The United States has a family-based immigration process that creates a path for permanent residency for noncitizens when their spouse, parent, or adult child is a citizen. The traditional path requires the citizen family member to petition on behalf of their spouse, parent, or child. However, this can be a problem in a case involving abuse.

In some instances, abusive spouses, parents, or adult children might withhold a petition for residency as a way to control the other person. The Violence Against Women Act, which was passed in 1994, makes it possible for people in such situations to self-petition for permanent residency. Despite the act’s name, protection is available for men and women alike.

Applying for immigrant status under the Violence Against Women Act can be difficult. You must go through a two-step process, complete some complex forms, and present a decent amount of evidence demonstrating the abuse. Working with an immigration lawyer experienced in VAWA cases can help you support the best chances of a successful outcome.

What Are the Two Steps to Apply for a VAWA Green Card?

Applying for a green card under VAWA requires you to complete two steps. First, you have to apply for special immigrant status. Then, you must complete the application to register as a permanent resident.

Starting With Form I-360

To self-petition for special immigrant status under VAWA, you must complete Form I-360, which is the Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant.

This form normally comes with a fee. However, those petitioning for special immigrant status under VAWA do not have to pay the fee.

As a self-petitioner under VAWA, you must submit evidence of abuse. The requirements are substantial, and you can find more details under the section “How do you prove you qualify under VAWA?” below.

Completing Form 1-485

After completing Form I-360, you must wait for a decision from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. If it approves your special immigrant status, you can move on to completing Form I-485, which is the Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

At that point, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will consider your petition and you won’t need any support from your abusive relative. If the application is approved, you receive a green card that is not tied to your relative.

Who Can Apply for Special Immigration Status Under VAWA?

You don’t have to be a woman to be eligible to apply for special immigration status under VAWA. Men can be abused too and can qualify for these protections.

Usually, you have to be living in the United States to petition for special immigrant status under VAWA. Some exceptions are allowed, though, including when the abusive legal resident or citizen works for the United States federal government or is in the armed forces.

You must prove that you are the spouse, child, or parent of a qualifying legal permanent resident or citizen of the United States. You must also prove that the legal permanent resident or citizen in question has abused or is abusing you.

Note that any type of domestic abuse might qualify someone under VAWA. That can include physical, sexual, emotional, mental, or financial abuse.

How Do You Prove You Qualify Under VAWA?

Obviously, you must prove that the abuser is a legal permanent resident or citizen of the United States and that you have a qualifying relationship with them. These are typically straightforward and can be demonstrated with copies of documents such as IDs, marriage licenses, and birth certificates.

However, you must also prove the nature of your relationship with the person, and the requirements can depend on what that relationship is. For example, if you have an abusive spouse, you have to show that the marriage began in good faith. That means you have to show that you didn’t marry the person knowing they were abusive so you could then use the VAWA process to get your green card.

You’ll also have to show that you lived with the abuser and provide evidence that the abuse occurred. Some people think this means you need a police report. While you can certainly use a police report about domestic violence as evidence, it’s not required and other types of evidence can be used.

On top of all the evidence described above, you also have to demonstrate that you are not involved in criminal activity. You do that with a criminal background check, which must be done within a certain time period before you petition for special immigration status.

Working With an Immigration Attorney to Apply for a VAWA Green Card

Unfortunately, when you’re seeking special immigration status under VAWA, you have the responsibility of proving abuse and all the other details discussed above. This can be stressful, especially when you’re trying to get out of an abusive situation.

Speaking with an immigration attorney experienced with cases under the Violence Against Women Act can be a good first step. Call Landerholm Immigration, A.P.C. today to find out more about your options and what documents you might need to apply for special immigrant status under VAWA.