Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)
In 1994, Congress passed legislation to protect and assist victims of domestic violence and sexual assault regardless of their immigration status. The reauthorization of the legislation in The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 improved upon services for all victims of domestic violence, including Native Americans, immigrants, college students, and LGBT victims.
Certain battered spouses, children, or parents can file petitions for themselves with USCIS, which if approved, would allow for filing applications for permanent residency in the United States. Under VAWA, victims of violence can file petitions safely with USCIS without the abuser’s knowledge. This allows for victims to be able to seek independence and safety from their abusers without the abusers’ knowledge.
To be eligible to file a petition under VAWA, an applicant must meet the following requirements:
- Spouse: A spouse may file if she/he is, or was, the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. A spouse may also file as an abused spouse if her/his child has been abused by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse. Any unmarried children under the age of 21 may be included on the petition, if they have not filed for themselves.
- Parent: A parent that has been abused by a U.S. citizen son or daughter may file.
- Child: An abused child under the age of 21, unmarried, and who has been abused by her/his U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent may file. Any children may also be included on the petition. An abused child may also file for herself/himself as a child after the age of 21, but before age 25, if she/he can demonstrate that the abuse was the main reason for the delay in filing.
Eligibility Requirements for a Spouse
A spouse must have a qualifying spousal relationship:
- the abused victim is married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser; OR
- the marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the two (2) years prior to filing the petition; OR
- the abusing spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the two (2) years prior to filing of the petition due to an incident of domestic violence; OR
- the abused spouse believed that she/he was legally married to an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of the abusive spouse.
- Have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse:
- have been abused by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse; OR
- your child has been subjected to battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. or permanent resident spouse.
- Entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely to obtain immigration benefits.
- The abused spouse resided with the abusing spouse.
- Have good moral character.
Eligibility Requirements for a Child
A child must have a qualifying parent/child relationship:
- as a child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser; OR
- as the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence.
- Have suffered battery/extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent.
- Have resided with your abusive parent.
- Have good moral character. A child less than 14 years of age is presumed to be a person of good moral character.
Eligibility Requirements for a Parent
- A parent must have a qualifying parent/son or daughter relationship:
- as the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who is at least 21 years of age when the self-petition is filed; OR
- as the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence; OR
- as the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who was at least 21 years of age and who died within two (2) years prior to filing the self-petition.
- Have suffered battery or extreme cruelty by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
- Have resided with the abusive son or daughter.
- Have good moral character.
In 2000, Congress passed the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act. The U visa category is for individuals who are victims of certain criminal acts, have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of the crime(s), and are helpful to law enforcement in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime(s). An annual limit of 10,000 U visas may be granted every year to the principal petitioners.
To be eligible to file for U visa status:
- You must be the victim of qualifying criminal activity.
- You have to possess information regarding the criminal activity.
- You must have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of having been a victim of criminal activity.
- You have been, are, or are likely to be helpful to the investigation or prosecution of the criminal activity.
- The criminal activity occurred in or violated laws of the United States.
- You have received certification from a federal, state, or local law enforcement authority that certifies your helpfulness in the investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal activity.
- You are admissible to the United States. If you are not admissible, you may apply for a waiver.
An approved U visa petition allows for an individual to receive a four (4) year work authorization and can lead to permanent residence after three (3) years in valid U visa status. Certain qualifying family members/relatives may also be eligible for derivative U visas.