In most cases, in order to obtain an immigrant visa, a United States citizen or legal resident will file a petition on behalf of their spouse or child. However, there are extraordinary circumstances in which the spouse or child can apply on their own, including situations involving domestic abuse.
The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), passed in 1994, includes a provision that allows a spouse or child to self-petition for a U.S. green card without the aid of their abusive partner or parent.
Eligibility for Petitions
Under the VAWA, a spouse, child, or parent of a United States citizen or permanent U.S. resident may be eligible to file a petition. Although the governing regulation is called the Violence Against Women Act, the rule applies to both women and men.
Depending on the relationship to the legal resident, the criteria may vary slightly, but they all have some factors in common:
- The petitioner has suffered from domestic abuse; this can include physical abuse, but also patterns of emotional abuse and controlling behavior
- The petitioner has resided with the abuser
- The petitioner is a person of good moral character
A child may file on their own behalf if they are aged 21 or under, or if they are between the ages of 21 and 25 and can demonstrate that the abuse was the reason for their delayed application. A spouse may also file if they have a child under 21 who was the victim of abuse.
How to File a Domestic Abuse Petition
The first step is to obtain a special immigrant visa is to file a petition with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). When filing on their own behalf, petitioners use form I-360 instead of form I-130. The petition must include proof of the relationship, such as a marriage or birth certificate; proof of the relative’s citizenship or legal residency status; and, for petitions under the VAWA, proof of the domestic abuse that has taken place.
The petitioner will receive an I-797 Receipt Notice that lists the receipt number and Priority Date, usually the date the application is received. There are only a certain number of visas available for citizens of certain countries each year, so the Priority Date can effect whether an application is successful.
Once the petition is approved, the petitioner will receive a second I-797 acknowledging the approval; this does not guarantee legal residency, but the government may grant the petitioner deferred action status, meaning that they will not be subject to deportation while awaiting a visa.
Once the petitioner’s priority date is current, the next step is to submit an I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status. At this stage, the applicant is in a period of authorized stay and may obtain a work permit.
The USCIS will bring the applicant in for an interview, at which point their legal permanent resident status can be confirmed.
About the Petition Process
There is no limit on how long the USCIS can deliberate over a person’s petition. It is a complicated process, and in some cases, it may take years. Fortunately, the government has put protections in place for the petitioner.
The abusive relative does not have to be notified of the petition and does not have to be involved in any way for the petitioner to be granted a change in status.
Having an experienced Philadelphia immigration lawyer by your side can help you navigate the complexities of the application process and prevent any unnecessary delays.
Philadelphia Visa Petition Lawyers at the Law Offices of MC Law Group, LLC Advocate for Non-Resident Abuse Victims
Victims of domestic abuse may feel trapped by their immigration status, but they do have resources under the law to change their residency status and end their dependence on an abusive relative. The Philadelphia visa petition lawyers at the Law Offices of MC Law Group, LLC have the knowledge and experience to handle all types of immigration petitions, including those involving domestic abuse. We are committed to making the process as smooth as possible while protecting your rights.
With offices conveniently located in Philadelphia, we help battered spouses and children throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and across the country. Call us today at 215-496-0690 or contact us online for a free consultation.