Immigration Visas for Battered Spouses and Children

The process for spouses and children of U.S. citizens, or of lawful permanent residents (LPR), to remain in the United States hinges on the petition provided by the U.S. citizen or green card holder.  Some petitioners use this power to abuse and manipulate spouses and children.  In an effort to remove that power, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) was passed by Congress in 1994.  The VAWA allows spouses and children of U.S. citizens or LPR to self-petition in the process for lawful permanent residency.  This provision allows certain battered or abused immigrants to file without the assistance or knowledge of the abuser. 

Who Can Self-Petition?

The following categories of people may file a self-petition under the VAWA:

  • Spouse if you are a battered or abused spouse married to a U.S. citizen or LPR.  Your children may be included in your petition.
  • Parent if you are the parent of a child who has been abused by your U.S. citizen or LPR spouse.  All your unmarried children under age 21 may be included in your petition.
  • Child if you are a battered or abused child (unmarried under age 21) by your U.S. citizen or LPR parent.

The law does not limit the protections of self-petitions to women.  The categories apply equally to men, women, boys and girls.

Requirements for Self-Petition

The following requirements must be met for a spouse to self-petition for a green card:

  • The abused spouse must be married to the U.S. citizen or LPR.  The abused spouse may have been widowed, or divorced due to the abuse, within two years of filing the petition, but will need to provide evidence of the marriage and the death or divorce.
  • Must have been abused while in the U.S. (unless the abuser is a United States government employee or member of the U.S. military)
  • Must have been subjected to extreme cruelty or must be the parent of a child who was subjected to extreme cruelty by the U.S. citizen or LPR during the marriage
  • Must have entered into the marriage in good faith
  • Must be a person of good moral character
  • A child must be able to prove the child/parent relationship to the abuser who is a U.S. citizen or LPR.

Filing the Self-Petition

All applications for self-petition must be filed with the Vermont Service Center.  You must complete USCIS Form I-360 and must send all supporting documentation you can. If you do not have supporting documentation for each requirement, you should make a detailed statement supporting your claims.  The application will be reviewed and a determination will be made whether you qualify for public financial assistance while pursuing your petition.

Deferred Action

The Vermont Service Center grants deferred action in most cases.  Deferred action means the self-petitioner will not be removed.  Deferred action usually extends a visa by 24-27 months.  Deferred action protects the self-petitioner from being removed from the United States while awaiting receipt of the immigration visa number. Self-petitioner will not have to wait for an immigrant number if she/he is/was the spouse or defined child of a U.S. citizen. The Vermont Service Center will grant appropriate extensions as needed if requested by the self-petitioner.  Once the immigration visa number is received, the self-petitioner can file Form I-485 with their local USCIS office to register permanent residence or adjust status.

Get Legal Help

You should seek legal help before beginning the process of self-petitioning. There are many local non-profit organizations dedicated to helping abused spouses and children with their immigration needs.  You can look in your local phone book, or contact your local police department (if in the U.S.) or your local U.S. embassy or consulate (if not in the U.S.)  You can also contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233.

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