Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Generally, U.S. citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR or green card holders) file an immigrant visa petition with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)(formerly INS) on behalf of a spouse or child, so that these family members may immigrate to or remain in the United States.  The petitioner controls when or if the petition is filed.  Unfortunately, some USCs and LPRs misuse their control of this process to abuse their family members.  As a result, many battered immigrants are afraid to report the abuse to the police or other authorities.  In 1994, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) to allow abused spouses and children of USCs or LPRs to self-petition to obtain lawful permanent residency.  The immigration provisions of VAWA allow certain battered spouses, children, and parents of USCs and certain spouses and children of LPRs (green card holders) to file a petition for themselves without the abuser's assistance or knowledge.

Who is Eligible to File:

  • Spouse: You may file for yourself if you are, or were, the abused spouse of a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. You may also file as an abused spouse if your child has been abused by your U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse.  You may also include on your petition your unmarried children who are under 21 if they have not filed for themselves.
  • Parent: You may file if you are the parent of a U.S. citizen, and you have been abused by your U.S. citizen son or daughter.
  • Child: You may file for yourself if you are an abused child under 21, unmarried and have been abused by your U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident parent. Your children may also be included on your petition. You may also file for yourself as a child after age 21 but before age 25 if you can demonstrate that the abuse was the main reason for the delay in filing.

Requirements for qualifying for the VAWA self-petition:

  1. You were physically, emotionally, or sexually abused by your USC or LPR spouse or parent or by your USC son or daughter who is at least 21 years of age when the self-petition is filed; or you are the parent of a child who has been abused by the child’s other parent who is a USC or LPR;
  2. Your abuser must be a lawful permanent resident or a U.S. citizen.  If your abuser lost status (e.g. was deported) in the past two years you may still qualify if the loss of status was related to domestic violence;
  3. If you are the spouse of an abuser, you must prove that you had a good faith marriage, meaning that you did not get married for the sole purpose of obtaining immigration benefits;
  4. You must be able to show that you are a person of good moral character;
  5. You must have lived with the abuser at some time; and
  6. You must have a valid marriage with your abuser OR a parent-child relationship with your abuser.  In a parent-child relationship, you must have been unmarried and under 21 when the abuse occurred.  Step-children may also qualify. 

You may be eligible to qualify even if:

  • Your marriage was terminated, as long as you file within two years of your divorce becoming final and your divorce was related to domestic violence.
  • Your abuser died in the past 2 years.  This only applies if your abuser was a USC.
  • Your abuser was a bigamist (married to more than one person at the same time), and you believed that you were legally married to your abusive USC or LPR spouse but the marriage was not legitimate solely because of the bigamy of your abusive spouse.

Benefits of applying for immigration status under VAWA

If your VAWA self-petition is approved:

  • You will be granted deferred action status, which means that although you still do not have legal status, USCIS will not actively seek to deport you
  • You can apply for employment authorization
  • You may apply for your green card in the US
  • You may qualify for certain public benefits


  1. If you are not married to your abuser or have a parent-child relationship with your abuser or abused child, then you cannot self-petition.
  2. You must file a VAWA self-petition before the two-year anniversary of the termination of your marriage.
  3. Remarrying before approval of your VAWA self-petition may seriously jeopardize your case.
  4. Please be sure to inform your attorney if you have an arrest or criminal conviction.

If you do not qualify to self-petition under VAWA, you may still be eligible to gain legal immigration status under provisions of the immigration laws.