The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is a law that protects the rights of domestic violence survivors. Within the immigration field, it has allowed for certain immigrants to obtain protection from deportation and gain lawful immigration status.

How do I qualify?

In order to qualify, you must demonstrate the following:

  • You suffered domestic violence or extreme cruelty at the hands of:
    • a US citizen spouse (or former spouse, if the marriage was terminated within the last two years),
    • a US citizen parent (and you are under 21 years of age; or you are under 25 and can show that the abuse was the main reason for not filing your case before 21),
    • a US citizen adult son or daughter (and your son/daughter is at least 21 years old),
    • a green card holder spouse (or former spouse, if the marriage was terminated within the last two years), or
    • a green card holder parent (and you are under 21 years of age; or you are under 25 and can show that the abuse was the main reason for not filing your case before 21)

What is abuse?

The definition of abuse used for this benefit covers many forms of abuse, such as physical, emotional, psychological, financial, and sexual, among others. It may also cover threats of violence or deportation, manipulation, and intimidation. Based on government’s guidelines, the evidence of abuse does not require a police report or order of protection.

What evidence of abuse do I need?

The law recognizes that survivors are often fearful to report the abuse to authorities and thus a police report or order of protection may not be available. Other evidence may also be difficult to gather or may be under the abuser’s control. Thus, the government relies on an “all credible evidence” standard, including considering affidavits from the applicant, witnesses, letters from domestic violence counselors or psychologists, and medical records, among other forms of evidence.

Will my abuser find out?

The Department of Homeland Security has strict rules to protect a VAWA applicant’s confidentiality. Not only are they not allowed to share information about the applicant or the case with the abuser, but they cannot deny the case solely based on information provided by the abuser. Violations of these guidelines may be punished by a $5,000 fine and disciplinary action.

What can I do with a VAWA?

A VAWA functions similarly to a family-based petition in that it allows for the applicant to pursue a green card. Depending on your case, you may be able to apply for your green card at the same time as the VAWA petition or at a later date. For instance, if you are applying as the abused spouse, child, or parent of a U.S. citizen, you may be able to apply for your green card concurrently with your VAWA petition. If, instead, you are the abused child or spouse of a green card holder, you may have to wait for a visa to become available before requesting your green card. VAWA applicants are also eligible for employment authorization documents based on their VAWA or green card application.

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