VAWA Requirements: What You Need to Know

Updated on April 10, 2024

At a Glance

  • The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was enacted in 1994 to address crimes against women.
  • It offers a special immigration route for certain battered non-citizens.
  • VAWA has faced legislative battles, extensions, and new provisions to protect a broader range of victims.
  • Eligibility extends to men and children in abusive situations, requiring evidence to support the self-petition.

A lot of people decide to immigrate to the United States for a better life and future, and about 23 million of them are women and girls. Therefore, more than half of the population coming from other countries consists of women.

But while women want to live in the States because of the poor conditions they have in other countries, there are still some issues they may face, such as workforce exploitation, human trafficking, and domestic violence. So, there are several types of protection to make sure women aren’t suffering and that they can live in peace. VAWA is one of these types of protection.

What Is the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

VAWA stands for the Violence Against Women Act and it was passed in 1994 by Congress. This allowed specific battered non-citizens to take a special route to obtain immigration status. The federal law was signed by President Bill Clinton, and it resulted in using billions of dollars in order to investigate various crimes against women, as well as punishing those responsible for these crimes.

Multiple senators have sponsored this act, including the current president Joe Biden and Orrin Hatch. They were able to bring support from a lot of advocacy groups and organizations.

VAWA was able to pass through both Congress houses due to having bipartisan support. In 1995, House Republicans tried to cut the funding of the act. Later on, in 2000, the Supreme Court case known as the United States v. Morrison resulted in giving women the right to sue the perpetrator in federal court under VAWA. The Court was divided, and there was a 5-4 majority, which made the Court overturn the provision as exceeding the powers of the federal government.

What Happened with the VAWA in the Following Years?

Then, VAWA got reauthorized by the bipartisan majorities in Congress both in 2000 and in 2005. When it came to its renewal in 2012, the conservative Republicans opposed it, as they didn’t want to extend the protections of the act to same-sex couples, nor to provisions allowing any battered undocumented immigrants to get a temporary visa.

However, this all changed in 2013 when a legislative battle allowed it to be reauthorized. Because there was a shutdown of the United States government in 2018-2019, VAWA ended up expiring in December 2018. A short-term spending bill from January 2019 allowed it to be reinstated temporarily, but in February it expired again.

In April 2019, a bill was passed by the House of Representatives – it included some new provisions meant to protect transgender victims. Moreover, individuals who were convicted of domestic abuse would be banned from buying firearms under this new authorization.

Senators Dianne Feinstein and Joni Ernst negotiated for many months trying to reach a bipartisan agreement, and these negotiations finally ended in November 2019. Joni Ernst wanted to introduce a new bill hoping it would be able to pass in the U.S. Senate.

Who Is Eligible to Self-Petition for VAWA?

A VAWA recipient is an individual who is the victim in a domestic violence scenario. While VAWA is thought to be for immigrant women and the name itself suggests that, this is not the case. In fact, even a man who is being abused in a relationship or partnership or a child who is being abused or a victim of domestic violence can self-petition under VAWA.

Basically, in order to be able to self-petition for VAWA, you will have to meet the following requirements:

  • Being the abused or battered spouse of a citizen of the U.S. or an LPR
  • Being the child of a U.S. citizen or LPR who is either battered or abused by his parent
  • Being the spouse of a U.S. citizen or LPR and having a child or children who are being abused

Many immigrants who are victims in abusive households or relationships do not try self-petitioning for VAWA. This is because they do not think they qualify for it, so they just refrain from doing it.

What’s more, physical violence is not the only type of abuse out there. There are other ways through which people are being abused and they may be harder to recognize. Domestic violence cases are also different for every person. Therefore, it may be hard for someone to know whether they qualify to self-petition under VAWA or not.

Domestic abuse is defined by the United Nations as “behavior in any relationship that is used to gain or maintain power and control over an intimate pattern.” There are different ways abuse is inflicted in such a way that the abuser takes control of the relationship, such as:

  • Isolation
  • Psychological
  • Intimidation
  • Economic control
  • Emotional
  • Rape and/or sexual assault
  • Battering and physical abuse

It is important to keep in mind that any person can end up being a victim of domestic violence.

If you are in an abusive situation, you should know that VAWA exists for cases like yours. Even if your LPR or U.S. citizen spouse took away your documents and is threatening to deport you, you should know that you do not need this in order to become a VAWA immigrant.

No matter what your abuser is trying to threaten you with, any abusive behavior from your spouse will be recognized.

Evidence Needed for a VAWA Immigration Case

If you wish to self-petition under VAWA, you will need to gather some evidence to send with your form. It is known that it’s not that easy to collect evidence, though, as abuse cases differ from one to another. So, the USCIS and your VAWA immigration lawyer can be very understanding in such cases.

The evidence needed to self-petition under VAWA includes:

  • Evidence of the relationship you have with the abuser
  • Evidence of the status of your abuser as a U.S. citizen or LPR
  • Affidavit of a good moral character with a proper criminal background check
  • Proof showing that you and the abuser lived in the same residency
  • Evidence that you married the abuser in good faith
  • Abuse proof (you do not necessarily need police reports for this)

Make sure to have a lawyer helping you out if it is hard to collect documentation.

Process of Applying for a VAWA Green Card

When you want to apply for a VAWA green card, there are two steps you should take:

  • File a self-petition and provide some supporting proof
  • Apply for an adjustment of status

Although the process seems straightforward, it can be quite confusing to fill out the forms. So, getting a VAWA immigration lawyer will prove to be very helpful as they will ensure you gather all the relevant evidence and that you complete everything properly.

When you self-petition, you should do it using Form I-360. Bear in mind that no filing fee is necessary if you are petitioning as an abused spouse or child under VAWA qualifications.

If your self-petition is approved by USCIS, you may have to file Form I-485, and you will get your green card if the petition is approved.

Read More

Final Thoughts

If you want a VAWA green card, you need to make sure you meet the VAWA requirements and that you complete every form correctly and provide the right evidence. We hope this article cleared some things for you and now you know how to proceed.

I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Join over 100,000 visitors who are receiving our newsletter and learn more about finance, immigration, and more!
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Frank Gogol

I’m a firm believer that information is the key to financial freedom. On the Stilt Blog, I write about the complex topics — like finance, immigration, and technology — to help immigrants make the most of their lives in the U.S. Our content and brand have been featured in Forbes, TechCrunch, VentureBeat, and more.

Get the Checklist