availability of a visa for derivative applicants depends on the relationship between the VAWA self-petitioner and the abusive family member. If the abusive family member is a U.S. citizen spouse or parent, derivative applicants may be considered immediate relatives and can file Form I-485 when a visa is immediately available. For other family-based preference categories, derivative applicants may need to wait for a visa to become available based on their priority date.

Protections for Derivatives Who Turn 21

The Child Status Protection Act (CSPA) allows certain individuals to continue to be considered as children for immigration purposes even after turning 21. This protection helps prevent age-out issues, where children who were originally eligible for derivative status lose their eligibility due to turning 21. Derivative applicants who benefit from the CSPA may be able to independently apply for a Green Card based on their VAWA self-petition.

How Long Does VAWA Take to be Approved? 

The processing time for VAWA self-petitions may vary based on individual circumstances and the workload of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Typically, the approval process can take several months, but expedited processing may be available for certain cases involving extreme hardship.

Can I File VAWA Myself? 

Yes, eligible survivors can file VAWA self-petitions independently without the assistance of their abusive family members. This ensures that survivors have control over their immigration process and provides a safe and confidential way to seek legal status in the United States.

Filing a VAWA Self Petition

a woman hiding from an abusive partner

The Violence Against Women Act's self-petition process provides a lifeline to survivors of domestic violence, allowing them to seek legal status and safety in the United States independently. By understanding the eligibility criteria and steps involved in the adjustment of status process, survivors can embark on a path towards a brighter future, free from abuse and fear. The confidentiality protections ensure that survivors can pursue this journey without the fear of retribution from their abusers, empowering them to break free from abusive situations and build a secure and stable life in the United States.

Related Link: Is Your Green Card Expiring Soon? Read About The Renewal Process

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