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

One of the immigration benefits within the law known as the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is that spouses and children who experience abuse by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident petitioner-sponsors.

By , Attorney · Temple University Beasley School of Law

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 (using USCIS Form I-360). This article will help you determine whether you are eligible for a green card under VAWA.

Safety and Privacy Considerations for Victims

Be sure to consider the privacy of your computer, smartphone, or tablet when seeking help online or over the phone. Some victims might use the same device, network, or phone plan as the abuser, allowing the abuser to see the victim's search or call history or otherwise track their activity. Many smart devices contain cameras or GPS tracking that can be used to locate and monitor your whereabouts. An abuser can even slip a small tracking device into your car, bag, pocket, or other belongings without your knowledge. If you're concerned about your privacy or safety, several organizations provide assistance and resources, including National Domestic Violence Hotline and RAINN. Also check out our Resources for Victims of Crime.

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 described below (depending upon whether you are the parent, child, or spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident). Despite the name of the law, VAWA applies equally to both male and female petitioners.

Relatives of nonimmigrants in the United States (people who hold temporary visas) cannot receive a green card under VAWA. Some of them might at least be able to apply for a work permit, however. See Filling Out Form I-765V: Instructions for Abused Spouses With Temporary Visas.

1. 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 an I-360 self-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 U.S. permanent residence or citizenship. If this was because of an incident of domestic violence, you must file the I-360 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 I-360 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 I-360 self-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. Abuse or Battery Occurred During the Relationship

The law requires the self-petitioner to show that they have "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 Marriage With USC or LPR in Good Faith

"Good faith" means that the marriage with your LPR or USC spouse was genuine and bona fide, 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 normal petitioning procedures.

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

In most cases, you must reside in the United States 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. Nor do you have to have lived together in the United States. 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, this could 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 could prevent you from showing good moral character are: a criminal history, being a habitual drunkard, using drugs, illegal gambling, lying under oath, persecuting or harming others, or having committed marriage fraud in the past.

What's Next If You Are Eligible for VAWA Relief?

The first step in applying for a VAWA-based green card is to file Form I-360 and supporting evidence with USCIS and then (either after it's approved or concurrently, depending on your eligibility to adjust status) file an application for a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence), using Form I-485.

An extremely important part of this application process for a green card under VAWA is to demonstrate that you meet the above eligibility criteria, using official documents and statements, including your own sworn statement.

Because the process of applying for VAWA-based immigration benefits is complex, consider getting a full analysis of your situation from an experienced immigration attorney. The attorney can also help you prepare the paperwork and monitor your application as it makes its way through the system.

Talk to a Lawyer

Need a lawyer? Start here.

How it Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you

Talk to an Immigration attorney.

We've helped 85 clients find attorneys today.

How It Works

  1. Briefly tell us about your case
  2. Provide your contact information
  3. Choose attorneys to contact you