Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

What is a Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Self-Petition?

In most family-based immigration cases, U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents are required to file a petition on behalf of their noncitizen family members. However, if there is abuse in the household, petitioners may use their position to control or coerce their noncitizen family member by threatening to withdraw or withhold the petition.

The Violence Against Women Act of 1994 (VAWA) allows noncitizens who have been abused by their U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family member to self-petition for immigrant status without their abuser’s knowledge, consent, or participation.

Who is Eligible to File a VAWA Self-Petition?

To be eligible to self-petition under the VAWA, you must live (or have lived) in the U.S. with the abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident and have one of the following qualifying relationships with the abuser:

➤ Spouse or intended spouse

➤ Former spouse or widower within two years of filing the petition

➤ Unmarried child under the age of 21

➤ Parent of an abused unmarried child under the age of 21, or

➤ Parent of an abusive U.S. citizen son or daughter over the age of 21

The self-petitioner must have been battered and/or subjected to extreme cruelty, including:

➤ Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse

➤ Verbal abuse and degradation

➤ Violent acts or threats of violence

➤ Exploitation

➤ Isolation

➤ Intimidation

➤ Economic abuse

➤ Coercion or threats to take the children away or have them deported

There are also circumstances where you may be eligible to self-petition if your relative lost or renounced their U.S. citizenship or lawful permanent resident status.

What Type of Evidence is Required?

In addition to your self-petition, you must include supporting evidence, including:

➤ Evidence of the abuser’s U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident status

➤ Evidence of the self-petitioner’s relationship with the abuser

➤ Documentation showing that the noncitizen and abuser shared a residence. This can include mortgage or rental records, utility receipts, and school records.

➤ Evidence of the abuse that took place

➤ An affidavit of good moral character

➤ A criminal background check

➤ If you’re the spouse of an abuser, evidence that the marriage began in good faith

➤ Any other relevant information

If there are police records available, these can be submitted as evidence of the abuse you experienced. However, since many domestic abuse victims don’t file police reports, it’s not required. If you have certain arrests or immigration transgressions on your record, these may be waived if you can they were connected to the abuse you suffered.

In some cases, it may be difficult to collect evidence, as abusers may withhold documents, or you may have been forced to leave your residence without taking documents with you. An experienced immigration attorney can help you collect evidence and determine which types of documentation will add the most strength to your case.

What to Know About Filing the Self-Petition and Adjustment of Status

If you’re living in the U.S. and can receive an immigrant visa immediately, you can file for an adjustment of status without leaving the country. This can be filed at the same time as your self-petition, while your self-petition is pending, or after its approved. If you’re living outside of the U.S. when you file your self-petition, you must meet the eligibility requirements listed above and provide evidence of one of the following:

➤ The abusive U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident is an U.S. government employee or a member of the U.S. armed forces.

➤ You were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty while living in the U.S.

If your self-petition is approved, you and your children may apply for legal permanent residence and receive a green card via consular processing or by applying for adjustment of status.

You’re Not Alone—Get Experienced Legal Support from Ranchod Law Group

Domestic abuse can feel very isolating; know that you’re not alone. At Ranchod Law Group, your case is always 100% confidential. We realize that abusers may take steps to undermine or control the situation by tracking phone calls or internet history; we can find ways to assist you that doesn’t jeopardize the safety of you or your children. To get experienced legal support, contact our office today at 916-613-3553 or email us at to schedule a consultation.