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VAWA Self-Petitions: Green Cards for Victims of Domestic Violence


The passage of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) established a special avenue to lawful permanent residence (a green card) for those who qualified as victims of domestic violence. Prior to VAWA’s enactment, victims of domestic violence would be forced to rely on their abusers to file petitions for lawful permanent residence on their behalf. Recognized the unequal power dynamic faced by victims of domestic violence, VAWA allows an abused spouse or child of a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident to self-petition for a green card. VAWA protections also extend to abused parents of U.S. Citizens. Benefits included with a VAWA self-petition include work authorization, access to public benefits, and of course, if approved, lawful permanent residence in the United States.


If you are eligible to apply for VAWA, hiring an immigration lawyer can help in the process of attaining a green card. A VAWA immigration lawyer, like those at The Law Office of George K. Gomez, will be experienced in preparing all required forms and compiling all necessary documents needed to file a successful VAWA petition. Forms, requests for evidence, and the overall process can be confusing and having an experienced attorney by your side can make this process less stressful.



In order to be eligible for VAWA self-petition, you must meet the following requirements:

  • The Abuser is a U.S. Citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident;

    • Note, you can pursue VAWA even if the abuse occurred prior to the abuser becoming a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident and even if the abuser loses his lawful status in the U.S.

  • You are/were the spouse or child of the abuser; You were the parent of a U.S. Citizen abuser;

    • In addition to providing benefits to abused spouses and children, parental abuse can also lead to a VAWA self-petition. However, this remedy is limited only to abusers who are U.S. Citizens.

  • The VAWA self-petitioner must show that they were subjected to battery or extreme cruelty during the relationship

    • This approach is viewed in the totality of the circumstances and there is no one-size fits all approach. While physical abuse will likely satisfy this requirement, emotional abuse and manipulation can, in certain cases, meet this element.

  • For spousal based self-petitions, the marriage must be a bona-fide marriage. That is, it must have been entered in good faith and cannot have been entered solely to obtain an immigration benefit.

  • The VAWA self-petitioner must reside in the U.S.

    • There are limited exceptions for self-petitioners who live abroad but who were abused in the U.S. or if the abuser as a U.S. government employee or member of the armed forces.

  • The VAWA self-petitioner must have lived with their abuser at some point.

    • This applies whether the self-petitioner is a spouse, child, or parent.

  • The VAWA self-petitioner must satisfy the requirements of good moral character.

    • USCIS will look back three years to see if the VAWA self-petitioner is a person of good moral character.


If you can satisfy these elements, then you are eligible to begin the VAWA self-petition process.




Step 1: The I-360

Form I-360, Petition for Amerasian, Widow(er), or Special Immigrant, is the immigration form that is used to begin the VAWA process. There is no filing fee for this form, which is a benefit to many VAWA applicants.

In support of Form I-360, a VAWA self-petitioner should include a personal declaration describing the abuse they suffered, a police clearance letter and/or certified dispositions, proof of the abuser’s status in the U.S., proof of relationship (parent, child, or spouse) with the abuser, proof that the applicant lived with the abuser, and any evidence of abuse.

Step 2: The I-485

Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status, is the next and final step in the VAWA self-petition process. This immigration form is the one that, if approved, will provide the applicant with lawful permanent residence (a green card) in the U.S.


Unlike the Form I-360, there is a filing fee for this application. As of the writing of this article, the filing fee and biometrics fees associated with Form I-485 total $1,225.00.


A fee waiver may be available to qualified applicants. Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, is the appropriate form used to make such a request.


Documents that should be submitted with Form I-485 include a copy of the Form I-360 approval notice, passport style photos of the applicant, a copy of the applicant’s birth certificate (with translation), medical exam results (Form I-693), a request for exemption for the Intending Immigrant’s Affidavit of Support (Form I-864W) and all other related forms including waiver applications (Form I-601 or Form I-212), employment authorization requests (Form I-765), and travel document requests (Form I-131).


If Form I-485 is approved, the VAWA self-petitioner will receive their green card.

How can a VAWA Attorney Help?


A VAWA immigration lawyer is a knowledgeable resource about how to strategically collect and organize the evidence you need to self-petition. Some of this evidence can be difficult to collect, especially where the self-petitioner is still living with the abusive partner. If you are filing without the abusive partner’s knowledge, a VAWA attorney can hold onto documents, request information, and have mail sent to the law office or to another designated safe mailing address on your behalf.

Contact an Experienced VAWA Attorney Today!

The decision to pursue a VAWA self-petition is a personal decision that should be met with much thought and consideration given the unique circumstances a potential VAWA self-petitioner may face. Consulting with an experienced immigration attorney is critical in order to determine what course of action best suits your unique circumstances.


Serving Miami-Dade, Broward, Monroe, and Palm Beach Counties as well as providing nationwide representation, The Law Offices of George K. Gomez, P.A. is well versed in immigration law. If you need an immigration lawyer or just need more information on the immigration-related legal services we can offer, our service areas, or wish to learn more about our managing attorney, contact us at (305) 539-0991, or use our online contact form.

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