VAWA [Violence Against Women Act]    

Generally, U.S. citizens (USC) and Lawful Permanent Residents (LPRs), petitioners, file an immigrant visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services on behalf of a spouse or child, beneficiaries, so that these family members may emigrate to or remain in the United States.  The petitioner controls when or if the petition is filed. Unfortunately, some U.S. citizens and LPRs misuse their control of this process to abuse their family members, or by threatening to report them to the Immigration. As a result, most battered immigrants are afraid to report the abuse to the police or other authorities.

Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) passed by Congress in 1994, the spouses and children of USCs or LPRs may self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency. Certain battered immigrants can file for immigration relief without the abuser's assistance or knowledge, in order to seek safety and independence from the abuser. Victims of domestic violence should know that help is available to them through the National Domestic Violence Hotline on 1-800-799-7233 or 1-800-787-3224 [TDD] for information about shelters, mental health care, legal advice and other types of assistance, including information about self-petitioning for immigration status.

To be eligible to file a self-petition (an application that you file for yourself for immigration benefits) you must qualify under one of the following categories:

  • Spouse: You may self-petition if you are a battered spouse married to a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident. Unmarried children under the age of 21, who have not filed their own self-petition, may be included on your petition as derivative beneficiaries.
  • Parent: You may self-petition if you are the parent of a child who has been abused by your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse. Your children (under 21 years of age and unmarried), including those who may not have been abused, may be included on your petition as derivative beneficiaries, if they have not filed their own self-petition.
  • Child: You may self-petition if you have been abused by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent.


  • Must be legally married to the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident batterer. A self-petition may be filed if the marriage was terminated by the abusive spouse’s death within the two years prior to filing. A self-petition may also be filed if the marriage to the abusive spouse was terminated, within the two years prior to filing, by divorce related to the abuse.
  • Must have been battered in the United States unless the abusive spouse is an employee of the United States government or a member of the uniformed services of the United States.
  • Must have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty during the marriage, or must be the parent of a child who was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse during the marriage.
  • Is required to be a person of good moral character.
  • Must have entered into the marriage in good faith, not solely for the purpose of obtaining immigration benefits.


  • Must qualify as the child of the abuser as "child"  is defined in the INA for immigration purposes.
  • Any relevant credible evidence that can prove the relationship with the parent will be considered.

To self-petition, you must complete and file Form I-360 (Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant) and include all supporting documentation. Self-petitions are filed with the Vermont Service Center and should be sent by certified return receipt mail (or any other method providing assurance of receipt). Sending the form to any other office will delay your application. You should keep a copy of everything you submit, including the application and all accompanying documents, in addition to the proof of mailing.

If the I-360 self-petition is approved, the Service may exercise the administrative option of placing the self-petitioner in deferred action, if the self-petitioner does not have legal immigration status in the United States. Deferred action means that the Service will not initiate removal (deportation) proceedings against the self-petitioner. Deferred action decisions are made by the Vermont Service Center (VSC) and are granted in most cases. Deferred action validity is 27 months for those for whom a visa was available on the date that the self-petition was approved. All others have a validity of 24 months beyond the date a visa number becomes available. The VSC has the authority to grant appropriate extensions of deferred action beyond those time periods upon receipt of a request for extension from the self-petitioner.

Self-petitioners who qualify as immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21) do not have to wait for an immigrant visa number to become available. Some self-petitioners with an approved I-360 will be required either to apply for adjustment of status under section 245(i) (which requires payment of a penalty fee), or to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consular post abroad.

If your application is denied, the denial letter will tell you how to appeal. Generally, you may file a Notice of Appeal along with the required fee at the Vermont Service Center within 33 days of receiving the denial. Once the fee is collected and the form is processed at the Service Center, the appeal will be referred to the Administrative Appeals Unit in Washington, D.C

Back to Top