Who Can Get a Green Card Through VAWA?

An overview of the eligibility rules covering spouses and other family members that may be able to self-petition for permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed in 1994 to improve criminal justice and community-based responses to domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking in the United States. VAWA allows an abused spouse or child (including the parent of the child) of a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident to self-petition for lawful status in the U.S., receive employment authorization, and access health benefits.

The victim essentially is allowed to file an immigrant petition with the U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), without the abuser's knowledge, and receive immigration benefits while in the U.S. The victim can file regardless of their marital status (married, separated or divorced). In fact, the law allows spouses up to 2 years after a divorce to file their petition.

In order to qualify for VAWA, you, your child or parent must meet the following conditions:

Eligibility Requirements for a Spouse

  • You are:
    • married to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser or
    • your marriage to the abuser was terminated by death or a divorce (related to the abuse) within the 2 years prior to filing, or
    • your spouse lost or renounced citizenship or permanent resident status within the 2 years prior to filing due to an incident of domestic violence, or
    • you believed that you were legally married to your abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.
  • You:
    • have been abused in the United States by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, or
    • have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse abroad while your spouse was employed by the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. uniformed services, or
    • you are the parent of a child who has been subjected to abuse by your U.S. citizen or permanent spouse.
  • You entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely for immigration benefits.
  • You have resided with your spouse.
  • You are a person of good moral character.

For information on how to make your case, see Proving Your VAWA Case: Marriage, Abuse, and Moral Character.

Eligibility Requirements for a Child

  • You:
    • are the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser or
    • were the child of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident abuser who lost citizenship or lawful permanent resident status due to an incident of domestic violence.
  • You:
    • have been abused in the United States by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent or
    • have been abused by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident parent abroad while your parent was employed by the U.S. government or a member of the U.S. uniformed services.
    • You have resided with the abusive parent.
    • You have evidence to prove your relationship to your parent.
    • You must provide evidence of good moral character if you are over the age of 14.

Eligibility Requirements for a Parent

  • You are the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter or were the parent of a U.S. citizen son or daughter who lost or renounced citizenship status related to an incident of domestic violence or died within 2 years prior to filing.
  • You have been abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
  • You have resided with the abusive son or daughter.
  • You are a person of good moral character.

Potential for False Claims

This piece of legislation is not a method of making false accusations against a spouse or parent for the purposes of securing permanent residence. It is quite the opposite. Application for a VAWA petition is taken very seriously and is a very in-depth process that requires the victim (or the victim's parent) to work closely with law enforcement to investigate the matter on behalf of the USCIS. In addition, documentary evidence would need to be provided to show supporting proof of your claim.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and/or stalking, they may be eligible to apply for a VAWA petition. However, because of the complexity of the process, it is recommended that you contact a qualified immigration attorney for further advice and assistance.

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