The next step for many green card holders who were approved for lawful U.S. residency based upon a showing that they were the subject of abuse and therefore deserved relief under the Violence Against Women Act ("VAWA") is to work their way toward U.S. citizenship (naturalization). In fact, in some cases, they can apply for citizenship after three years instead of the usual five.
If you filed a VAWA self-petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) on Form I-360, or a VAWA-based abuse waiver when applying to go from conditional to permanent residence using Form I-751, or received VAWA-based cancellation of removal, you may take advantage of this three-year rule if you were the abused spouse or child of a U.S. citizen and meet the additional criteria described below.
If, however, you are married to a lawful permanent resident (LPR), not a citizen, then you must wait the normal five years as a green card holder before applying for naturalization, unless, in some situations, your abusive spouse or parent naturalizes.
If you are a battered spouse of a U.S. citizen who was granted approval of an I-360 or I-751 or cancellation of removal on that basis, and you have been an LPR for at least three years, you can apply for U.S. citizenship now, without having to show that you are still residing with the citizen spouse. (This assumes you meet the other citizenship eligibility criteria.)
In addition, it does not matter if you are still married to the U.S. citizen or have gotten divorced. You can also apply after three years as an LPR if your abusive U.S. spouse has died.
This is an important benefit, because while the non-VAWA spouses of U.S. citizens can also apply for naturalization after three years with a green card, they must prove that their spouse is still alive and they are still married to and living with the U.S. citizen.
If you received your green card as the abused child of a U.S. citizen, you can apply for naturalization after three years as an LPR. You can apply even if the abusive parent is no longer a U.S. citizen or has died.
Furthermore, when you apply for naturalization under these circumstances, you no longer need to meet the definition of a child, so it's okay if you are now over 21 and married. However, like all naturalization applicants, you do have to be over 18 years old.
If you were approved for U.S. permanent residence based on being the spouse or child of an abusive LPR, and that LPR naturalizes (becomes a U.S. citizen), then you may also be able to take advantage of the three-year rule. You will need to wait to apply for U.S. citizenship until not only have you spent three years as a VAWA green card holder, but your abusive spouse or parent has been a U.S. citizen for three years, as well.
Otherwise, the same rules mentioned above apply, as though you had obtained your VAWA green card approval based on your relationship to a U.S. citizen. For example, it does not matter whether your marriage is still ongoing at the time you apply for naturalization.
The instructions and eligibility guidelines for naturalization on the USCIS website do not clearly explain that VAWA-approved spouses and children of abusive U.S. citizens can apply for naturalization after three years as LPRs. This can be confusing for both applicants and USCIS itself, which sometimes forgets that this ground of eligibility exists.
Moreover, the naturalization application Form N-400 does not have a specific box to check to establish eligibility on this basis.
Therefore, when completing USCIS Form N-400, on Part 1, Information About Your Eligibility, check box E for "Other." As an explanation, write "Have been an LPR for at least three years (VAWA, I.N.A § 319(a))."
You might also want to attach a separate statement about how you qualify on this basis and copies of a USCIS memorandum discussing the issue: Clarification of Classes of Applicants Eligible for Naturalization under Section 319(a).
Realize also that you will still have to meet the other requirements for naturalization. For example, you will have to pass the civics and English tests and meet the physical presence requirements.
Talk to an experienced attorney for a full analysis of your eligibility for U.S. citizenship and assistance with preparing your application.
Need a lawyer? Start here.