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I Earned Permanent Residency Under The Violence Against Women Act. When Can I Apply For Naturalization?



“About 3 ½ years ago, I filed for protection under the Violence Against Women Act and was given permanent residency. My husband was born in Escondido. I would like to become a U.S. citizen. I told a friend and she said I could file right now. Another friend, who is a naturalized citizen, said my first friend was wrong. She told me I have to wait until five years after I received my green card. Which friend is telling me the truth?”

(Submitted by Brandy F., Carlsbad, CA)


This is a tricky issue because it covers two different areas of immigration law.

In short, you are considering the naturalization for VAWA lawful permanent residents.

Here are the two areas, in a nutshell.

As a general rule, the waiting period between becoming a green card holder and filing for naturalization is five years. This is what your second friend was talking about.

But there is an exception for immigrants who obtained residency by marriage to a U.S. citizen. It’s only a three year wait. This is what your first friend was probably talking about.


How VAWA Protects Immigrant Male Victims Of Domestic Abuse

Unlocking Your Future: From VAWA Permanent Residence To Naturalization

However, as you probably know, there are always quirks about law which most non-lawyers will not know about or understand – especially in the context of special immigration programs like VAWA.

The three year rule for naturalization is one such example, and so we need to briefly discuss when and why it is applicable.

Generally, one such regulation is that you do not qualify to become a U.S. citizen under the three year rule if your marriage ended due to divorce or separation before you filed your naturalization application.

This could be your situation.

Since you were abused by your husband, and you filed a VAWA petition as a self-petitioner, without his help, I assume you may be divorced already.

At minimum, based on what you wrote, I feel you are likely separated from him.

This would mean the three-year rule to filing after become a green card holder does not apply to your situation.

The Three Year Naturalization Waiting Period As A Permanent Resident Under VAWA

Fortunately, immigration officials realized this requirement placed abused spouses of U.S. citizens in a horrible position. It left them with having to choose between (a) remaining in the abusive marriage to qualify under the three year rule or (b) leaving their spouses but only being eligible under a longer, five year, period.

As a result, the three year living together requirement was modified for VAWA permanent residents.

Now, immigrant spouses of U.S. citizens who win legal residence through the Violence Against Women Act are allowed to allowed to file for citizenship after just a wait of three years.

This is good news for you. Since you were given a green card 3 ½ years ago, you are eligible to apply for naturalization right now.

Of course, this is not the only requirement for earning citizenship. Do not overlook that other naturalization requirements can also trip you up and cause problems for you.

Potential Stumbling Blocks For VAWA Green Card Holders Seeking U.S. Citizenship

Based on my experience as a VAWA Attorney, I have learned after abused immigrants are  granted green cards, there are two issues that commonly disqualify them from becoming naturalized citizens three years later.

The first is failing to maintain continuous residence.  The second is failing to maintain good moral character.

Allow me to explain, so they do not trip you up on your journey to U.S. citizenship.

Failing To Maintain Continuous Residence

VAWA green card holders must show that not only that they have been a lawfully admitted permanent resident for three years, but also they have been continuously residing in the U.S. during that time period.

To be more specific, you are required to have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 18 months out of the three years prior to the date you file for naturalization.

You must be careful not to take visits abroad longer than six months, or they  may be considered a disruption of residency.

Failing To Maintain Good Moral Character

A second major concern is that you must have been a person of good moral character since you won your green card.

This requirement, of course, is related to criminal convictions.  Yet, there is more to this rule than many permanent residents suspect.

VAWA naturalization applicants can also be denied in the government’s discretion. This type of denial means that in the view of USCIS, immigrants have committed “bad acts” – acts which are not automatic disqualifications, yet make them undeserving of approval for citizenship.

To be on the safe side, before going forward and taking any chances, be sure to assess such issues in detail.

Ready to take a serious and honest look at the strengths and weaknesses of your immigration case? Let’s get started with a personalized strategy and planning consultation . . .