The Violence Against Women Act is a vital resource for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, providing a way to safety, independence, and legal residency in the United States. By providing a means to escape abusive situations without fear of deportation, VAWA empowers survivors to rebuild their lives and secure a stable future. Even though the ‘W’ in VAWA stands for women, people of any gender can file a self-petition if they are victims of abuse and meet the qualifying criteria. If you or someone you know is an immigrant facing abuse, seeking legal assistance to explore options under VAWA can be a critical step toward safety and justice.

Understanding VAWA and the Eligibility Criteria Involved

VAWA was initially passed in 1994, and its subsequent reauthorizations were designed to address domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking. It includes provisions specifically for immigrants, allowing them to self-petition for legal status without the knowledge or consent of their abusive spouse, parent, or child. This provision is crucial as it helps break the cycle of abuse by removing the abuser’s control over the victim’s immigration status.

To qualify for immigration relief under VAWA, an applicant must meet several criteria:

  • Relationship to the Abuser:

    Spouse: The applicant must be married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) abuser. This includes former spouses if the marriage ended due to domestic violence.

    Parent: The applicant can be the child (under 21 and unmarried) of a U.S. citizen or LPR abuser.

    Child: The applicant can be the parent of an abusive U.S. citizen son or daughter.
  • Abuse or Extreme Cruelty: The applicant must have experienced battery or extreme cruelty. This includes physical violence, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and psychological manipulation.
  • Good Moral Character: The applicant must demonstrate good moral character. This generally means they should not have a serious criminal record or other negative factors that would disqualify them.
  • Residence: The applicant must have lived with the abuser at some point. The residence requirement does not necessitate current cohabitation, only that they lived together at some time during the relationship.

Application Process

The VAWA self-petition process involves submitting Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, along with evidence supporting the eligibility criteria. This evidence may include:

  • Police reports, medical records, or protection orders.
  • Affidavits from the petitioner and individuals who can attest to the abuse.
  • Proof of the relationship to the abuser, such as marriage certificates or birth certificates.
  • Evidence of the abuser’s citizenship or LPR status.

The average processing time for a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) application is approximately 26 months, with some cases taking over 2.5 years to approve.

Benefits of VAWA

VAWA offers several significant benefits to eligible immigrants:

  • Work Authorization: Once the self-petition is approved, the petitioner can apply for work authorization, allowing them to support themselves independently of the abuser.
  • Means To Lawful Permanent Residency: VAWA self-petitioners can eventually apply for a green card (lawful permanent residency). If already in the U.S., they can file to adjust their status or for permanent residency.
  • Protection from Deportation: Approved VAWA self-petitioners are protected from deportation and can remain in the U.S. legally while their application is being processed.

Challenges and Considerations under VAWA

While VAWA provides essential protections, applicants may face challenges, such as gathering evidence. Collecting sufficient evidence of abuse can be difficult, especially if the abuser controls or destroys documents. In addition, navigating the VAWA process can be complex, and obtaining legal assistance is often crucial.


The Violence Against Women Act is a vital resource for immigrant survivors of domestic violence.  Applying for protection under VAWA can be frightening and a skilled immigration attorney can help to address all of your concerns.  Rahimi Law Firm PC has offices in Great Neck and Manhattan and will help you every step of the way. Contact our office today for a consultation.