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VAWA Self-Petition

What is VAWA?
What evidence is required in order to file a VAWA self-petition?

We often hear these questions from our clients:

"I have been married to my US citizen (or lawful permanent resident) husband for 3 (or 6) years. I came to the USA as a student (or visitor), met my husband and we got married. My husband refused to file anything with the INS (Immigration Services, USCIS) on my behalf (or, in alternative, filed and then withdrew his petition). He constantly threatens me with deportation and taking our kids away from me. He abuses me (physically, emotionally, mentally, etc).

How can I get a green card without my US citizen abusive husband's assistance, because for many years he has been refusing to file any applications with the Immigration Services to help me to adjust status?

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What is VAWA? Do I qualify? Does my husband (or wife) have to sign any petitions on my behalf?"


VAWA is a federal law which was first passed in 1994 and in January 2006 was reauthorized and signed by the President. Under VAWA, a woman (or man) who is married to an abusive US citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse can get their lawful permanent residency in the USA (or green card) independently from their abusive US citizen spouse. This way of applying for permanent residency in the USA is called "VAWA self-petitioning" or "self-petitioning under VAWA". Instead of depending on an abusive US citizen or LPR spouse to apply for permanent residency for their foreign spouse, under certain circumstances, a foreign spouse can apply in her own right and get permanent residency for herself and her children. Abusive US citizen or LPR spouse plays no role in this self-petitioning process and does not even have to know that his foreign spouse applied for immigration benefits without his consent or assistance. Under VAWA, all information provided by a self-petitioner is confidential.

If your abuser is not a US citizen or LPR (lawful permanent resident), then you do not qualify for residency under VAWA (with a very few exceptions). If you are not legally married to your abuser, you are not eligible to apply under VAWA. If you have children who are not US citizens or lawful permanent resident, they may be able to apply for permanent residency with you as your dependents.

Because the law is very complex and you may have doubts whether you are eligible to apply under VAWA, we suggest you do not go in person or call to USCIS local office and do not file any paperwork before consulting first with either a qualified Immigration Attorney or a shelter or social worker, or local domestic violence or immigration organization. As a first step, a lawyer shall review your situation and eligibility and advise you as to what documentation/evidence you would need to self-petition under VAWA.

[Another way to obtain permanent residency under VAWA is called "cancellation of removal." This is available to you only if you are in, or can be placed into, deportation proceedings. If you qualify for cancellation of removal, the court may waive your deportation and grant you lawful permanent residency. However, because you must be in deportation proceedings before you can apply, be sure to see an immigration attorney before proceeding. ]

All VAWA self-petitions shall be filed with the VAWA Unit at the USCIS Vermont Service Center. The Vermont Service Center makes decision based on the paperwork you submitted in support of your VAWA petition, usually, without an in-person interview with the applicant. This is why it is advisable that you have your paperwork prepared by a qualified immigration lawyer or other professional.

If your abuser is a US citizen, you can apply concurrently for adjustment of status (a green card). If your abuser is a green card holder, you will be able to apply for adjustment of status later, when your priority date is current. If your VAWA self-petition is approved, you may stay in the USA until your adjustment of status application is approved (regardless of how you entered the USA and whether your status has expired).

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To have VAWA self-petition granted, an applicant must show the following:

  • Qualifying abuser (either US citizen or lawful permanent resident) and qualifying relationship with an abuser. This means, that applicant must fit in one of these categories:
    • the spouse or child of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident;
    • the spouse or child of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident who lost his status within the past two years because of domestic violence;
    • the former spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident and the divorce took place in the past two years and was related to domestic violence;
    • the spouse of a US citizen or lawful permanent resident who was a bigamist, and you married him in good faith and with an intent to legally marry;
    • the spouse of a US citizen who died within the past two years;
    • a non-abused parent of children abused by the US citizen or a lawful permanent resident spouse, even if the children and abuser are not related (you may also petition for these children);
    • an abused "intended spouse" (fiancÚ) of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident; or
    • an abused child of a US citizen or a lawful permanent resident (you may petition for your children also).
  • Good faith marriage
    • Applicant must show that she did not marry her abuser solely for the purpose of getting a green card or other immigration benefits in the USA;
  • Abuse or extreme cruelty
    • The abuser must have subjected the applicant to abuse, battery or extreme cruelty;
  • Residence with an Abuser
    • Applicant must have resided together with her abusive spouse or parent at some point (not necessarily in the USA);
  • Currently residing in the United States
    • Applicant must show that she currently resides in the United States, or
    • If she resides abroad, she must show that the abuser works for the US government, or is a member of the US military, and subjected her to domestic violence in the United States.
  • Good moral character
    • Applicant must show that she has "good moral character" (no criminal record, has not lied for any immigration purpose; etc.);

More detailed information can be found at the USCIS website at How Do I Apply for Immigration Benefits as a Battered Spouse or Child?

The information provided on this website is for general informational purposes only, and is not a legal advice. This information is provided for general public, and is from general sources.

We have talked to many clients and callers at domestic violence hotline, and filed a number of VAWA self-petitions for our clients in the past, and would be glad to help you. If you are inquiring about VAWA self-petition because you were abused by your US citizen or LPR spouse or parent, we always provide initial consultation free of charge. Please email or call us if you have any additional questions or need legal assistance.

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