The Steps of the Maryland VAWA Application

The first step in the VAWA application process in Maryland is to meet with your attorney to discuss the situation that led to your eligibility in VAWA application process. The initial threshold questions needed to determine are first if the abusive individual, the spouse, has lawful status and if they are a green card holder or a US citizen.

Next, a dedicated attorney can discuss what types of evidence is needed to prove your citizenship status. The next questions asked will discuss the nature of the abuse, and if it was physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, or all of the above.  You will need to discuss the entire timeline of the relationship and all of the elements, as it does not have to be only physical abuse in order to qualify. It is beneficial to go through the steps of the VAWA with the assistance of a dedicated attorney because the applications are detailed and need to be thoroughly documented.

Next Measure of Action

Once all of the steps are completed and all of the documentary evidence has been collected, the individual applying will make sure all their forms are properly signed and all the evidence is indexed in their application. It is beneficial to have a cover letter, explaining the theory of their case and why they believe they qualify. They will submit the entire application package to closest VAWA Service Center, in Vermont, and will wait for it to be adjudicated.

The first response they will get is either a receipt notice which shows the application has been received and is in process or they will issue something called a prima facie approval and this will be issued if they have met all of the initial evidentiary requirements such as submission of a personal statement, a valid viable claim for abuse, and submission of the background check evidence.

Prima Facie Approval

When this is finished, the individual applying will receive notice of a prima facie approval, which does not mean the case is approved. This notice arrives quickly and does not mean it will eventually be granted.  It does mean they will be eligible to apply for certain social services depending upon the state. In some states, it can be used to apply for a driver’s license or access other government benefits such as food stamps.

Once the prima facie approval is approved, if applying as a spouse or a former spouse of an abusive US citizen, the individual applying is eligible for their green card. They will quickly receive their work authorization because they will be entitled to a work authorization while the application is pending. If they are married only to a green card holder, then that will not happen. If that is the case, it is usually a longer process. These cases are slow to adjudicate and can sometimes take over a year to receive a final response.

When the case has reached the point of adjudication, Vermont will issue either a request for evidence if they have more questions, such as more evidence of the abuse or more information on any of the other elements needed to submit or they will simply issue an approval or denial.

Proof of Marriage

Another threshold requirement to meet is to prove it was or is a bonafide marriage, by proving the relationship was real beyond just a marriage certificate and was entered into for reasons not just for immigration purposes. Someone would need to prove they resided with the abuser as well, and they would do this with documentary evidence such as mail containing both names, such as on joint bank accounts, credit cards, and utility bills.

In many cases, these documents may not be easily accessible as the abuser could have restricted the abused spouse to register for a bank account or restricted their mail. Sometimes these documents are difficult to collect and a dedicated attorney can help work through these types of evidentiary problems.

Submitting More Evidence

If there is a request for more evidence, the individual applying will be issued a request for evidence (RFE) by USCIS once they begin adjudicating the case and they will send a detailed letter explaining what is needed in order to receive an approval on the application. This letter will summarize the evidence already submitted and explain what else is missing.

They allow 90 days for a response. During this time, the person applying can evaluate what other evidence can be collected and address those issues with the USCIS or with an attorney. Once they respond to the request for evidence, then USCIS will again review the application with the entire body of evidence submitted and will issue an approval or a denial.

Children’s Applications

Children can apply independently or they can be granted under their parent or guardian’s application. Children of abusive parents can be eligible for VAWA application. Parents of abusive children, those subject to elder abuse, can also apply. Children can apply independently, but also as derivatives of their abused parent.

The process is different for children to apply, especially if they were abused themselves, because often, if an abuse of a child is going on, then the abuse needs to  obviously be reported to State, to Child Protective Service agencies. In this case, there will need to be that evidence to submit and other social welfare organizations involved.

Granted Applications

If the application is granted, it will then depend on the immigration status of the abuser. If the application is granted for someone who is married to a US citizen, then they will become a green card holder and a legal permanent resident. They can maintain that status for the rest of their life or apply for citizenship in the future.

If someone is married to a green card holder, then they will have to continue to monitor the national visa bulletin using their priority date to cross reference it. As soon as their priority date becomes current, they can then submit the rest of the package which includes the application for adjustment and the work authorization and these documents are a part of any other application for adjustment of status.

Obtaining Employment

How long it takes someone to obtain employment depends on whether the abused person was married to a green card holder or a citizen. If they were married to a citizen, they can apply for the work authorization at the initial point of application and it will  generally take about three months to receive as they are eligible for a work authorization while their application for adjustment is pending.

If they are married only to a green card holder, then they need to wait until they receive an actual final decision on their case. At that point, they can use the VAWA approval to then apply for a work authorization based on their current immigration status, which will be that of a deferred action. Eventually, once they are eligible for their green card, they can continue that application. Once they are a green card holder, they need a work authorization and can work as a legal permanent resident.

Misconceptions About the VAWA Application

People often think that in order to apply for a VAWA application, as well as for abuse-based applications such as the U-visa, someone needs to have thoroughly documented  physical abuse such as police reports. For a U-visa, that is the case, however, with a VAWA application, documentation such as police reports and hospital records are not a requirement. There does not need to be a police record to apply.

Physical abuse is not the only abuse considered. Emotional, psychological and sexual abuse will also be counted. Cases in which there is physical abuse will often be easier to get approval because those cases are easier to document, but it is not a requirement.

For a VAWA application, a person never needed to have gone to trial, reported the abuse, or had any contact with law enforcement officials in order to qualify.

Working with an Attorney

It is important to get an experienced immigration attorney especially in cases where there is little to no hard evidence, such as police and medical reports which can directly document the abuse.

Having a qualified attorney is important because the body of evidence is an important aspect of the application process and when hard evidence is not available, there are ways of obtaining useful evidence and it is beneficial to have an attorney guiding you through the process.