VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT: What Abused Immigrant Spouses Should Know

By Kelechi Nnodim, Esq.

“Obinna is a United States (U.S.) citizen who met Naomi while on a visit to Nigeria. After a 2-year long distance relationship, he married Naomi in Nigeria. After the wedding, Obinna filed for a fiancée visa in order for Naomi to join him in his home in Houston, Texas. 6 months later, the application was approved and Naomi joined Obinna in the U.S. The three months of Obinna and Naomi living together as a married couple was peaceful as Naomi was adjusting well to her new home. However, moving into the 4th month things started to unfold in their relationship. Obinna became excessively controlling and demanding. Eventually things took a turn for the worse where Obinna started verbally and physically assaulting Naomi. It was then that Naomi knew she had made a mistake marrying Obinna, but she was afraid to tell anyone or leave him because he threatened to call the U.S. Immigration services to have her deported.”

What legal options are available to Naomi if she wants to leave the marriage and remain in the U.S.?

The story above is very common in the African immigrant community in the U.S, where U.S. citizens and green card holders often threaten to report their newly wed wives who are still adjusting into the society. This is known as a form of control and abuse. Unfortunately, most victims feel helpless and unsure of which way to turn to provide safety for themselves, and in some cases their children.

This article focuses on a special visa that provides protection and legal residence for women and men who find themselves in this kind of environment.

What is VAWA?

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) was passed in 1994 to provide funding and protection for victims of abuse and domestic violence. This protection applies equally to victims of either sex. In 2013, President Obama expanded some parts of VAWA, including giving protection to undocumented immigrants. This article focuses only on the self-petitioning provisions that apply to immigrant families.

Who is Eligible for Protection?

There are three categories of immigrants who are eligible to receive protection under VAWA. These individuals may apply to obtain a green card under VAWA without the abuser’s knowledge.

  1. Spouses of U.S. citizens or green card holders. The abused spouse will have to show the following:
  • the marriage was legal at the time of filing or divorced within the two years prior to filing*;
  • the abuse happened in the U.S.;
  • both parties entered into the marriage in good faith and not solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits;
  • the abused spouse resided with the abusive spouse for a period of time; and
  • good moral character by the accusing spouse.

*Keep in mind that if the abused spouse re-marries before filing the VAWA petition or before it has been approved, the petition may be denied.

  1. Children of U.S. citizens or green card holders. The victimized child will have to show the following:
  • proof of parent-child relationship;
  • must be under 21 years of age and unmarried at the time of filing; was abused in the U.S;
  • must have resided with the abusive parent; and
  • must provide evidence of good moral character if over 14 years old.
  • Parents of U.S. citizens abused by a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

The victimized parent will have to show the following:

  1. abuse by a U.S. citizen son or daughter;
  2. must have resided with the abusive son or daughter; and
  3. must provide evidence of good moral character.

Application Process

To apply for the VAWA-based visa and green card, applicants must complete the USCIS Form I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant). The completed application should include all required supporting documentation.

If approved, in addition to immigration benefits, applicants would also be eligible for available public benefits.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 for information about shelters, counseling, legal advice, and other resources and benefits.

For a consultation or assistance in filing an initial or renewal DACA request, contact the Law Office of Kelechi Nnodim PLLC at (734) 9850671 or


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