VAWA: Visas and Green Cards for VAWA Self-Petitioners
What is a VAWA Visa/Green Card?
The Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, provides special avenues toward residency for the abused family members of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents.
Under VAWA, people are allowed to petition the government themselves for an adjustment of status to make themselves lawful permanent residents of the United States. Here’s what you need to know.
Victims of battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of an immediate family member can petition the U.S. government for lawful permanent residency on their own by being VAWA self-petitioners.
This means that some people with eligible family relationships can petition the government for a green card without their family member’s knowledge or consent.
If you’re not in the United States, you’ll need a VAWA visa. If you’re already in the United States, you can skip straight ahead to filing for a VAWA green card through adjustment of status.
What is a Self-Petitioner?
A VAWA self-petitioner is a person who petitions the United States government for a green card without having to go through their spouse, parent or child first. (Usually, a spouse, parent or child cannot petition the U.S. government for a green card; their family member must do it on their behalf.)
Because these people are victims of battery or extreme cruelty at the hands of their family member (provided that the family member is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident), they don’t need their family member to file a residency petition for them. In fact, they don’t even need to get their family member’s consent – or even let their family member know they’re applying for a green card.
Who’s Eligible for Adjustment of Status as a VAWA Self-Petitioner?
You are eligible to apply for adjustment of status as a VAWA self-petitioner if you are the victim of extreme cruelty or battery that was committed by your:
- U.S. citizen spouse
- U.S. citizen parent
- U.S. citizen son or daughter
- Lawful permanent resident spouse or former spouse
- Lawful permanent resident parent
Many people choose to work with an immigration attorney to become VAWA self-petitioners because the amount of paperwork required can be tremendous – and unfortunately, it can be confusing, too. You must properly file a Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, and you must be physically present in the United States. You must also be eligible to receive an immigrant visa (that means the U.S. government decides that you’re admissible into the United States, not that you must actually get a visa; you should already have a visa if you’re in the U.S.). You can’t have any bars to adjustment of status, and you merit the favorable exercise of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ discretion. (That simply means that there are more “positives” in your case than there are “negatives.”)
Does the Abuse Have to Be Physical?
You can be a VAWA self-petitioner if your family member was never physically violent to you. You do not need to prove physical abuse to get a VAWA visa or green card. If you’re not sure whether you qualify, you should contact an immigration attorney. We understand that it can be difficult to talk about your situation, but we may be able to help you.
What Are Bars to Adjustment?
Bars to adjustment are conditions that you haven’t met – or that you’ve violated – that legally prevent you from adjusting your status from being in the U.S. as a visitor to being a lawful permanent resident.
However, it’s worth noting that many bars to adjustment, such as not being in lawful immigration status when you file or failing to maintain a lawful status since entering the U.S., don’t apply to VAWA self-petitioners.
If you’re not sure whether you’re allowed to petition the government to adjust your status, you should schedule a free consultation with an immigration attorney for advice. You can also review the USCIS Policy Manual to learn more about bars to adjustment for VAWA self-petitioners; they’re in Chapter 8.
What Are Grounds of Inadmissibility?
Some people are considered inadmissible to the United States. That means the U.S. government says you don’t qualify for any of a variety of reasons.
However, if you’re a VAWA self-petitioner looking for a VAWA visa or green card, two grounds of inadmissibility do not apply to you: being a public charge and entry without inspection.
Ordinarily – for everyone except VAWA self-petitioners, that is – you must not be a public charge. That means you won’t rely on public assistance programs (such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, or other government-issued benefits). Additionally, even if you entered the United States without inspection, which is ordinarily a ground of inadmissibility, you can still apply for a green card under VAWA.
Who’s Eligible for a VAWA Visa?
If you’re not currently in the United States but you have a qualifying familial relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, you’ll need a VAWA visa to enter the country. You can receive an immigrant VAWA visa if you have an approved VAWA self-petition (through Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant), or if you have previously filed a VAWA self-petition that remains pending or is ultimately approved. You can also apply for a VAWA visa at the same time you file a Form I-485.
How to Apply for a VAWA Green Card
Many VAWA self-petitioners choose to work with an immigration attorney to apply for a VAWA green card. That’s because the paperwork can be lengthy and confusing, and because a single mistake can cause a petition to take months longer than it ordinarily would (or worse, could cause USCIS to reject a petition completely).
Your application depends on where you are when you file – whether you’re in the United States or in another country – and whether you already have a Form I-360. If you already have an approved I-360, or if you’ve already filed one and your application is pending, you can file a Form I-485 to adjust your status. However, if you don’t have a Form I-130, you must submit one.
Note: If your abusive family member has already filed a Form I-130 or Form I-485 for you, you must also notify USCIS that you intend to change the petition so that you’re petitioning for yourself. You must do so within 30 days; if you don’t, USCIS may make a decision based on the original petition.
You must also provide certified police and court records of arrests, criminal charges or court convictions if you have them. These can help show USCIS that you are an abused family member. You’ll also need other documentation with your petition, including a copy of your passport page with your nonimmigrant visa, arrival and departure records, and documentation of past or present immigration statuses you’ve held in the United States.
Will My Family Member Find Out I’m a VAWA Self-Petitioner?
The information in your VAWA self-petition will remain confidential. Your family member will not know that you’re filing a VAWA case.
Do You Need to Talk to an Attorney About a VAWA Visa or VAWA Green Card?
If you believe you’re eligible to be a VAWA self-petitioner to get a visa or green card, we may be able to help you. Call our office today to schedule your completely free – and completely confidential – consultation with an experienced professional.