How Long Does VAWA Take To Get Approved?
Domestic violence is more common than people think. In the United States, 1 in 3 women and 1 in 5 men have been a victim of some form of physical violence in their lifetime. Sadly, many of the victims are new immigrants that are unaware of their rights until it is too late. Although I haven’t experienced abuse myself, I feel for those who feel powerless in their situation.
Marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t mean that you subject to whatever type of treatment they inflict on you. Remember, you both went into the marriage as equals and hopefully for love. Domestic abuse can happen in any type of relationship. Whether you met your spouse in high school or online, there isn’t a guarantee that you will have a positive healthy marriage.
Sometimes people in abusive relationships can’t see the actual abuse taking place. You might be wondering how that is possible. There are many forms of abuse that some feel is part of a normal relationship – of course this is incorrect. Now, I will say this: without documented evidence of the abuse it will be extremely difficult to win a VAWA case. There are some dishonest scammers out there that know the system and will file for VAWA for the purpose of getting a green card without their spouse.
USCIS understands that this happens and has put into place criteria that everyone filing for VAWA will need to meet.
Forms of Abuse That Qualify For VAWA
Abuse comes in many forms whether it be physical, emotional, sexual or financial. Any behavior that is meant to belittle you, punish you or control you needs to be documented and shared with someone you trust. Many victims tend to blame themselves for the abuse and feel like they caused it in some way. This is NOT your fault! Abusers will take advantage of this psychological weakness and use it against you. Please seek help as quickly as possible.
If children are involved, this is more of a reason to seek help now.
- Scratching, punching, biting, strangling or kicking.
- Throwing something at you such as a phone, book, or shoe.
- Pulling your hair.
- Pushing or pulling you.
- Grabbing your clothing.
- Using a gun, knife, box cutter, bat, mace or other weapon.
- Smacking your bottom without your permission or consent.
- Forcing you to have sex or perform a sexual act.
- Grabbing your face to make you look at them.
- Grabbing you to prevent you from leaving.
- Forcing you to go somewhere.
- Calling you names and putting you down.
- Yelling and screaming at you.
- Intentionally embarrassing you in public.
- Preventing you from seeing or talking with friends and family.
- Telling you what to do and wear.
- Damaging your property when they’re angry.
- Using online communities or cell phones to control, intimidate or humiliate you.
- Blaming your actions for their abusive or unhealthy behavior.
- Accusing you of cheating and often being jealous of your outside relationships.
- Stalking you.
- Threatening to call ICE on you (deportation)
- Threatening to commit suicide to keep you from breaking up with them.
- Threatening to harm you, your pet or people you care about.
- Using gas lighting techniques to confuse or manipulate you.
- Making you feel guilty or immature when you don’t consent to sexual activity.
- Threatening to expose your secrets such as your sexual orientation or immigration status.
- Threatening to have your children taken away.
- Unwanted kissing or touching.
- Unwanted rough or violent sexual activity.
- Rape or attempted rape.
- Refusing to use condoms or restricting your access to birth control.
- Threatening you into unwanted sexual activity.
- Forcing you to have sex or perform sexual acts.
- Using sexual insults toward you.
- Giving you an allowance and closely watching what you buy.
- Placing your paycheck in their account and denying you access to it.
- Keeping you from seeing shared bank accounts or records.
- Forbidding you to work or limiting the hours you do.
- Preventing you from going to work by taking your car or keys.
- Getting you fired by harassing you, your employer or coworkers on the job.
- Hiding or stealing your student financial aid check or outside financial support.
- Using your social security number to obtain credit without your permission.
- Using your child’s social security number to claim an income tax refund without your permission.
- Maxing out your credit cards without your permission.
- Refusing to give you money, food, rent, medicine or clothing.
- Using funds from your joint savings account without your knowledge.
- Spending money on themselves but not allowing you to do the same.
- Using their money to hold power over you.
How Soon To Apply For VAWA
You must file VAWA right away. As soon as you have enough evidence of the abuse, you should leave the shared home and file form I-360 with USCIS. Although you are not required to leave the shared residence, it’s probably best for your own safety. There are two steps to filing for VAWA:
Step 1: Filing form I-360 with USCIS
To be able to apply for a green card under VAWA, you must first fill out Form I-360 and submit it to USCIS. You must also send documentary evidence showing that you meet the eligibility requirements. There is no filing fee for self-petitioning a VAWA case.
Note: Form I-360 can be used for many different purposes so you will not need to fill out the entire form.
You can skip the following sections:
- Part 5. Complete Only If Filing for an Amerasian;
- Part 6. Complete Only If Filing for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Court Dependent;
- Part 8. Complete Only If Filing a Special Immigrant Religious Worker Petition;
- Part 7 and Part 9.
Most of the form is pretty straightforward; however, there are a few things to remember. You can use a different address than your abusive spouse (or ex-spouse) in Part 1, in case you are still living with them. This is the address where you will received USCIS notices, so be sure that you can receive mail at this address in the future. If you want to use your shared address, you can leave Part 1 blank and proceed to Part 2.
For a VAWA abuse case you should check either box “i” or box “j” in Part 2. Parts 3 and 4 ask you for information about yourself. Part 7A asks for information about the abuser and Part 7B asks for more information about your relationship with the abuser. Be sure to list all children in Part 9—yours, and if you are filing as the spouse of an abuser, the abuser’s children also (whether they’re yours or not).
Step 2: Filing form I-485 for U.S. green card
Once your VAWA case is approved, you will be able to file From I-485 Adjustment of Status with USCIS. I will not go into detail about the steps for AOS, but you can certainly check out the guides I provide at the top.
How Long The VAWA Process Takes
“How long will it take” is probably the most common question asked about the VAWA process. Although USCIS doesn’t provide a timeline, it can generally take anywhere from 6 months to 24 months to approve. Fortunately, they have dedicated adjudicators that work in the VAWA division who handle these cases exclusively.
USCIS is known for being understaffed but their recent fee hike will help them hire more adjudicators to review cases. This is great news for abuse victims but it also means that filing for the green card may get a little more expensive. Interestingly, there is no way to expedite your VAWA case and it’s mostly a “first come, first served” basis when determining when your case will be approved.
Can I Work While Waiting For VAWA Decision
Being financially independent from your abuser is very important so it makes sense that you are eager to start working. Sadly, you are not authorized to work while your VAWA case is being reviewed. You can, however, apply for the work permit Form I-765 with your I-360 to avoid the fee that is tacked on when you apply for the work permit alone.
Ultimately, it is up to USCIS to approve your work permit. It’s more common for them them to wait until the VAWA case is approved before issuing a work permit. I suggest that you avoid any type of “under the table” work until you get your official approval notice and work permit. It’s always better to be on the safe side (which is the legal side in my book).