VAWA Petitions for Foreign Nationals Affected by Domestic Violence & Seeking Legal Status in the U.S.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a United States federal law under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) that allocates funding for the investigation and prosecution of violent crimes against women. The law essentially allows battered non-citizens to self-petition for, or independently seek, legal status in the United States.
Despite its name, VAWA is not exclusively for women. In fact, the law also protects men. For example, an abusive same-sex marriage can be the basis for a VAWA case. The legal standard does not differ based on the gender of the VAWA applicant.
Whom Does VAWA Protect?
VAWA is not limited to women. It applies to any spouse or child who has experienced domestic violence perpetrated by a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident. It also applies to parents of perpetrators when the perpetrators are 21 years of age or older.
The requirements for an immigration case under VAWA will vary depending on the specific facts of the case. In some cases, VAWA is applicable to spouses, parents, or children who have been abused or battered by a U.S. citizen or spouses and children who have been abused or battered by a legal permanent resident. In instances of marriage-based VAWA petitions, a spouse must show the following:
That the abusive spouse is a permanent resident or U.S. citizen;
That the abusive spouse was legally married to the individual applying under VAWA;
That the individual applying for VAWA resided with the abusive spouse;
That the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse abused the individual applying for VAWA over the course of the marriage;
That the marriage was entered into in good faith and was not sought simply for immigration benefits; and
That the individual applying for VAWA has good moral character.
As mentioned earlier, an individual using the marriage-based VAWA petition must show by “clear and convincing evidence” that the relationship was entered into in good faith. A petitioner can show this by producing documents such as a joint lease, bills, tax returns, insurance policies, photographs, and more.
The filing process begins with completing Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, and attaching all of the supporting documentation. If an individual is outside the United States at the time of filing the self-petition, he or she may file Form I-360 in certain circumstances. These include if the abusive person is an employee of the U.S. government, the abusive person is a member of the army or another branch of the armed services, or the abused person was subjected to battery or extreme cruelty in the U.S.
The amount of time that it takes for a VAWA application to be approved will vary in each situation. USCIS furnishes typical VAWA case processing times on its website, but this is simply a general time frame and may not apply to your specific case.
Obtaining an EAD
An applicant who checks the appropriate box on Form I-360 requesting an initial employment authorization document (EAD) need not file a separate Form I-765 if their Form I-360 is approved. Derivative children must file Form I-765 for an EAD.
If an individual has an approved Form I-360, he or she can apply to work in the U.S. Additionally, if an individual’s I-360 is approved and he or she has been placed in deferred action, he or she is eligible to apply to work in the United States. In order to apply to work, the individual has to file the Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. If a person has children listed on the Form I-360 whose statuses are also approved, they can apply for work authorization as well.