Am I Experiencing Abuse?
What Can SAWERA Do For Me?
Domestic Violence Resources
For more specific information on immigration law please visit the Women’s Law website.
What is VAWA?
VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act. It was passed by Congress in 1994 that, among other things, created special routes to immigration status for certain battered non-citizens. These provisions were updated in 2000 in the Battered Immigrant Women’s Protection Act.
How can I get lawful permanent residency under VAWA?
Under VAWA, there are two ways for women who are married to US citizens or lawful permanent residents to get their residency. If you have never been married to your abuser, or if your abuser is not a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, then you do not qualify for residency under VAWA. However, you may qualify for a U-visa. For more information, see U-Visa Laws and Procedures.
The first way to get residency through VAWA is called “self-petitioning.” Instead of depending upon your spouse to apply for your residency with CIS, you can apply on your own for yourself and your children. Your spouse plays no role in the process and does not have to know you are applying.
Because the law is complicated, before you go to the CIS, you should first consult a shelter worker, immigration attorney, or a domestic violence or immigration organization for assistance. You will find a list of local domestic violence organizations on the State and Local Programs page for your state under the Where to Find Help tab at the top of this page.
The second way to obtain residency under VAWA is called “cancellation of removal.” This is available to you only if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation proceedings. If you qualify for cancellation, the court may waive your deportation and grant you lawful permanent residency. However, because you must be in deportation proceedings before you can apply, be certain to see an immigration attorney before proceeding.
If you don’t seem to qualify under VAWA, there may be other ways you can get legal status. The best thing to do is to discuss your situation with an immigration or domestic violence advocate. You should do this before calling the CIS.
What if I am divorced, widowed, or remarried? Am I still eligible to self-petition?
It depends. Certain changes don’t affect your eligibility to self-petition:
If you are a spouse of a US citizen, you can self-petition up to two years after the death of your spouse.
If you are a spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can self-petition up to two years after divorce, if there is a connection between the divorce and the abuse.
If you are a spouse or child of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident, you can self-petition up to two years after the US citizen or lawful permanent resident loses immigration status, if it is related to domestic violence.
As long as you file your self-petition while your children are unmarried and under the age of 21, then they do not age out. (Would they still be eligible to self-petition up to age 25 so long as child abuse was at least one central reason for the filing delay?)
Getting remarried after your self-petition is approved does not change the approval status of your petition.