How VAWA Works for Immigrants

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a crucial piece of legislation that protects victims of domestic violence. Despite its name, VAWA is not exclusive to women, nor does it apply only to current U.S. residents. The legislation covers all victims of domestic abuse, including all genders, races, and sexualities; it also covers immigrants living in the U.S. under an abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR), as well as those whose entry into the U.S. is dependent on an abusive individual.

Under VAWA, immigrants who previously had few legal protections from domestic violence can now seek relief from abuse by pursuing eligibility for a Green Card. In doing so, they can become lawful permanent residents of the country independent of any help or petition from an abusive partner or family member.

This Act has evolved over the years, and it continues to develop as the country moves into a new era of politics, economic troubles, and reform.

The History of VAWA

The original bill for the Violence Against Women Act was created in 1994 and was a landmark piece of legislation. VAWA was the first piece of federal legislation to acknowledge sexual assault and domestic violence as crimes. It also used national resources to fuel communities around the country by fostering a grassroots response to combat violence.

VAWA is up for reauthorization every five years. Each time, it builds on its foundation of protection and becomes more inclusive to better meet the rising needs of victims. The reauthorization signed in 2013 expanded protective measures to include immigrants, effectively giving abused immigrants the right to self-petition for legal status in the U.S.

VAWA allows immigrants who received conditional permanent residency based on their marriage to a U.S. citizen to file for a waiver of these conditions if they have been abused. To apply, the victim must have proof that they entered the marriage in good faith and that they are of good moral character. This means that the victim does not have a criminal record.

Immigrant victims are eligible if they have experienced abuse from:

  • A U.S. citizen spouse
  • A U.S. citizen parent
  • A U.S. citizen son or daughter
  • A lawful permanent resident parent
  • A lawful permanent resident spouse, or former spouse

Under VAWA, self-petitioners are exempt from restrictions to adjust their status. This means that immigrants can leave abusive situations without fear of jeopardizing their status in the U.S.

Understanding VAWA’s Purpose

Often, cases of abuse among marginalized groups go entirely unnoticed due to the circumstances involved. For example, some immigrants with citizenship from marriage may avoid reporting or leaving an abusive partner out of fear of losing their legal status in the U.S . Others who are awaiting entry into the U.S. may forego reporting abuse because their abusers have threatened to withhold their petitions for entry. VAWA alleviates these fears by allowing immigrants to become self-petitioners and apply for legal status on their own.

For more information about forms and applications under VAWA, visit here.

The Future for VAWA

The hope for the future is that lawmakers will continue to build out more robust policies that protect immigrants and, importantly, allow the voices of these individuals to be heard. Visas and petitions can be a way out for some, but these processes are complex and require the assistance of an experienced attorney.

Interested in getting in touch with our attorneys at The Law Office of Yifei He, PLLC? Contact us online to discuss your domestic violence case.