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.

By , J.D. · University of Washington School of Law

If you are a foreign-born person married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who, instead of helping you apply for a U.S. green card, has been cruel and abusive, there is a way to do the entire application yourself. You'll find help from a law known as VAWA (the Violence Against Women Act). We'll discuss the entire process here, including:

  • legal requirements for a VAWA-based green card
  • making sure you qualify as the spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
  • preparing or using existing approval of a visa self-petition (Form I-360)
  • whether spouses of U.S. citizens should file the I-360 concurrently with an adjustment of status (AOS) application
  • waiting period faced by spouses of lawful permanent residents, based on "priority date"
  • gathering forms and documents for an adjustment of status application
  • knowing which documents you can leave out, and finally
  • submitting your AOS application to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

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.

Who Is Eligible for VAWA-Based Lawful Permanent Residence?

In order to obtain a green card under VAWA, you must show that:

  • your abuser is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR)
  • you are (or were) that person's spouse (or child or parent)
  • the abuse or battery happened during the marriage
  • you entered the marriage in good faith (you weren't committing fraud to get a green card)
  • you live in the U.S.
  • you lived With the abuser at some point, and
  • you have good moral character.

For details on all these requirements, read Green Card Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA): Who Is Eligible.

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

Eligibility for a VAWA-based green card is founded on making sure that you are married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), and that you can prove this. If that person has already filed immigration paperwork for you (such as when a U.S. citizen requests a K-1 visa allowing a foreign national fiancé to come to the United States to get married, or when a U.S. citizen or LPR files an I-130 immigration petition based on marriage), you might know this information already; and better yet, U.S. immigration officials will know it too.

A U.S. citizen will likely have a passport or birth certificate proving status. An LPR should have a green card. Of course, searching that person's files could be difficult in an abusive situation. You'll find suggestions in Proving Your VAWA Case: Evidence to Submit With I-360 Self-Petition.

Filing the I-360 Visa Petition

The first step for a self-petitioner in getting a VAWA-based green card is to fill out Form I-360 and submit it to 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 married.

There is no fee to file this as a VAWA self-petitioner. The government understands that you're in a difficult situation, no longer able to rely on your U.S. citizen sponsor.

Once you have received USCIS approval of the I-360, you can, if living in the United States, proceed to applying to USCIS for a green card, also known as "adjusting your status" (AOS).

Should Spouse of U.S. Citizen Hold Off and File Form I-360 Concurrently With AOS Application?

If you are married to a U.S. citizen (not a permanent resident), you can actually combine steps and submit all your paperwork (I-360 and I-485 AOS materials) to USCIS in one package. That's because you are considered an "immediate relative." Many attorneys recommend against this, however.

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

Spouse of U.S. Permanent Residents Face a Waiting Period

If you are married to a U.S. lawful permanent resident, you definitely need to submit Form I-360 to USCIS before moving forward. In fact, you will need to not only wait not only for USCIS's approval, but then wait until a visa becomes available to you—or more technically, until your "priority date" becomes current to move forward with your application. See How Long Is the Wait for Your Priority Date to Become Current? for details on this part of the process.

That waiting period can take two or more years. However, if your LPR spouse already filed a Form I-130 for you, and it was approved by USCIS, you can keep your old priority date.

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. It also means you can apply for a work permit (EAD); see instructions in Filling Out Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization. You'll need to enter category (c)(14) on the form.

Once your priority date is "current," the next step is to file a green card (adjustment of status) application, as described next.

What Forms and Documents Are Needed for VAWA-Based AOS?

To adjust status and get a green card, you will need to prepare the following:

  • Either a copy of your I-360 approval notice from USCIS or a new Form I-360 (if 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 word-for-word English-language translation if it's in another language.
  • Copy of marriage certificate, with word-for-word English-language translation if it's in another language.
  • Copy of your foreign passport or other identity document, including the page containing your nonimmigrant visa to the United States, if any.
  • If possible, copy of your I-94 or other proof of U.S. lawful entry. But don't stress about this. If you didn't enter the U.S. with permission; in other words, entered illegally, you can still (unlike other marriage-based applicants) use the AOS procedure.
  • USCIS Form I-864W, Waiver of Affidavit of Support (get line-by-line instructions for filling out Form I-864W).
  • 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.)
  • 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. (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; 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).

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.

After assembling all this, make a complete copy for your records before submitting.

No Filing Fees for VAWA Applicants

There are no fees to file the various VAWA-related applications with USCIS as of April 1, 2024. You will, however, be responsible for other costs, such as those of obtaining photographs (usually around $15) and medical exams and vaccinations (usually around $300).

Forms and Documents That VAWA-Based Applicants Need Not Submit for AOS

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).))

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.)

Some weeks after, you should get a USCIS receipt notice on Form I-797C. Some weeks or months after that, you'll be called in for biometrics (fingerprinting and other information collection). The next and final step is to attend an adjustment interview at a local USCIS office, which it will schedule for you.

How Long Is USCIS's Processing Time for VAWA Adjustment?

Buckle up, this is going to be a lengthy process. The U.S. government is notoriously slow with immigration processing, and the backup results in waits of years for approval. Learn more in How Worried Should You Be If Your Immigration Case Is Seriously Delayed?.

Should You Hire an Immigration Attorney?

Attorneys can be a huge help in preparing paperwork and documentation and drafting legal arguments to help convince USCIS that you deserve VAWA relief. If your income is low, see How to Get a Lawyer to Represent You Pro Bono (Free) in Immigration Court Removal Proceedings.

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