What is a VAWA Self Petition?

When applying for the United States permanent residency under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act), aside from USCIS Form I-360, you also have to submit evidence that you meet VAWA Self Petition eligibility and that you qualify for relief.

In addition to Form I-360, you have to include evidence showing that you meet all the requirements of VAWA. This evidence includes the following:

  • Proof that abuser is a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (aka LPR or Green Card holder)
  • Proof that you are currently living in the United States
  • Proof that you suffered abuse
  • Proof that you are the abuser’s spouse/child/parent
  • Proof that you lived with the abuser
  • Declaration describing the abuse you suffered 
  • Psychological Evaluation by a licensed clinical social worker or a physcologist
  • Police clearance records or any other evidence that shows you are a person of ‘good moral character.’
  • Copy of your birth certificate or passport

We will discuss each of these fully below. It’s also recommended to include a cover letter that describes the evidence you have submitted. 

Proof the Abuser is a United States Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident

If the abuser is a citizen of the United States, then you can submit a copy of his/her U.S. passport, birth certificate, or certificate of naturalization. Depending on the place you live, you may obtain a copy of your abuser’s birth certificate through the County Recorder where the abuser was born. 

If the abuser is a Lawful Permanent Resident (Green Card holder), you can submit a copy of her/his Lawful Permanent Resident card, an I-130 approval notice from USCIS (if any), or any other valid document that refers to the abuser’s status. If you don’t have any of these documents, you can file an FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request with the USCIS. You will receive a copy of your immigration file that contains information about your spouse. 

Proof of Your Relationship

It is necessary to submit proof of your relationship to the abuser. In case the abuser is your spouse, then you will have to submit a copy of your marriage certificate. In addition, you need to submit documents that prove you entered a relationship with your spouse in good-faith (your marriage wasn’t a fraud or sham to obtain green card / lawful permanent residency).

Photographs of the two of you together, as well as with family and friends, birth certificates of your children can also be useful evidence. Moreover, you can submit proof that you shared a bank account, property ownership, phone accounts, and credit cards. To complete the whole picture, declarations from your friends and family members that discuss your relationship can also be helpful.

In case the abuse is one of your parents, you’ll have to submit a copy of your birth certificate.

Proof That You Suffered Abuse

It is essential to provide as much evidence as you can, showing that you have suffered abuse, whether emotional or physical. The best evidence would be a restraining order against the abuser or a police report. 

Remember, to qualify for VAWA you don’t have to show physical abuse. Psychological or emotional abuse may be enough. As always, if you’re facing some difficulties with obtaining this evidence, you can submit declarations from your friends or family members who know about and have witnessed the abuse or to whom you have spoken about the abuse. 

Proof That you Lived With the Abuser

To qualify under the VAWA Self Petition, you have to show that you lived with the abuser. You can do that by submitting leases with your names, or school records that list both parents. Also, pay stubs and tax returns can be used. 

Any document that lists both your and your abuser’s names at the same address can be helpful. In case you are not able to get many of these documents, consider declarations from your friends or family members discussing the fact that you lived with the abuser.  

Declaration Describing the Abuse You Suffered

This should begin with the statement: “I swear under penalty of perjury that the following is true and correct to the best of my knowledge.” The declaration should include details about the way you met your abuser and how your relationship developed. Types of abuse and when each instance of abuse occurred are details that should also be included. Make sure to include as many details as possible.

Your declaration should also mention things you do that show you are a good person. You need to show that you are a person who has ‘good moral character’ to qualify under VAWA. For example, if you support a family, regularly go to church, temple, volunteer, or take part in any other community activities, then these can help show your good moral character.

Police clearance records or any other evidence that shows you’re a person of ‘good moral character.’

What is also necessary is to submit police clearance records from each place where you lived during the last three years for more than six months. To get these, you will need to go to the police station in each place you lived and ask for clearance records. You need to say it is for immigration purposes. These records help you show that you are a person of good moral character and also that you have never been convicted of a serious crime that may bar you from qualifying under the VAWA.  

In addition to these records, you can also submit signed declarations from your family members and friends that talk about things you do to prove that you are a good person. 

How to Apply?

You might be able to apply for VAWA lawful permanent residence if you are abused by:

  • The United States citizen spouse or former spouse
  • The United States citizen parent or LPR parent
  • The United States citizen son or daughter
  • An LPR spouse or former spouse

You can self-petition under the VAWA by filing a petition for Widow, Amerasian, Special Immigrant without knowledge or consent of your abusive family member. If your self-petition is approved and you meet other specific requirements, you can file an Application to Register Permanent Residence, I-485, or Adjust Status to apply for a Green Card without leaving the country.  

If you are a VAWA self-petitioner who seeks to adjust status as an immediate relative, you can file Form I-485 at any time. For immediate relatives, visas are always immediately available. VAWA self-petitioners who are seeking to adjust under the family-based preference category may need to wait for their visa to become available. In case visa is immediately available, you can file Form I-485:

  • While your Form I-360 is pending
  • Together with your Form I-360
  • After your Form I-360 is approved

In case you already have a pending Application to Register Permanent Residence based on approved Petition for Alien Relative (Form I-130) that abuser filled for you, you can request to convert Form I-485 so that it is based on VAWA self-petition. To do this, you have to notify the USCIS field office adjudicating the pending Application to Register Permanent Residence that you have filled VAWA or that you will do so within 30 days. 

If you are somehow not able to submit evidence within the allotted time frame, USCIS can make a decision based on your pending application on the original Form I-130 that the abusive family member filed for you.  

Preparing well-organized, compelling evidence to support your VAWA application can be very challenging and time-consuming. Consider hiring a Chicago Immigration Attorney to help you out with this task. It can be well worth your while.