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An abusive spouse, partner, parent, or child may use the immigration process to further abuse a noncitizen by threatening to withhold or withdraw the petition for the victim. This tactic is often employed to dominate, manipulate, and frighten the victim, keeping them trapped in an abusive relationship due to the fear of deportation. However, with the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), emerging from the grip of abuse is not impossible.


VAWA presents several safeguards for both immigrant women and men. Established in 1994, it includes specific measures that enable victims of domestic violence to seek independent immigration relief without requiring the assistance or consent of their abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsor.



Who can File for VAWA? 

Spouse: A foreign spouse who is abused by a U.S. citizen or permanent resident green card holder may apply for immigration protection under the Violence Against Women’s Act. They may also file if his or her child is being abused by the U.S. citizen or green card holder spouse. This enables the parent to escape a marriage where the abuser spouse is abusing the child and not the spouse themselves.


Parent: A parent who has been abused by their U.S. citizen child can self-petition for immigration protection.


Child: An abused child who is under 21 years old, unmarried, and has been abused by a parent who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, may self-petition. Additionally, if abuse was the reason for a delay in filing, a child can file between the ages of 21 and 25.


The bad treatment involves physical or emotional abuse by your U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member while you were in this special relationship. You either lived with or presently reside with a U.S. citizen or permanent resident family member who treated you badly. Additionally, you have demonstrated good moral character and have conducted yourself appropriately. If you’re applying as the spouse of an abusive U.S. citizen or permanent resident, you must also show that you got married for real reasons and not just to get around immigration laws.


Other VAWA Self-Petition Eligibility Conditions


In certain situations, you might still qualify for the VAWA self-petition. This is possible even if your abusive family member gave up their U.S. citizenship or resident status or if they passed away.


If you’re living outside the U.S. when you apply for the self-petition, you need to show one of the following along with the earlier requirements:


·      Your violent family member works for the U.S. government.

·      Your abusive family member serves in the U.S. military.

·      You experienced serious harm in the United States.


How to apply for a VAWA self-petition


·      Form I-360 Submission: Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, must be filed with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to begin the application process. This form is critical for those applying for immigration benefits under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), catering to both women and men who have endured violence.


·      Providing Evidence: Applicants need to furnish evidence confirming that they fulfill all the eligibility criteria for the VAWA self-petition.



Key Aspects of Form I-360 for VAWA Self-Petitions:


1.     Form Completion: Applicants are required to provide comprehensive details regarding their personal history, immigration status, and the nature of the abusive relationship. Accuracy and completeness are essential because any mistakes or omissions might delay or negatively impact the application.


2.     Review and Validation: Upon receipt, USCIS will examine the petition. If the submission satisfies the eligibility requirements, it will be approved. After validation, the petitioner can seek an adjustment of status to become a permanent resident.


3.     It's crucial to understand that approval of Form I-360 does not confer immigration status on you or your children immediately. It makes you and your children eligible to apply for green cards. With an approved I-360, you can also request employment authorization, but it won’t be granted until after the approval of the petition. Following this, you may file Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence.



Working with an experienced lawyer is in your best interests; Our team can walk you through the procedure and assist you with all of the documents you’ll need to submit your self-petition and the supporting evidence you’ll need to include. Contact our office at or get in touch with us via our website at  to schedule a consultation with the attorney who can answer your questions about eligibility and give you guidance on your next steps.

Patricia Elizee is the managing partner of the Elizee Law Firm, an immigration law firm located at 1110 Brickell Avenue, Suite 315, Miami, Florida 33131. Phone 305-371-8846.




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