Maryland VAWA Immigration Lawyer

VAWA is a type of immigration benefit that falls under the Violence Against Women Act, which is often shortened to VAWA. VAWA was first authorized in 1994, but the immigration benefit did not come about until later in the 1990s. People are eligible to apply for VAWA status if they are the spouse or a child of an abusive legal permanent resident or citizen. It is usually spouses who are applying. An experienced Maryland VAWA immigration attorney will be able to provide you with the proper legal counsel and advise you on your rights during the process.

VAWA Requirements

If you are a spouse and are applying for VAWA, you need to have been legally married to this person or to the abuser, or divorced within two years of the date you apply. You need to prove that you suffered extreme hardship as a result of the abuse. You must also prove that the marriage was legitimate, and was not just entered into for immigration purposes.

Generally, people apply for VAWA directly with USCIS. In some cases, you can apply for something called VAWA cancellation, which is similar to cancellation of removal, but without the physical presence requirement or the hardship requirement. It does require that you prove suffering as a result of the abuse, and that the abuse was done by a permanent resident or a citizen.

VAWA Petitions and Proof

There are a couple different types of VAWA petitions. One is the VAWA applicant who is applying based on their abuse at the hands of a US citizen. If you are abused by a US citizen, meet all the other requirements for VAWA, and are not otherwise inadmissible to the United States, like for criminal reasons of your own, you will be able to apply for VAWA status and for your green card at the same time. The reason for this is that you will qualify as an immediate relative and be immediately eligible for a green card.

If, on the other hand, the basis for your VAWA application is through your abuse at the hands of a legal permanent resident, you will not be immediately eligible for legal permanent resident status and must wait through the visa bulletin line. You must also wait for your priority date, which will be the date that you submitted your VAWA application, to become current, just like any other applicant in the non-immediate relative or the family preference-based category. Because of this, you may have to wait for a couple of years in order to apply for your green card. During that waiting period, you will be here legally, in something called deferred action status. This is based on the VAWA petition approval that a Maryland VAWA immigration attorney can assist with.

Difficulties Providing Evidence

It can be very difficult to meet the evidentiary requirements for many VAWA cases. One challenge is proving the abuse, because a lot of times there is limited or no opportunity for outside contact. Additionally, they may have been in a situation where it was impossible to call the police, resulting in no police record or hard evidence. Therefore, a lot of the petition is based on the client’s declaration. Many times, they will be sent to therapists who can help document the harm that they have suffered.

Another difficulty that may arise is proving the abuser’s legal status. Sometimes, when the VAWA petitioners are fleeing abusive relationships, they are unable to obtain a copy of the abuser’s passport, US birth certificate, green card, or other proof of residency. It then becomes the attorney’s burden to prove the abuser’s legal status.

Proving Good Moral Character

Good moral character is another requirement to qualify for VAWA. There are many different ways a person’s past and/or record can indicate a lack of good moral character, even if they don’t seem readily apparent to some people. This is why it is valuable to consult with a Maryland VAWA immigration attorney to discuss if you are eligible to apply for immigration. There are many kinds of documents that can be submitted, like character reference letters, but every person must provide a police clearance letter from every location they have lived for longer than six months.

VAWA Application Rejection

There are a lot of reasons someone might be denied. If you cannot prove substantial suffering, then there is not enough evidence to prove that the abuse occurred. Another reason is the inability to prove the abuser’s legal status. Another surprisingly common reason is that you’re unable to prove a legitimate relationship with the abuser. A marriage certificate sometimes is not enough. You have to prove that it was a shared life and that the relationship was not just entered into for immigration purposes. Another common reason it might be rejected is if you are inadmissible for another reason, for example, there is some immigration violation that can make you ineligible for VAWA and you cannot prove good moral character. A lot of people with serious criminal records will not qualify.

Why a VAWA Application Might be Rejected

There are a lot of reasons. If you cannot prove substantial suffering, there is not enough evidence to prove that the abuse occurred. Another reason is the inability to prove the abuser’s legal status. Another surprisingly common reason is that you’re unable to prove a bona fide relationship with the abuser. A marriage certificate sometimes is not enough. You or your Maryland VAWA immigration lawyer have to prove that it was a shared life and that the relationship was not just entered into for immigration purposes. Another common reason it might be rejected is if you are inadmissible for another reason, for example, there is some immigration violation that can make you ineligible for VAWA and you can’t prove good moral character. A lot of people with serious criminal records will not qualify.

The USCIS can be a bit sexist. It’s called the Violence Against Women Act, but men are eligible to apply, as well. The male applicants that we have had seem to have been held to an entirely different legal standard. We have submitted huge amounts of documentation of abuse to USCIS for male applicants and been issued extensive requests for evidence, and even had some of them denied because we could not prove abuse. For women, a lot of times just a statement and a letter from a therapist will be enough. It’s not supposed to be, but we find that it’s a harder path for abused men. It’s also difficult when you have a really compelling case but have challenges in documenting the basic elements like the abuser’s status.

After an Application is Approved

What happens after a VAWA application is approved depends on whether or not your abuser was a  citizen or resident. If your abuser was a resident, you have to wait through the visa bulletin for your priority date to become current and then apply for a green card. If your application is based on abuse by a US citizen, you’ll be immediately eligible for a green card. You can submit the application for the green card at the same time as the VAWA application.