By Evita Tolu, Immigration Attorney
VAWA green card status was created to help victims of domestic abuse remain in the Unites States and seek adjustment of status (a green card). The victims will benefit under VAWA if the abuser is or was a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse or parent.
Along with the I-360 form, a VAWA petitioner must submit documents proving that the marriage was bona fide, that he or she is a person of good moral character, and that the U.S. citizen or LPR either physically or mentally abused the spouse during the marriage, or the child during residence with the parent. (See 8 C.F.R. § §204.2(c)(1)(i)(E), (F), (e)(1)(E),(F).) This article will discuss how to prepare such documents.
Once USCIS approves the I-360 petition, the beneficiary will qualify for adjustment of status by filing Form I-485.
Note: Applicants can qualify under VAWA even if the abuser has lost his or her U.S. citizen or LPR status.
The key requirement for a successful VAWA petition is solid evidence that the marriage was entered into in good faith. Your VAWA self-petition should contain the following:
(For more, please see Proving a "Bona Fide" Marriage for Immigration Purposes.)
The law requires the VAWA petitioner to show that he or she lived with the abuser during the relationship. There is no specified duration of time the self-petitioner must establish, but it is very hard to prove abuse if the self-petitioner has never lived with his or her spouse or does not have proof of such cohabitation.
VAWA requires the self-petitioner to show that he or she, or his or her child, "has been battered or has been the subject of extreme cruelty" by the U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or parent (see I.N.A. § §204 (a)(1)(A)(iii)(I)(bb) and (iv); (B) (ii)(I)(bb) and (iii)).
The types of abuses that would qualify someone for VAWA protection are many. Generally mental abuse is defined as verbal abuse, social isolation, possessiveness, control or diminution of quality of life. We carefully examine the relationship and its progression, from the very start to its end. We gather documentation of the victim’s physical and mental health before abuse and after the abuse began. We present careful description of the acts of abuse collaborated with documentation as well as detailed description of victim’s life and ability to function as a result of abuse. While preparing VAWA petition we always work with psychologists, social workers, police, friends and family members of the abused, hospitals and emergency care, shelters and community organizations.
(To read more, see Proving Abuse to Get a Green Card Under VAWA.)
To qualify for VAWA benefits, a self-petitioner must demonstrate that he or she is a person of good moral character. Evidence of good moral character includes:
In addition, a self-petitioner will qualify only if he or she is establishes that the abuser was or currently is a U.S. citizen or LPR. Your attorney can help you obtain a birth certificate of the abuser if you do not have access to this document.
Once the VSC approves the petition, the applicant may proceed for adjustment of status by filing Form I-485. Pursuant to 8 CFR § 204.2(H)(2) if the abuser previously filed I-130 for the victim, the self-petitioner may retain the priority date of the original I-130.
To sum up the facts of the case, we recommend that our VAWA clients prepare a personal statement consistent with the VAWA application. The personal statement should provide details and timeline of the abuse.
In addition, it is helpful to gather information from witnesses to the abuse, and social workers or psychologists who have counseled the victim. Such statements serve to corroborate the personal statement of the self-petitioner.
The USCIS office that processes the applicant's Form I-485 based on the VAWA petition will conduct an adjustment of status interview. At this interview, the local immigration officer is not supposed to question the facts, degree, or sufficiency of abuse -- though some try to regardless.
USCIS is prohibited from gathering abuse evidence during the adjustment of status interview, and is not authorized to revoke an approved VAWA petition. Sometimes, however, the local USCIS office might recommend revocation of the approved VAWA petition based on additional evidence that it discovers during its review. In this case, the local USCIS officer might prepare a legal memorandum to the office’s supervisor, who subsequently may transfer the memorandum to the USCIS Service Center that approved the petition. Issues like these are good reasons to hire an immigration attorney to assist you with your VAWA petition and green card application.