Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible

Certain sections of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) provide immigration benefits to eligible spouses, parents, and children who have been victims of abusive U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents. Under VAWA, certain foreign nationals no longer have to rely on their family-member abusers to help them obtain lawful status in the United States and may self-petition for a green card. This article will help you determine whether you are eligible for a green card under VAWA.

Eligibility Requirements for a VAWA Green Card

In order to qualify for a green card under VAWA, you must prove that you meet the requirements (depending upon whether you are the parent, child, or spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident), described below. Despite the name of the law, VAWA applies equally to both male and female petitioners.

1. The Abuser Is (or Was) a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

Your qualifying relative must have been a U.S. citizen (USC) or Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR). You may still file a petition under VAWA if the abuse occurred before the abuser became a citizen or green card holder. In addition, you can file a petition under VAWA even if the abuser loses his or her U.S. permanent residence or citizenship. If your abusive family member loses LPR status because of an incident of domestic violence, you must file the petition within two years of the abuser losing status.

2. You Are (or Were) the Spouse or Child of a LPR or USC Abuser or the Parent of a USC Abuser

VAWA green cards are available to the battered spouses (and ex-spouses) and children of USCs and LPRs. and the battered parents of USC children who are at least 21 years old at the time of the application. Unmarried children under 21 can be included on a battered spouse's (or ex-spouse's) VAWA self-petition.

For ex-spouses, if marriage ends in divorce because of abuse or cruelty, you can still file a VAWA petition within two years of the end of the marriage. Similarly, if the abuser dies, you can file a VAWA petition within two years of the death. If the marriage ends after a petition is filed, then it has no effect on the VAWA petition. However, if you remarry prior to the approval of the VAWA petition, the petition will be denied.

3. There Was Abuse or Battery During the Relationship

The law requires the self-petitioner to show that he or she “has been been battered or has been the subject of extreme cruelty" by the LPR or USC family member. Examples of "battery" include physical violence and sexual abuse. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) considers emotional abuse, controlling behaviors, threats to harm or deport you, forcible detention, and other threatening behaviors to be "extreme cruelty."

In addition, USCIS will consider emotional abuse, controlling behaviors, threats to harm or deport you, forcibly detaining you against your will, and other behaviors used to scare you. This is not an exhaustive list, and USCIS will consider the totality of the circumstances when deciding whether you have been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty.

4. Spouses Must Have Entered the Marriage With the USC or LPR in Good Faith

"Good faith" means that the marriage with your LPR or USC spouse was genuine and not entered into solely in order to obtain a green card. If the marriage is fraudulent, you will not qualify for a green card through VAWA, just as you would not qualify for a green card using the normal petitioning procedures.

5. You Must Reside in the U.S. (With Few Exceptions)

In most cases, you must reside in the U.S. in order to file a petition under VAWA. However, you can file if you are living abroad if the abuser is an employee of the U.S. government or armed services, or the abuse occurred in the United States.

6. You Must Have Lived With the LPR or USC Abuser at Some Point

There is no length of time that you must have lived with the abuser and you do not have to currently be living with the abuser when you file for a green card under VAWA. VAWA does not specify what it means to "live with" the abuser, so even if you only spent a short amount of time in the same house or apartment with the abuser, this may be enough to meet this requirement.

7. You Must Be a Person of Good Moral Character

In order to qualify for relief under VAWA, you need to have been a person of good moral character for at least the past three years. Some things that may prevent you from showing good moral character are: a criminal history, being a habitual drunkard, using drugs, illegal gambling, lying under oath, or persecuting or harming others.

As part of the  application process  for a green card under VAWA, you will need to demonstrate that you meet the above eligibility criteria, using official documents and statements.

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