How to File for Adjustment of Status (a Green Card) Based on VAWA

Applicants for lawful permanent residence under the Violence Against Women Act must follow slightly different procedures than others when preparing their application to adjust status.

If you are a foreign-born person who married a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who turned out to be abusive, and whom you can't rely on for help completing your application for a U.S. green card, there's a way to do the entire application yourself.

The first step is to fill out Form I-360 and submit it to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), as described in Application Process for a VAWA Green Card: The I-360 Petition. This is where you prove to USCIS that you have been the victim of battery or extreme cruelty by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to whom you are or have recently been married.

Once you have received USCIS approval of the I-360, you can, if living in the United States, proceed to step two: applying to USCIS for a green card, also known as "adjusting your status." This article will provide details regarding how to do that.

NOTE: When looking for help as a victim of abuse, remember to consider how private your computer, Internet, and phone use are. Consider whether there's anything you can and should do to prevent someone else from learning that you’re doing research or seeking help. Some victims, for instance, might use the same computer or device as the abuser, or might have a phone plan that allows the abuser to see the calls they make and receive. Other kinds of technology, like home security cameras and GPS in phones and cars, can also allow for monitoring by the abuser.

Are You Married to a U.S. Citizen or a U.S. Green Card Holder?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen (not a permanent resident), you can actually combine steps one and two, described above, and submit all your paperwork to USCIS in one package. That's because you are considered an "immediate relative." Many attorneys recommend against this, however.

By doing step one separately, you will ensure that USCIS approves your basic eligibility under VAWA before you go through the time and expense of preparing and filing the adjustment of status materials. And even if you submit everything together, USCIS won't review your adjustment application until it has reviewed and approved the I-360.

If you are married to a U.S. lawful permanent resident, you definitely need to submit Form I-360, and wait not only for its approval, but until a visa becomes available to you—or more technically, until your "priority date" becomes current. That can take two or more years. Only then can you proceed with your green card (adjustment of status) application. See How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current? for details on this part of the process.

Although an approved I-360 does not give you any legal right to remain in the U.S., USCIS has made a policy of granting "deferred action" status to VAWA applicants who are unlawfully present. This basically means they proactively choose not to try to deport you between the time that your I-360 is approved and your adjustment application is processed and decided upon.

Forms and Documents Needed for VAWA-Based Adjustment of Status

You will need to prepare the following:

  • Copy of your I-360 approval notice (unless you're married to a U.S. citizen and filing the two portions of the application concurrently, as described above).
  • USCIS Form I-485, Application for Adjustment of Status (Get line-by-line instructions to filling out Form I-485.)
  • Two photos of you, passport style (it's best to go to a professional for these). Write your name and A number in pencil or felt pen on the back side.
  • Copy of your long-form birth certificate, with English-language translation if it's in another language.
  • Copy of marriage certificate, with English-language translation if it's in another language.
  • Copy of your passport or other identity document, including the page containing your nonimmigrant visa, if any.
  • Copy of your I-94 or other proof of U.S. lawful entry. (But see the next section if you didn't enter the U.S. with permission.)
  • USCIS Form I-864W, Waiver of Affidavit of Support (get line-by-line instructions for filling out Form I-865W).
  • USCIS Form I-693, Report of Medical Examination and Vaccination Record, filled out by a physician from USCIS's approved list, and in an unopened envelope. (See How to Arrange for a Green Card Medical Exam Report (Form I-693).)
  • USCIS Form I-131 for Advance Parole, which is important in case you need to travel outside the U.S. before you have a green card, and there's no fee for this when submitted with an adjustment of status application. (Get line-by-line instructions for filling out Form I-131.)
  • USCIS Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization (optional, if you want a work permit card, and there's no extra fee for this when submitted with an adjustment of status application; your answer to the question about "Eligibility Category" should be (c)(31)). (Get line-by-line instructions for filling out Form I-765.)
  • Documents showing any arrests or criminal history (consult an attorney if you have any).
  • Fees to USCIS. Find the latest on the I-485 page of the USCIS website.

After assembling all this, make a complete copy for your records. It's also a good idea to draft a cover letter, listing the contents of your packet, and explaining that it's a VAWA-based application.

Forms and Documents That VAWA-Based Applicants Need NOT Submit

As a VAWA applicant, you are excused from providing some documents that regular marriage-based green card applicants must. This includes the I-864 Affidavit of Support in which a U.S. spouse would, in an ordinary application, promise to support the immigrant during the first several years of your time in the United States. That's why you must fill in the I-864W waiver form described above, to replace this form. Nor do you need to submit the proof of sponsor's employment or tax returns that would normally accompany the I-864.

The underlying reason for this is an important one: While most applicants for a marriage-based green card must show that they will not become a "public charge" or rely on need-based government assistance if granted U.S. lawful permanent residence (a green card), the law contains an exception, such that VAWA applicants need not go through a public-charge analysis when applying for a green card. (See I.N.A. Section 212(a)(4)(E).))

The requirements regarding providing proof of lawful entry are more complex. Normally, applicants must prove that they entered the U.S. with a visa or other permission before submitting an adjustment application based on marriage. (If you can't adjust status, you can still attend your interview for a green card at an overseas U.S. consulate, but that would, if you've spent 180 days or more in the U.S. unlawfully, expose you to a bar on returning, of many years.)

If you entered illegally, you thus have a hurdle to clear. But as a VAWA self-petitioner, you will not be blocked from adjusting status if you can show that your illegal entry into the United States had a substantial connection to the domestic violence, battery, or extreme cruelty that you experienced with your U.S. spouse. See an attorney for a full analysis of whether you might be able to utilize this exception.

Process for Submitting Your Adjustment of Status Packet to USCIS

Mail your packet of forms and documents to the appropriate address given on the I-485 page of the USCIS website, using certified mail or another delivery service that provides tracking. (You do not want to risk this getting lost, and having no way to prove to USCIS that you sent it.)

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