VAWA – Green Cards & Domestic Violence

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) protects the immigration rights of men, women, and children who have suffered physical abuse or extreme cruelty at the hands of their U.S. citizen (“USC”) or Lawful Permanent Resident (“LPR”) family members.  Qualifying family members include parents, stepparents, and spouses.  A divorced person may still establish eligibility so long as the divorce took place within two years and he or she has not remarried.

Prior to the enactment of VAWA, abusive USC and LPRs controlled the entire immigration process by determining when to file.  In some cases, U.S. citizens and permanent residents use the immigration process to psychologically control their family members and hold them captive to the uncertainty of living in the United States without legal status.

Thankfully, VAWA offers victims of domestic violence the opportunity to break the cycle of abuse by allowing them to file their own petitions without relying on the abuser.  It is important to note that eligibility under VAWA extends to children in certain circumstances.  VAWA self-petitioners who establish a prima facie case may also eligible to apply for work authorization and receive public benefits while their cases are pending. Domestic violence survivors should find safety in knowing that the USCIS protects the privacy of VAWA self-petitioners and will not contact their abusive USC or LPR relatives.


If you are in danger, contact an organization in your area that can help, use a safe computer, call 911, or the U.S. National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 and TTY 1-800-787-3224.