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Immigration Under The Violence Against Women Act

by Gregory Siskind

In November 2000, the Violence Against Women Act II was passed into law. Among other things, this law made changes to previously existing immigration laws that had allowed abused immigrant women and children to seek legal residency in the US independently of their abusers.

What does the Violence Against Women Act II do?

The law allows women to petition for adjustment of status for themselves and exempts them from section 245(c) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which prohibits immigrants who have engaged in unauthorized employment, those who have failed to maintain valid immigration status and a number of others from applying for adjustment of status. Under the revised VAWA, applicants no longer have to show that they would face extreme hardship and they are also allowed to apply for permanent residence from outside the US, if they can demonstrate that they were the victims of domestic violence in the US.

What are the eligibility requirements for the VAWA II?

To be eligible for adjustment of status under the VAWA II, the woman must show one of the following:

  • Their marriage was ended within the past two years for reasons connected to domestic violence;
  • The abuser lost his or her immigration status within the past two years for reasons related to domestic violence;
  • If a US citizen, the abuser died within the past two years; or
  • The abuser was or is a bigamist

What is the difference between VAWA applicants and other visa applicants?

While for most people in deportation proceedings, their period of continuous physical presence ends when the USCIS notifies them that they are being placed in deportation proceedings, this rule does not apply to VAWA applicants. In other words, they have more of a chance to obtain the seven years presence necessary to be eligible for cancellation of removal. Also, any absences from the US that were the result of domestic violence will not break the period of continuous physical presence. Furthermore, the grounds for inadmissibility relating to good moral character can be waived if they are connected to domestic violence.

Also, applicants under the VAWA are exempted from the public charge ground of inadmissibility insofar as they are entitled to public benefits. They may also obtain a waiver of the ground of inadmissibility relating to HIV positive status.

What is a U Visa and how can I be eligible?

The VAWA II also created a new category of nonimmigrant visa. To be eligible for this “U” visa, the applicant must have suffered “substantial physical or mental abuse” because of a variety of crimes, including domestic abuse and involuntary servitude. The applicant must have information relating to this crime that would be of assistance to law enforcement in investigating or prosecuting it. There is an annual limit of 10,000 U visas. U visa holders are work authorized, and are able to apply for adjustment of status after three years.

One of the eligibility requirements is that a self-petitioner must demonstrate that he/she is a person of good moral character. A VAWA-based self-petition will be denied or revoked if the record contains evidence to establish that the self-petitioner lacks good moral character. The inquiry into good moral character focuses on the three years immediately preceding the filing of the self-petition, but the adjudicating officer may investigate the self-petitioner’s character beyond the three-year period when there is reason to believe that the self- petitioner may not have been a person of good moral character during that time. A self-petitioner’s claim of good moral character will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis taking into account the provisions of section 101(f) of the Act and the standards of the average citizen in the community.

Other provisions in the VAWA II allow people who have adjusted status under it to apply for naturalization in three, rather than five years.

About The Author

Gregory Siskind is a partner in Siskind Susser's Memphis, Tennessee, office. After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, he received his Juris Doctorate from the University of Chicago. Mr. Siskind is a member of AILA, a board member of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and a member of the ABA, where he serves on the LPM Publishing Board as Marketing Vice Chairman. He is the author of several books, including the J Visa Guidebook and The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. Mr. Siskind practices all areas of immigration law, specializing in immigration matters of the health care and technology industries. He can be reached by email at

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.