VAWA: Violence Against Women Act, the Self-Petitioning Immigration Application

VAWA: Violence Against Women Act, the self-petitioning immigration application


The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) allows certain family members related to U.S. citizens or green card holders to file an immigration petition for themselves after they have suffered abuse from their spouse or family member.

An example scenario is when an immigrant spouse marries a U.S. citizen, and the U.S. citizen then petitions the immigrant spouse for legal status in the United States.  The immigrant spouse then suffers abuse from the U.S. citizen, either physically or psychologically.  The U.S. citizen threatens to cancel the pending immigration petition if the immigrant spouse reports the U.S. citizen to the police.  The Violence Against Women Act allows immigrant spouses in such situations to “self-petition,” that is, to file an immigration petition in the U.S. without the knowledge or participation of the abusive citizen spouse.  


To be eligible for VAWA, a self-petitioning spouse must prove that he or she:

  • Is or was married to a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident (green card holder)
  • Was genuinely married, and did not enter into the marriage for immigration purposes
  • Suffered battery or extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse
  • Currently resides or has resided with the abusive spouse in the past
  • Is a person of good moral character


As part of the application, the self-petitioning spouse must submit detailed evidence proving the requirements above.  Such evidence can include, but is not limited to, the following:

  • Marriage to U.S. citizen or permanent resident: copy of marriage certificate, copy of birth certificate of spouse, copy of green card or naturalization certificate of spouse
  • Genuine marriage: wedding photos and videos, birth certificates of their children, letters written by friends or family members who have knowledge of the marriage and the relationship
  • Abuse: medical records, police reports, court documents, letters written by people who witnessed the abuse or who witnessed the self-petitioning spouse’s recollection of the abuse
  • Residence with the abusive spouse: lease, rent checks, rent receipts, mortgage documents, utility bills
  • Good moral character: certified letters from county sheriffs or police departments showing clean criminal records, certified county court documents showing no criminal records, letters from friends or family members


If approved, a VAWA petition can grant an immigrant spouse the following benefits:

  • A period of deferred deportation (he or she will not be deported for a period of time)
  • The option to apply for Legal Permanent Residence (green card status) in the United States
  • The option to apply for a work permit so that he or she may legally work in the United States

VAWA applies not only to spouses, but also to abused parents or children of U.S. Citizens and green card holders.  Both men and women can apply for a VAWA petition.  For more details on eligibility and requirements for VAWA, visit the USCIS website.

Remember, VAWA petitions can be submitted without the knowledge or participation of the other spouse or family member.  

If you or anyone you know is in a similar situation, our immigration attorneys would be happy to speak with them about whether VAWA would be an option.   Have them contact us at (815) 207-9570, or (815) 409-8858 to schedule a consultation.


The information on this site is not legal advice.  Retain a licensed attorney before taking any action which affects your legal issues or immigration status, and follow the advice of your retained lawyer.