“I was sent to a woman’s shelter because my husband beat me up. I do not have legal immigration documents. A counselor told me I might still get a green card, even if my husband never filed papers for me. She said there is a special program for wives who are abused by their husbands. Is this really true?”
(Submitted by Cecilia J., Fontana, CA)
Yes, it’s true.
The counselor is talking about the Violence Against Women Act. Most people refer to the program as “VAWA.” If you can meet the requirements, you may be able to obtain a green card without your husband. This is called a self-petition.
First, you must show that your husband was either a U.S.citizen or lawful permanent resident. If your spouse was undocumented, you do not qualify for this program.
Second, you have to prove you had a valid marriage. For example, if your marriage only lasted a few months, and you have no children, you’ll need more evidence than someone who was married longer and has several kids. Proof like letters from friends and relatives who knew you and your husband, wedding photos, and receipts for joint taxes and home expenses is helpful.
Since VAWA is a special immigration program, this is an area immigration officials will study carefully about your VAWA petition. Over the years, the government has uncovered spouses who were not telling the truth about being their marriage. Now, it is not uncommon for USCIS to request more evidence from VAWA applicants. This happens in almost 75% of all VAWA cases.
Do not let such inquiries frighten you. Simply remember you will need to prove you and your spouse were married for love, not just to get a green card. Start searching for saving evidence that shows a good faith marriage.
Third, you need to provide evidence showing how you suffered extreme cruelty caused by your husband. Since you spent time in a shelter and are attending counseling classes, you already have documents demonstrating the abuse inflicted on you.
Extreme cruelty is not limited to physical abuse. If you have suffered mental, psychological, and sexual abuse, these incidents should be included as part of your VAWA application. It seems many of these conditions apply to your situation.
Fourth, there is a requirement of good moral character. All immigrants, seeking any type of benefits, must meet this standard. The biggest issue here is criminal convictions. You will need a clearance letter from local police departments in cities you have lived.
Here’s another point you should know. If you have children from this marriage and they do not have legal immigration documents, they can also seek a green card under VAWA.
The VAWA rules look simple. However, Violence Against Women Act applications are submitted to a special Immigration Service Center in Vermont. Often, immigrants have problems putting together the evidence necessary to win their case to become permanent residents.
If this is your situation, do not take chances.
Talk to an immigration lawyer experienced in VAWA issues.
(Filed Under Q&As: Special Immigration Programs)