Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Self-Petitioners

 Obtaining lawful permanent resident (“LPR”) status (also known as a “green card”) through family-based immigration generally requires the assistance of a sponsoring U.S. citizen or LPR family member. This process, known as adjustment of status, becomes complicated when the noncitizen suffers abuse at the hands of the U.S. citizen or LPR family member.

In situations of domestic violence or abuse, the noncitizen victim may feel compelled to stay in the abusive situation in order to obtain lawful status in the United States. The abuser may also coerce the noncitizen into staying in the relationship by threatening consequences, such as deportation.

As a result of this undesirable dynamic, noncitizen victims of domestic abuse may wish to circumvent their abuser in the process to obtain permanent lawful status.

Recognizing this dilemma, Congress enacted the Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) in 1994. Through VAWA, a qualifying victim (spouse, child, or parent) of a U.S. citizen or LPR abuser is permitted to self-petition for permanent residence in the United States. VAWA eliminated the need for the abuser to file on the noncitizen’s behalf. Ultimately, VAWA serves to protect battered spouses and victims of domestic violence and creates a safer pathway to lawful status in the United States.

This article will explain who qualifies to be a VAWA self-petitioner and the self-petition process.

VAWA Self-Petition Overview

If you are the victim of abuse at the hands of a U.S. citizen or LPR family member, you may apply for lawful status in the United States on your own. This process is known as “self-petitioning,” meaning you file all required forms and evidence without the assistance of your abuser family member.

While the Violence Against Women Act appears to only apply to adult women, its protections are actually not gender or age specific. Both men and women, as well as children and adults, may obtain protection under VAWA.

It may be helpful to think of the qualifying abuse in three categories: (1) domestic violence directed at a spouse, (2) child abuse directed at a minor child, and (3) elder abuse directed at a parent.

There is no annual cap on the number of VAWA self-petitions that may be filed.

VAWA Self-Petition Requirements

VAWA self-petitioners must meet several requirements before being eligible to file.

If you are considering self-petitioning under VAWA, you must demonstrate that:

  1. You are a victim of abuse;
  2. Your abuser is a U.S. citizen or LPR;
  3. The abuse constituted battery or extreme cruelty;
  4. You resided with the abuser in the United States;
  5. You have good moral character; and
  6. If you are married to your abuser, you entered the marriage in good faith.

Qualifying Abusers

VAWA permits you to seek lawful status without the assistance of your abuser. The abuser must be either:

  • Your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse (or former spouse if you divorced within two years of the VAWA self-petition as a result of the domestic violence);
  • Your U.S. citizen or LPR parent or step-parent; or
  • Your U.S. citizen adult child

You may also seek LPR status as a VAWA self-petitioner if your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse has abused your child.

Application Process for VAWA Self-Petitions

If you are self-petitioning under VAWA, you must complete two steps. First, you must file Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service (“USCIS”).

Once USCIS approves Form I-360, you may apply for LPR status by filing Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status. Because VAWA self-petitions are a part of the traditional family-based immigration system, filing Form I-485 does not guarantee an immediate transition to LPR status. If your abuser is an LPR, you must wait until a visa number becomes available.

If you are an immediate relative of the abuser who is a U.S. citizen, you may file both Form I-360 and Form I-485 at the same time. Immediate relatives include spouses, parents, and unmarried minor children. Concurrent filing is only available to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens and offers a speedier process because you do not need to wait on an approved Form I-360 before filing Form I-485.

Supporting Evidence for VAWA Self-Petitions

You should submit various forms of evidence in support of your VAWA self-petition, including:

  • Evidence establishing abuse (i.e., police reports, protective orders)
  • Personal Declaration describing the abuse
  • Evidence that your abuser is a U.S. citizen or LPR
  • If you are married to the abuser, evidence of your legitimate marriage to the abuser

Benefits for VAWA Self-Petitioners

In addition to limiting reliance upon your abuser, filing as a VAWA self-petitioner provides numerous benefits. The primary benefit is that VAWA self-petitioners have a clear pathway to LPR status. As described above in the application process, once you obtain VAWA status, you may apply for lawful permanent residency.

Once a VAWA self-petition has been approved, the noncitizen may seek employment authorization. VAWA self-petitioners may also seek employment authorization if they have a pending application for adjustment of status (i.e., when filing Form I-360 and Form I-485 concurrently).

VAWA self-petitioners may also be eligible for deferred action and some public benefits.

Derivatives to VAWA Self-Petitions

VAWA self-petitioners, known as the “principal applicant,” may also seek lawful status for other qualifying family members, known as “derivative beneficiaries.”

If you are a VAWA self-petitioner spouse, you may include your unmarried minor children as derivative beneficiaries. Your children do not need to have been victims of the abuse. Your children also do not have to be related to your abuser.

If you are a VAWA self-petitioner child, you may include your own children as derivatives. Parents of abused children may also self-petition on behalf of the abused child and include other children as derivatives.

If you are a VAWA self-petitioner parent, meaning your adult U.S. citizen child abused you, you cannot include any derivatives.

Request a Consultation about VAWA

Resources on VAWA

We provide the following resources for the prospective VAWA self-petitioner.

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