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VAWA Domestic Violence, T-Visas, U-Visas

VAWA green card 

If your fairy tale wedding to a U.S. citizen or Green Card holder ends in disaster and that spouse gradually turns into an abusive monster, there are laws in place to protect immigrant men and women victims of battery and domestic violence.

Green card for VAWA self-petitioner

Under the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), you may be eligible to become a lawful permanent resident (get a Green Card) if you are the victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by:

  • A U.S. citizen spouse or former spouse;
  • A U.S. citizen parent;
  • A U.S. citizen son or daughter;
  • A lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse (Green Card holder spouse) or former spouse; or
  • An LPR/ Green Card Holder parent.

The abused alien victim may file for immigration protection without the assistance of the abusive family member.  

What USCIS form do I use to file for a green card as a battered spouse?

To file for battered spouse status, Form I-360 Self-Petition is used and may be filed together with Form I-485 for Adjustment of Status for green card application.

These two forms may be filed together and also be filed together with Form I-765 Application for Employment Authorization.

My U.S. citizen spouse never hit me, but treated me very badly, is this enough to file under VAWA protections?

Domestic violence is sometimes confused with purely physical violence or abuse.   But this is incorrect because spousal abuse within the context of immigration law may be physical, emotional and financial (or just emotional, or even just financial) and still will qualify an alien for VAWA approval. 

Abuse may happen in same-sex marriage and hetero marriage and is treated the same for purposes of VAWA.

There may not even be a police report or arrest records for the abuser, but with other strong evidence, there is a chance to be approved for the I-360 VAWA Self-Petition.

What do I have to prove to be eligible from me I-360 VAWA self-petition?

There are 4 elements to VAWA Relief Eligibility:

  1. Proof of Bona Fide Marriage or Parent/Child Relationship of the abusive U.S. Citizen or LPR and the alien.
  2. Proof of the abuser’s U.S. immigration status (can be a copy of his naturalization certificate, green card or U.S. passport).
  3. Proof of abuse, battery, and extreme cruelty.
  4. Proof of alien’s good moral character.

 Bona Fide Marriage

The self-petitioner must show she entered into marriage with the US citizen or LPR for love and to create a family together and NOT for immigration benefits. This kind of marriage is called a bona fide marriage in the US immigration legal system.  Proofs of the bona fide marriage (sometimes referred to as bona fides) may include joint tax returns filed with the abusive spouse, joint lease agreements, joint deeds, joint utility bills, joint bank statements and credit card statements, joint travel itineraries, joint insurance policies, wills and life insurance policies, joint invoices or receipts for significant purchases, family photos, and witness letters.

Proof of Battery or Extreme Cruelty

To prove eligibility for VAWA, a self-petitioner must demonstrate that she suffered abuse by the hands of the USC or LPR, and that usually includes police reports, arrest reports, orders of protection, evidence of threats, evidence of harassment, evaluation reports by treating medical professionals, counselor or psychologist, witness statements, and other relevant evidence.

Good Moral Character

Good moral character can be shown by submitting a police clearance or good conduct certificate from every place where petitioner lived for longer than 6 months in the last 3 years, letters from charity organizations where petitioner attended, volunteers or contributes to, or letters from religious organizations showing that the petitioner attends services and does  good deeds.

What are some benefits of filling under VAWA:

  • I-360 VAWA approval allows the self-petitioner to file for a green card without the abusive spouse, and to receive a green card even when the self-petitioner entered U.S. without a visa or without an inspection, and even in certain cases of having prior orders of removal or prior deportation.
  • Children included in a self-petitioner’s I-360 VAWA form preserve their status as “child” under immigration laws even if they age out during the process before the approval.
  • VAWA may be used to remove conditions on lawful permanent residence and file an I-751 Petition to Remove conditions with waiver of the joint filing requirements.
  • I-360 VAWA approval provides applicants with a “deferred action” status making them non-deportable or non-removable from U.S.  This status also allows the self-petitioner to receive an Employment Authorization after approval and receive a Social Security number and a driver’s license.
  • Cancellation of Removal exists for victims of domestic battery by US citizen or LPR spouses or adult children.
  • VAWA Self-petitioners do not have to follow Affidavit of Support immigration regulations or the public charge laws. They are exempt and use the I-864W form when filing for adjustment of status.
  • You never have to have contact with or live with your abuser again.

Removal of conditions on green card based on VAWA extreme cruelty waiver of joint filing requirements

What happens when you have a 2-year conditional green card and your spouse turns into a monster?

  • US Immigration law allows the filing of the I-751 Petition to Remove Conditions on Lawful Permanent Residence (filing for permanent 10-year green card) by the conditional resident without their spouse in situations where the conditional resident can show that she entered the marriage in good faith, to create a family together, but can no longer live with the petitioner spouse because the petitioner spouse is abusing the applicant or the children.
  • The legal standard is to show extreme cruelty by the US citizen spouse.
  • Both men and women may apply to remove conditions on their green card under VAWA abuse laws.
  • The abuse may be emotional or physical or both.
  • Financial abuse also makes the applicant eligible to apply for VAWA protections.

What if it has not yet been 2 years since I received my 2-year conditional green card?

  • If your husband or wife abused you and your kids during your marriage, but it has not been 2 years since you received your green card, you may file the I-751 Petition early based on VAWA, without awaiting the full 2 years.

What evidence should I collect for filing the I-751 Petition based on VAWA abuse waiver?

  • Before filing for the VAWA abuse I-751 Petition, you must build up your evidence: a) the evidence of the good faith marriage (joint leases, bills, tax returns, photos, witness statements and other joint documents); b)  the evidence of abuse, and c) evidence of your good moral character.
  • Abuse evidence includes police reports, orders of protection, court restraining orders, proof of the abuser’s jail time and convictions due to the abuse,  evaluations of the conditional resident  by a licensed social worker, psychologist or psychiatrist, religious organization letters, and witness statements.  Divorce based on cruel or abuse treatment is also important.
  • If you ever spent time in a homeless shelter or had to be admitted with your injuries to the Emergency Room or had to be seen by a doctor or a hospital these records make your case very strong.
  • Proof of good moral character is also important.  Positive moral character may include payment of taxes (tax returns or IRS tax transcripts), a letter from a religious organization or cleric to show you attend religious services and are part of a religious congregation, letters of volunteering or charity work, contributions to charitable organizations in the form of time/work or money.

USCIS will consider your statement and all the evidence you submitted for your VAWA based I-751 and may interview you for the issuance of a permanent (unconditional) green card.  If your case is well documented and all the information submitted (addresses, time periods, etc.) matches data you listed in all earlier USCIS filings, you will succeed in removing conditions on your lawful permanent residence on your own, without your abusive spouse.

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