Abuses That Qualify an Immigrant for VAWA Protection


 Local attorney Michael G. Murray, PA offers a comprehensive guide to abuses that qualify an immigrant for VAWA protection. Call now for more information!

VAWA-Qualifying Abuses for Immigrants


US citizens or green card holders who abuse their victims may threaten their victims with their immigration status to prevent them from seeking needed assistance. This occurs when a victim is either illegally in the country or attempting to obtain permanent residency through them.

If you are a victim of domestic violence in the United States and you are scared to report for fear of deportation, VAWA may protect you from such a fate. A green card petition is usually filed by the spouse or other family member of a citizen or lawful permanent resident. But with a VAWA self-petition, you can get legal status independently.

VAWA Protection


VAWA stands for Violence Against Women Act. VAWA’s primary goals are to prevent violent crime, respond to victims’ needs, learn more about crime, and change public attitudes. As far as immigration is concerned, it provides victims of immigrant domestic violence with an alternative pathway to legal status instead of depending on their abusers for assistance.

To process a VAWA self-petition, you must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

Your application must demonstrate that you qualify for VAWA protection. Therefore, you must submit evidence showing that you qualify. Following the approval of your petition, you will be able to file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, after which you will be able to obtain your green card.

Who Does VAWA Protect?


The VAWA Act does not protect only women. All alien immigrants, regardless of their gender, sexual orientation, or identity, are protected under VAWA. There are, however, specific requirements to qualify for protection under the Act.

The first requirement is to have a ‘qualifying relationship’ with the abuser. It is also necessary for you to have lived with the abuser during the duration of this relationship. Qualifying relationships include:

  •  A spouse of an abusive US citizen or lawful permanent resident. You or your child may be the target of abuse.
  • A birth, step, or adopted child of an abusive US citizen or lawful permanent resident.
  • A parent of an abusive child who is a US citizen.

Secondly, you’ll have to prove that the abuse occurred. In order to qualify for VAWA, you must have been a victim of extreme cruelty or battery. These two terms are broad and encompass most forms of domestic violence.

Lastly, VAWA self-petitioners must prove that they have good moral character. Although the Act does not explicitly define this, it is usually interpreted to mean that you have no serious criminal history. Children under 14 are presumed to be of good moral character without proof.

The specific documents you will need to provide for VAWA protection vary, but an immigration lawyer may be able to help you. For a comprehensive guide on VAWA immigration, consider contacting a VAWA Lawyer.

Extreme Cruelty VAWA


A VAWA victim who has experienced extreme cruelty need not have been physically abused. A person may be abused psychologically or sexually, threatened with violence or deported, forced into prostitution, detained, or harmed mentally by any such activity.


Threatening Harm

These threats include physical and mental harm and could involve people other than the VAWA petitioner. The abuser could threaten to harm the petitioner’s family, property, pets, friends, etc.


Intimidating and Degrading

Intimidation may be in the form of constantly monitoring the victim, exhibiting violent warning signs like clenched fists or stern looks when they try to defend themselves. The abuser could also embarrass or humiliate the victim in public to maintain some form of power over them.

Economic Abuse

The purpose of this kind of abuse is to deliberately undermine the victim’s source of survival. It could include preventing the victim from getting a job, making them financially dependent on the abuser, causing them to lose their job, etc.

Embarrassing and stalking the victim at their workplace also counts as economic abuse since it can affect their source of livelihood by causing them to be fired or quit their job.


Sexual Abuse

Sexual abuse includes every non-consensual sexual activity done to the victim by the abuser or by another person empowered by the abuser. This could mean rape, incest, forced prostitution, and all other forms of sexual assault.


VAWA Emotional Abuse

Emotional abuse is very broad and could cover verbal abuse that affects the mental and emotional well-being of the victim. It also involves emotional manipulation. A common form is excessive jealousy and constantly accusing the victim of wrongdoings to the point that it instills anxiety in them and possibly leads to public humiliation.

Battery or Physical Violence


This encompasses physical abuse, including beating, slapping, punching, etc. You can usually prove this with pictures of injuries, medical records, police reports, and testimonies from friends and family members corroborating the incidence and its effects on you. Evidence that you have stayed in a domestic violence shelter also proves this.


When Can I Apply for Citizenship After VAWA?


 VAWA-eligible individuals can apply for citizenship (naturalization) after three years of legal permanent residency if they have been married to or are the children of abusive United States citizens.

However, VAWA green card holders who are parents of the abuser must wait five years before applying for citizenship by naturalization.

VAWA Approval Rate


According to the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force (LEITF), the USCIS VAWA self-petition approval rate averaged 75% between 1999 and 2011. Additionally, the USCIS disclosed that it received over 15,000 VAWA petitions in 2020. Most were from abused spouses, and the approval rate was very high for that category.


What Happens to the Abuser VAWA?


Reporting abuse by a US citizen to the police may initiate criminal proceedings against the abuser. Nevertheless, the immigration authorities can revoke a green card holder’s legal status if the abuse is verified.

It is important to note that VAWA contains a confidentiality provision that prevents immigration services from disclosing your VAWA application or any related information to a third party, including your abuser. Consequently, your abuser won’t know that immigration proceedings have been initiated under VAWA.

With a good naturalization & citizenship lawyer, you have a confidential relationship and should be able to process your case without your abuser becoming aware of it. They can send and receive documents on your behalf and make necessary arrangements that you might find hard to make if you are still living with the abuser.

If you are unsure whether you qualify for VAWA protection or need help commencing the process, contact the Law Office of Michael G. Murray, P.A. to speak with an experienced visa lawyer today!

Coronavirus update: We are safely open for business! USCIS is still accepting new filings for all applications. Our office is offering virtual consultations for new clients so that you don't have to come to our office in person. Call us to schedule your virtual meeting today.
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