Know the Difference Between VAWA and a U Visa

u visa and vawa

What is a U Visa and VAWA?

The U.S. Immigration Code provides two different pathways to citizenship for crime victims—U Visas and VAWA. These pathways are intended to assist applicants who have experienced domestic violence and/or qualifying crimes while in the U.S and are cooperating with the U.S. justice system. Although traditionally these victims are thought of as being women, they need not be. Men may also qualify and apply.

What is the difference between a U Visa and VAWA?

The U Visa provides a nonimmigrant visa for victims of crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse while in the U.S. You can apply for a U Visa even if you are in the country illegally, however you must be physically in the U.S. to qualify. It is also important to note that, unlike VAWA, the immigration status of the perpetrator / abuser does not matter. U Visa recipients can also become eligible to apply for permanent residence within three years of their approval.

The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is more limited in scope than the U Visa. It allows domestic violence victims to petition for legal status without having to rely on abusive citizens or lawful permanent residents to sponsor their Adjustment of Status application. Like the U Visa, applicants under VAWA may apply even if in the country illegally, however you must be physically in the U.S. to qualify. Unlike the U Visa, applicants must establish that the perpetrator / abuser is a citizen / lawful permanent resident, AND a close family relationship with the abuser. The benefit to VAWA over the U Visa is that successful VAWA applicants are immediately granted permanent residence in the U.S. and may then pursue citizenship.

What are the requirements for a U Visa & for VAWA?

To apply for a U Visa, applicants must submit a signed certification (Form I-918 Supplement B) and establish their status as a victim of a crime that occurred within the United States. They must provide an official police/court report to verify they were victims of a qualifying crime. A non-exhaustive list of qualifying crimes is as follows: abduction, rape, domestic violence, any kind of felonious battery, aggravated assault, blackmail, false imprisonment, hostage, incest, involuntary servitude, kidnapping, prostitution, sexual exploitation, slave trade, stalking, trafficking.

To apply for VAWA, applicants must submit a Self-Petition (Form I-360) and establish their status as a victim of battery or extreme cruelty committed by a qualifying relative that is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. In this context, a “qualifying relative” is a spouse, former spouse, parent, son, or daughter, but does not include dating relationships. Other requirements include the following:

  • Evidence of a legal marriage, or honest belief that you were legally married;
  • The applicant resided with their spouse and entered the marriage in good faith; and
  • Evidence of good moral character


Please reach out for help if you have been a victim of a crime while in the United States. Martinez Immigration can help you, whether or not your qualifying relative is willing to sponsor your application. It is also important to note that you do NOT have to continue living with an abusive family member until your application is complete. If you think you may qualify for either a U Visa or VAWA, Martinez Immigration can help you through the application process and understand all of your options. Call us today or request a consultation to speak with our experienced immigration attorney.

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