In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act—referred to as VAWA—was passed as part of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act. In 2000, 2005 and 2013, VAWA was reauthorized. VAWA offers protection to noncitizens that are the victims of abuse by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouses.
If you are a noncitizen who is married to or divorced (within the last two years) from an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse, you can apply for LPR status. The dedicated Kentucky immigrant lawyers at CF Abogados want to help, and can assist you with the filing of a VAWA petition.
How Does a VAWA Petition Work?
Noncitizen victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse can file a “VAWA self-petition” with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for LPR status without help from an abusive spouse, parent, or adult child. Because the petition can be filed confidentially, someone in an abusive relationship can file for and obtain LPR status while still in a relationship with the abusive person. Once the VAWA petition is approved and the victim obtains LPR status, they are better equipped to leave the abusive relationship.
Someone who obtains a VAWA self-petition receives work authorization and deferred action (i.e., deferring removal as an act of prosecutorial discretion), which then allows the VAWA petitioner to file for LPR status. Unlike the 10,000-applicant limit placed on U-visas granted each fiscal year, there is no limit on the number of VAWA self-petitions that can be granted in any given year.
Who is Eligible to File a VAWA Petition?
Keep in mind that males in abusive relationships are also eligible to file VAWA petitions. VAWA applies equally to victims of either sex.
Those eligible to file VAWA self-petitions include the following:
- Spouses and former spouses of abusive U.S. citizen or LPRs.
- Children of abusive U.S. citizens or LPRs who file before the age of 25.
- Noncitizen spouses whose children have been abused by the child’s U.S. citizen or LPR parent, even if the noncitizen spouse was not abused.
- Noncitizens who have been abused by their U.S. citizen child.
What Are the Requirements for Eligibility to File a VAWA Petition?
There are seven requirements that must be met before you can file a VAWA petition:
- Your abuser must be (or have been) a U.S. citizen or LPR. You can still file if the abuse occurred before your abuser became a U.S. citizen or LPR, or if the abuser loses their U.S. citizen or LPR status. Remember that if your abuser has lost their LPR status because of domestic violence, you must file your petition within two years of the time your abuser lost their LPR status.
- You must be or have been married to your U.S. citizen or LPR abuser, or be the parent of a child who was abused by the U.S. citizen or LPR abuser. If the marriage ends either in divorce or because the abuser dies, you must file your VAWA petition within two years of the divorce or death. A divorce that occurs after you file has no effect on your VAWA petition. However, if you remarry before your VAWA petition is approved, it will be denied.
- Your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse abused you during your marriage. While the law requires you to show that you have “been battered or the subject of extreme cruelty” by the U.S. citizen or LPR, you do not have to show evidence of both. Being hit, punched, slapped, kicked, sexually abused, or otherwise hurt can qualify as battery. Extreme cruelty can include emotional abuse, controlling behaviors, being forcibly detained, and threats to hurt you or have you deported, as well as other mental and emotional abuse.
- You entered the marriage in “good faith,” which means you did not marry your U.S. citizen or LPR for an immigration benefit or status. If your marriage was fraudulent, you will not qualify for VAWA.
- You must reside in the United States, although it is possible to qualify for VAWA if you live outside the United States if the U.S. government employs your abuser or the abuse occurred while you were in the United States.
- You must have lived with your U.S. citizen or LPR abuser for some period of time. Because VAWA does not define what it means to “live with” an abuser, you may still qualify to file a VAWA petition if you only lived with the abuser for a short time and are currently separated.
- You must currently be a person of good moral character and have been for at least the past three years. Habitual drunkenness, drug use, illegal gambling, lying under oath, or persecuting or harming others are examples of behavior that would keep you from being considered a person of good moral character.
You must be able to demonstrate that you meet all of these requirements through written documents or statements.
Is Help Available If You Must File a VAWA Petition?
If you are in this country as a noncitizen and you have been living in an abusive relationship with a U.S. citizen or LPR as a spouse, child or parent, help is available to you. Through VAWA, the U.S. Congress has provided protection to persons who are vulnerable to abuse and exploitation. A noncitizen is particularly susceptible to being abused and taken advantage of.
For help in extricating yourself from an abusive situation and in moving forward with your hopes of becoming an LPR and U.S. citizen, your first step should be contacting the competent Lexington immigration attorneys at CF Abogados. Get in touch with them by calling (859) 838-1413 or by filling out their online contact form today.