Domestic Violence Victims Applying for Citizenship
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provides protection for foreign nationals who suffered from domestic violence in the U.S. You may be able to get legal permanent resident status in the U.S. by filing a self-petition on Form I-360 or submitting a VAWA waiver with Form I-751. VAWA also serves as a basis for cancellation of removal, which is a form of relief from deportation. VAWA protections apply not only to battered spouses but also to children who suffered from domestic abuse.
Effect of VAWA
VAWA only affects the residency requirement. Foreign nationals seeking citizenship must still meet all other naturalization requirements.
In addition to these pathways to legal status in the U.S., VAWA provides a shorter route to citizenship. A foreign national spouse or child of a U.S. citizen who abused them may be able to apply for citizenship within three years of getting their VAWA green card, instead of waiting for the standard five years. If a legal permanent resident perpetrated the abuse, though, the foreign national must wait for five years unless the perpetrator becomes a citizen. Filling out the application for citizenship can be confusing because Form N-400 does not provide a specific box for VAWA eligibility. The foreign national would need to check the box for “other” and mention VAWA in their explanation. They might also submit a statement that establishes their eligibility on this basis, together with USCIS documents related to VAWA. They still need to meet the other requirements for citizenship. VAWA simply affects the residency requirement.
Citizenship for Spouses and Children of U.S. Citizens
A foreign national spouse can apply for citizenship if USCIS approved Form I-360 or Form I-751 (or if they received cancellation of removal based on VAWA), and they have been a legal permanent resident of the U.S. for at least three years. In contrast to other applicants for citizenship who married U.S. citizens, they do not need to show that they are still living with the U.S. citizen spouse. You can even apply for citizenship if you have divorced the abusive spouse, or if they have died.
A foreign national child of an abusive U.S. citizen can apply for citizenship within three years if their legal permanent resident status was based on their relationship to the perpetrator. You can apply after the death of the perpetrator, and you can even apply if the perpetrator is no longer a citizen. You will not need to meet the legal definition of a “child” under immigration laws. In other words, you can be 21 or older, and you can be married. As with any other applicant for naturalization, you must be at least 18.
VAWA Is Not Limited to Women
VAWA applies to any spouse or child of a perpetrator of domestic violence, regardless of gender.
Citizenship for Spouses and Children of Legal Permanent Residents Who Become Citizens
Sometimes a perpetrator of domestic violence who has a green card will become a U.S. citizen at some time after the abuse. If this happens, a spouse or child who was a victim of the abuse can potentially apply for citizenship after three years of legal permanent resident status based on their relationship to the abuser. (However, you would need to wait until the abusive spouse or parent has held citizenship for three years, so this shortcut often will not be available.) The same rules apply in these cases as for spouses and children of U.S. citizens.