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Updated Policy Guidance on VAWA Self-Petitions

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Updated Policy Guidance on VAWA Self-Petitions

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United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) recently announced several policy changes regarding self-petitions under the Violence Against Women Act. Known as “VAWA,” this law was passed by Congress in 1994 and it created a pathway to lawful immigration status for certain survivors of domestic abuse who would normally have to rely on their abuser to file for status for them. Most often, spouses who have been abused by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident partner benefit from VAWA as this law allows them to self-petition for their own lawful immigration status, without any participation from their abusive spouse.

On February 10, 2022, USCIS issued policy guidance that updated and clarified eligibility and filing criteria for applicants. Most notably, USCIS announced it was changing its interpretation for the statutory requirement of a shared residence. Previously, applicants under VAWA were required to prove that they shared a residence with their abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident during their marriage. However, with this updated policy guidance, USCIS is now requiring that applicants only prove that they shared a residence with their abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse at any time, either before or after the marriage.

As many advocates have argued, Congress intended the provisions of VAWA to protect those who have been abused by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouses while living together, regardless of whether they lived together before or after marriage. With USCIS’s policy change, more individuals will now be eligible to seek the protection for which they are eligible.

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