If you are a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault or stalking by a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent or child, you may be eligible for immigration relief under the Violence Against Women Act of 1994. VAWA is a federal law that provides housing and legal protection for survivors of these crimes.
What is VAWA?
VAWA is a law that was passed in 1994 to address the problem of violence against women and their children. It has been reauthorized several times since then, most recently in 2022. One of the provisions of VAWA is that it allows certain noncitizens who have been abused by their citizen or LPR family members to apply for immigration benefits without relying on their abusers.
This means that you can file a petition for yourself and your children (if they are also abused or would face extreme hardship if separated from you) without your abuser’s knowledge or consent. This way, you can escape the abuse and pursue a safe and independent life in the United States.
How can VAWA help me stay in the United States and become a citizen?
If you are eligible for VAWA, you can file a self-petition (Form I-360) with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. This form asks for information about your relationship with your abuser, the abuse you suffered and your eligibility for immigration benefits. You will also need to provide evidence to support your claim, such as police reports, medical records, court orders, affidavits from witnesses and other documents.
If USCIS approves your self-petition, you will be granted deferred action status, which means that you will not be deported and you can apply for work authorization (Form I-765). You will also be placed on a waiting list for a green card (permanent residence), which may take several years depending on your country of origin and the availability of visas. Once you receive your green card, you can apply for naturalization (citizenship) after three years, if you are married to a U.S. citizen, or after five years, if you are not.
Can I bring my parents with me on a VAWA visa?
Unfortunately, no. VAWA only allows you to include your children under 21 years old who are unmarried and living with you as derivatives of your self-petition. You cannot include your parents or other relatives in your VAWA application. However, if your parents are also victims of abuse by a United States citizen or LPR relative, they may be able to file their own self-petitions under VAWA. Alternatively, if your parents are already in the United States legally, they may be able to adjust their status through other means.