Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) – How to Apply

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) - How to Apply

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Last updated: April 8, 2024.

The VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) allows the abused spouses, children or parents to self-petition before USCIS (U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services) rather than rely on an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent to file a petition. Abused immigrants are also allowed to apply for Cancellation of Removal with the immigration court. In this blog post, we will provide the requirements and application process for self-petitions that can be filed by abused spouses, children and parents.

Who Can Apply for VAWA?

The following individuals are eligible to petition for permanent residency under VAWA:

  1. Abused spouses of US citizens and permanent residents;
  2. Spouses of US citizens or permanent residents whose children have been abused by the US citizen or permanent resident spouse;
  3. Abused “intended spouses” of US citizens and permanent residents;
  4. Abused children of US citizens or permanent residents;
  5. Abused parents of US citizens.

The applicants in the categories 1-4 can also include their children in VAWA self-petitions even if the children were not subject to abuse by a US citizen or permanent resident spouse.

VAWA Requirements

A self-petitioning spouse of a US citizen or permanent resident must meet the following requirements in order to be eligible for permanent residency:

  • Good moral character
  • Marriage to a US citizen or permanent resident
  • The marriage was entered in good faith
  • During the marriage, the foreign national spouse or their child has been battered by, or been the subject of extreme cruelty by the US citizen or permanent resident spouse
  • Past or present residence with the US citizen or permanent resident spouse
  • Applicant is currently residing in the US, or
  • If the applicant is currently living abroad, the abusing spouse is an employee of the US government or a member of the uniformed services, or subjected the applicant  or the applicant’s child to battery or extreme cruelty in the U.S.

A self-petitioning child of an abusive US citizen or permanent resident must meet the following requirements:

  • Good moral character (good moral character is presumed for children under age 14)
  • Parent-child relationship with the abusive US citizen or permanent resident
  • Past or present residence with the US citizen or permanent resident parent
  • History of battery or extreme cruelty by the US citizen or permanent resident parent
  • Current residence in the US, or
  • If residing abroad, the abusing parent must be an employee of the U.S. government or a member of the uniformed services or subjected the child to abuse in the U.S.

A self-petitioning parent of an abusive US citizen must meet the following requirements:

  • Good moral character
  • Parent-child relationship with the abusive US citizen or permanent resident child (including stepparents and adoptive parents)
  • The abusive US citizen child must be over 21 years of age
  • Residence or past residence with the abusive US citizen child
  • History of battery or extreme cruelty by the abusive US citizen child

VAWA Checklist of Required Documents

The self-petition VAWA application must contain the following documents:

  • A completed and signed Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant. A self-petitioner can provide a safe mailing address if still residing with the abusive family member. There’s no fee for Form I-360
  • Applicant’s detailed personal declaration. This is the most important part of the application where you can establish credibility by providing a detailed explanation of the history of abuse, qualifying relationship with the abusive US citizen or permanent resident and the abuser’s US citizenship or permanent resident status.
  • Evidence of the qualifying relationship with the abuser.
      • Abused spouse – marriage certificate and evidence of termination of all prior marriage by each spouse. 
      • Abused common-law spouse – evidence showing that the marriage meets the definition of common-law marriage under the state law where the marriage occurred
      • Abused child of a US citizen or permanent resident mother – birth certificate showing the abuser as mother
      • Abused child of a US citizen or permanent resident father born in wedlock – birth certificate and parents’ marriage certificate
      • Abused child of a US citizen or permanent resident father born out of wedlock – birth certificate, legitimation by the father before the child turned 18, proof of bona fide parent-child relationship (personal declaration of the self-petitioner, evidence of payment of child support, exchange of gifts, photographs, etc.)
      • Adopted child of an abusive US citizen or permanent resident – proof that adoption was finalized before child reaching the age of 16 and the child has been in the legal custody of and has resided with the adoptive parent for at least 2 years.
      • Stepchild of an abusive US citizen or permanent resident stepparent – birth certificate, marriage certificate of the biological parent and stepparent (marriage should have occurred before the stepchild’s 18th birthday). 
      • Mother of an abusive US citizen – abuser’s birth certificate
      • Father of an abusive US citizen – abuser’s birth certificate, marriage certificate of abuser’s parents, if abuser was born out of wedlock – proof of a bona fide child-parent relationship.
  • Evidence of abuser’s immigration status:
      • If the abuser is a US citizen – at least one of the following documents: U.S. birth certificate, naturalization certificate, citizenship certificate, US passport)
      • If the abuser is a permanent resident – copy of the green card (front and back)
  •  Identifying information of the abusing US citizen or permanent resident (name, date of birth, place of birth, country of birth, SSN, A number, aliases, parents’ names, date and place of abuser’s naturalization, employment records such as Form I-9, copies of abuser’s immigration documents gathered by employer, declarations from individuals who know the abuser to be a US citizen or permanent resident).
  • Evidence of the applicant’s physical presence in the U.S. or proof that the abuse occurred in the US or proof that the abuser is an employee of the US government or a member of the uniformed services
  • Evidence of good moral character (for applicants age 14 and older):
      • Police clearance letters from US and foreign jurisdictions where the applicant resided for six months or more during the previous 3 years)
      • Statements from relatives, friend, clergy or employers attesting to the applicant’s good moral character
  • Evidence of good faith marriage (for abused spouses):
      • Joint lease agreements
      • Proof of joint assets (for example, deeds showing both spouses’ names)
      • Joint bank account statements
      • Joint credit card statements
      • Vehicle registration showing both spouses’ names
      • Joint utility bills
      • Jointly filed tax returns
      • Health, life insurance policies showing one spouse as the beneficiary of the other
      • Birth certificates of children born into marriage (if applicable)
      • Annotated personal photographs
      • Wedding expenses, wedding invitations 
      • Witness affidavits from friends and family who have personal knowledge of the marriage
  • Evidence of battery or extreme cruelty:
      • Copies of temporary and final protective orders
      • Shelter records and other evidence that the victim of abuse sought shelter or protection
      • Counseling records
      • Medical records showing abuse
      • Photographs of injuries
      • Photographs of damaged property (if applicable)
      • Police reports
      • Criminal court records
      • Affidavits from the witnesses of the abuse
  • Evidence of shared residence with the abuser:
      • Joint leases listing the abuser and applicant as tenants
      • Joint mortgage documentation listing the abuser and applicant as owners
      • Deeds listing the abuser and applicants as owners
      • Insurance policies showing the joint residential address
      • Utility bills showing the joint residential address
      • Bank statements showing the joint residential address
      • Income tax records
      • School records listing the parent and address
      • Medical records showing the joint address
      • Witness affidavits from friends and family who have personal knowledge of joint residence
  • Evidence of parent-child relationship between the applicant and derivative children:
    • Birth certificate
  • Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status and Form I-765, Application for Employment Authorization:
    • Immediate relatives (spouses, unmarried children under 21 and parents) of US citizens are eligible to apply for Adjustment of Status and Employment Authorization at the same time as Form I-360 is filed.
    • Preference categories (spouses and children of permanent residents) can file Adjustment of Status and Employment Authorization forms only if the visa number is available (priority date is current) according to the latest Visa Bulletin. If the priority date is not current, you must wait for Form I-360 to be approved or until the priority date becomes current for your category.

VAWA Processing Time

The average USCIS processing times for Forms I-360, I-485 and I-765 applications can be found on the USCIS website. An approximate processing time for a VAWA application is 35 months

Related Links:

Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant

How to Fill Out Form I-485

Form I-485 Checklist of Required Documents