In 1994, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was introduced in an effort to give noncitizens the ability to pursue immigration protections should they suffer from abuse or exploitation. Previously, immigrants pursuing marriage-based visas were forced to endure the potential for domestic violence in order to guarantee the cooperation of their abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse.
Other noncitizens working in the U.S. while undocumented were meanwhile compelled not to report any exploitative behavior of colleagues or management for fear of reprisal.
VAWA and similar legislative efforts have been augmented and expanded several times since its original introduction, extending permanent immigration benefit options to those who have been the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, violent crimes, or human trafficking.
Our Orlando VAWA lawyers at Angel Law Firm, PL can help any noncitizen who has suffered abuse in the United States explore their immigration options. We are familiar with the policies and procedures involved in these unique situations and will do everything possible to get you the protection that you need.
Using the VAWA “Self-Petition”
Many standard United States immigration procedures involving “filing jointly” with a sponsoring loved one to obtain a corresponding benefit. This dynamic can create unfortunate scenarios where a noncitizen is effectively “trapped” into not upsetting their sponsoring loved one, who may choose to improperly take advantage of the situation.
VAWA enables victims of domestic violence, child abuse, or elder abuse to “self-petition” for family-based visas. By self-petitioning, victims avoid having to involve their abusive partners, parents, or adult children. Noncitizen spouses may also divorce their abusive partners and still self-petition so long as they file within 2 years of the legal separation. They will need to demonstrate that the domestic violence or abuse led to the divorce.
There are no limits to the number of VAWA self-petitions granted annually. However, recipients are still subject to the same procedural processing times consistent with the visa they were originally seeking. This means that unmarried children under the age of 21 and spouses of U.S. citizens will be considered “immediate relatives” and face no additional wait. Other family members will operate as “family preference relatives” and will need to wait for a visa to become available.
Successful VAWA self-petitions ultimately allow noncitizens to obtain lawful permanent residency. While waiting for their green card, beneficiaries will be granted deferred action and work authorization, allowing them to continue living and working in the U.S. until their case has been adjudicated.
In order to qualify, VAWA self-petitioners will need to establish:
- Their relationship to the abuser
- The immigration status of the abuser (i.e. proving that they are a citizen or lawful permanent resident)
- Residency with the abuser
- Good moral character
- That the marriage was entered into in good faith if the self-petitioning involves a marriage visa
If you have suffered abuse from a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or adult child, our team can help you explore your immigration options. We can determine if you qualify, gather the necessary evidence, and walk you through the self-petitioning process.
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