Short Hills VAWA Consultants
Compassionate and Comprehensive Advocacy
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) aims to protect noncitizen victims of child abuse, elder abuse, and domestic violence perpetrated by U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. Victims who suffer “extreme cruelty” may qualify to self-petition for green cards, which confer lawful permanent residency, without the cooperation of their abusive partner, parent, or adult child. Individuals with green cards can eventually apply for permanent citizenship.
Our Short Hills VAWA consultants at Worldwide Legal Services are committed to supporting individuals in these difficult positions. If you have been the victim of abuse, we can leverage our over 50 years of combined professional experience to explore all of your options. We never give up and will fight to protect your future in the United States.
What Is a Self-Petition?
In family immigration, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent “sponsors” a qualifying family member for a green card. This requires the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident to file a petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. In other words, to facilitate family immigration under normal circumstances, you need the cooperation of the current citizen or lawful permanent resident.
When a familial relationship becomes abusive, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident may not be willing to cooperate. They may also threaten to withdraw their petition or use the filing of a new petition as an incentive to facilitate abusive behavior.
Under VAWA, a qualifying family member in an abusive relationship with a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can “self-petition.” This means they can file the petition on their own behalf and do not need the abusive family member to sponsor them. In practice, self-petitioning allows victims to pursue lawful permanent residency without the cooperation or permission of their abuser.
Who Can Self-Petition Under VAWA?
Despite the law’s title, VAWA is not available exclusively to women. Men and individuals of any gender identity are also potentially eligible for relief. Victims of elder abuse, child abuse, and domestic violence may be eligible to self-petition for green cards if the abuse was perpetrated by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.
You can self-petition for a green card through VAWA if you are:
- The child of an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident if you file before turning 25
- The parent of a child that is abused by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent
- The spouse or ex-spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident
- The spouse of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who abuses their child
To obtain a green card, self-petitioners must prove that they have “good moral character,” which generally involves not having been convicted of any serious crime. Self-petitioners will also need to demonstrate that they shared a residence with their abuser, and if the relationship involved a marriage, that the relationship was entered in good faith.
Abused spouses do not need to avoid getting a divorce to protect their odds of obtaining a green card. Recently divorced spouses can qualify to self-petition so long as the application is filed within 2 years of the divorce. Individuals in these circumstances will also need to demonstrate a direct link between the abuse and the divorce.
Similarly, abused spouses can generally self-petition to remove conditions from their green cards. Because USCIS remains concerned with marriage fraud, green cards issued to spouses in newer marriages are “conditional” and expire in 2 years. If the relationship becomes abusive, a spouse does not need to “wait out” the 2 years. Individuals can self-petition without the cooperation of their abusive spouse if they can provide evidence of “extreme cruelty” and demonstrate their marriage was authentic.
No matter your circumstances, our Short Hills VAWA consultants at Worldwide Legal Services have the tools and resources to help. We can review all elements of your case and recommend how best to move forward.